In April 2015, when Nepal was shaken by its worst natural disaster in almost 80 years, images of the destruction were shown across the world.
The earthquake claimed nearly 9,000 lives, and caused damage to nearly 50% of Nepal’s nominal GDP (roughly $10bn). The world and development organisations mobilised quickly to send support.
IMC Worldwide have been working in Nepal for 35 years, and quickly organised to assist our staff with grants and interest-free loans to start the rebuilding process.
Recently, I met some of the recipients to understand how the money had helped them, and the challenges still ahead.
Four key sentiments provide a glimpse into the time after the earthquake, and understanding of what was done well, how to prepare for future disasters, and the road ahead for staff.
The uncertainty was immense
In the immediate aftermath, the uncertainty was one of the biggest challenges. Because of the number of aftershocks, no one knew when it was safe to move about, or where to go.
Staff told stories of going to the bank to withdraw funds, only to be told the banks were not willing to process withdrawals.
As such, it was crucial that IMC was able to mobilise these funds quickly to allow staff to act. Getting some level of contribution allowed several individuals to create temporary shelter and allowed them some breathing room to determine their next steps and start the process of rebuilding.
Temporary is relative
Several staff used the grants that they received to build temporary shelters.
However, temporary is relative. All those who built shelters are still living in them, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
While the plan remains to rebuild their main homes, interest rates in Nepal are high, so for many the ability to take out loans is severely limited. As such, the temporary housing that was constructed may well end up being the main residence for several years.
You can only prepare so much
IMC Rural Access Programme office had taken some precautions for natural disasters, stocking food stuffs and water that employees could collect in case of need. However, each natural disaster is new and different, and there is a limit to how much it is possible to prepare.
As such, alongside the best-laid plans, it is important to be agile and willing to adapt in order to best respond to each challenge that comes along.
A country still reeling
Much of Nepal still lays in ruins, including several temples in the durbar squares. Unfortunately, in addition to being a huge cultural loss for the Nepalese people, it is also severely damping tourism, one of the biggest sectors in the country.
The situation is now starting to improve and the sector is growing again. However, there is a long way to go until it is back to pre-earthquake levels, which will have spinoff effects on the speed at which the rest of the country is able to repair, recover, and continue developing.
While the road ahead will be a difficult one, the international community is going to be there to assist, and during my time in Kathmandu I saw a country ready to rise and take on the challenges.
Cover photo: Aftermath of Nepal Earthquake in 2015. James Walton.