Guest blog by Dimitri Katz
The temperature falls.
Here in Melamchi, a remote village on the eastern side of Nepal, the cold comes quickly after the sun disappears behind the towering hills. I would call them mountains but the locals have told me that only the snow-capped mountains, such as the Himalayas that separate Nepal and Tibet, count. My modest hotel room of the riverside inn has no heating so I cover up with several layers. My backpack sits ready next to my bed. Aside from a book and my laptop, I have packed my passport and wallet, a handful of energy bars, a power bank, water purification tablets and a small torch. It sounds a little paranoid until you consider that in April 2015, Nepal was hit by an earthquake that killed nearly 9,000 people and injured over 20,000. The worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since 1934.
The purpose of my visit is to get first hand exposure to the on-going reconstruction efforts in the area. The majority of homes in the district of Sindhupalchowk were destroyed by the earthquake -entire villages were flattened. Homes that are constructed primarily using stones gathered in the nearby hills and mud to hold them together stand little chance against an earthquake of magnitude 7.8Mw.
Integrity Action will provide the tools, training and approach to a local NGO partner in order to train local communities to monitor the construction of earthquake resilient houses, targeting the most vulnerable people in the district. The approach that we are employing in this humanitarian project will train the local community in monitoring skills such as analysing project documents and comparing them to the actual projects, taking photos of the projects to serve as an evidence base, conducting beneficiary surveys, verifying their findings as well as advocating for the resolution of problems. All this combined empowers the communities in the region to ensure that the reconstruction process is handled in an effective, transparent and accountable manner.
The prioritised beneficiaries include: the elderly, single-woman headed households and child-headed households (orphaned by the disaster), who would not be able to rebuild without assistance. The project, implemented by Helvetas and Solidar and funded by Swiss Solidarity, adopts an owner-driven approach where support in the form of technical expertise and building materials will come from the implementers, whilst raw materials, such as stone, wood and labour will be sourced from the local community. An added advantage is that a skill transfer is achieved as the builders from the local community will be trained in the building of homes by the NGO partners on the ground.
This owner-driven approach seeks to empower communities by involving them in the rebuilding of their country and bestows skills which will serve them long after the project ends. Community members who participate in the trainings for building earthquake resilient homes will receive a certificate to recognise their achievement. One of the stone masons I spoke to was keen to receive his certification as it would allow him to fetch a higher wage when starting his job in construction.
Against the backdrop of the Himalayan Mountains, I take some time to speak to Bina, along with her elderly parents, Bibi and Tempa. The family of six lost their home in the earthquake and have been living in temporary housing ever since. Their makeshift shelter built using corrugated iron sheets stapled together with large bolts does little to shield them from the bitter cold nights at the very top of the ‘hill’. She is thrilled that the construction of her new home is nearly complete and can’t wait to decorate her new home.
Integrity Action will now be customising its monitoring tool, DevelopmentCheck, in order to allow community monitors to effectively provide feedback and fix problems with the project in real time.
What happens when disaster strikes? The temperature falls - but the reconstruction efforts and people’s resilience and warm spirit gives me hope that they will not be cold for long.