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News: Earthquake Desaster in Nepal

IEE alumnus Sanjay Gorkhali, current MADM student Rajeev K.C. and IEE research fellow Martina Shakya give a personal account of their experience of the earthquake disaster in Nepal.

On 25 April 2015, a powerful earthquake struck the Himalayan country of Nepal and parts of neighbouring India and China. The epicentre of the earthquake was in the district of Gorkha, 80 kilometres northwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. The earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale and was followed by more than 150 aftershocks. A second major earthquake (magnitude 7.3) shook the Himalayas on 12th May, again affecting Nepal the most with the epicentre lying in the district of Dolakha, northeast of Kathmandu.
Nepal destroyed village
The completely destroyed village of Keprung—representative of many other villages in Nepal's Gorkha district (photo: private)

At the time of writing, the quake's estimated death toll in Nepal stood at 8,461 and is likely to rise to more than 10,000. More than 16,000 people were injured, and about 2.8 million people are internally displaced, meaning that they have no home to return to. The economic loss to Nepal's economy is estimated at $10 billion USD. The full extent of the human and physical damage has not yet become clear, as the earth continues to tremble. Assessments of the earthquake's impacts are still going on, particularly in geographically isolated parts of the country, which have hardly received any assistance. Apart from the badly affected capital and the rural areas around the epicentres (districts Gorkha, Lamjung , Tanahun, Dhading, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchowk, Dolakha), the earthquake caused major damage and casualties in remote rural areas known for trekking and mountaineering tourism, such as the Langtang mountains and the Everest region.

An earthquake that followed the "historical pattern"

It was a sunny Saturday afternoon on 25th April 2015. After lunch, I was engaged in outdoor play along with my wife Tina, our son Ayansh, and our niece Avisa. When it started to get warmer we went to our room on the top floor of our three-storey house. As Tina started to supervise the children in coloring, she whispered: "Isn't it moving?" At first I rejected her call, but as soon as I was about to stand the house started to shake vigorously. We hurriedly carried each of the 5-year-olds in our arms and went to the door. As the whole house was shaking left and right, we stayed underneath the door column. My 72-year-old father was on the first floor and called out at us frantically. I reassured him, asking him to calm down and stay under the doorframe of his room. The shaking took place for quite a few seconds. As soon as it stopped, we immediately started running down to come out from the house. My son and niece were clinging to our arms. Even if we had tried to go outside during the shaking, there would have been a high risk of being crushed by the collapse of the boundary wall. However, the collapsed boundary wall made it somewhat easy for us and my father to take shelter on our neighbour's empty ground for the initial hours after the earthquake. Due to heavy traffic on the telephone network, we could not make calls to other family members immediately. Luckily, we were able to exchange SMS's after an hour. After a few hours, all of my family members were back and we made a temporary shelter where we spent the next four days.
The earthquake and the continuous aftershocks on the second day left a noticeable crack in our house. Although experts suggested that our house was still inhabitable we dared to sleep on the ground floor only from the fifth night. Offices were closed for the whole week, and schools remained closed for an indefinite period.
Life went on. We cleaned the debris around the house. Around the area that was most critically hit, people were helping each other in rescue and relief operations. As the situation was slowly getting normal despite minor aftershocks, Mother Nature had another plan in store for us. On the 12th of May, 17 days after the major earthquake, just after eating lunch at the office, there was a big aftershock. The aftershock aggravated the feeling among us that there might be more to come. As the aftershock happened on a working day, my wife, our son and I were in three different locations – which intensified our worries. Psychologically, this aftershock affected me more than the previous one. Aftershocks are continuously being felt even three weeks after the earthquake.
In recent years, awareness campaigns were being organized. To a limited extent, people were alerted about the "historical pattern of earthquakes" in Nepal and that an earthquake of high magnitude might hit at any time. The last massive earthquake in 1934 claimed the lives of 18,000 people. Though nobody knew when exactly an earthquake of massive scale would strike, both national and international - governmental and non-governmental organizations, private sector as well as individuals alone, were preparing at their own capacities. However, despite awareness many still could not do much. In the initial days after the earthquake, despite local and international responses, a serious gap in coordinating the whole rescue and relief efforts on a large scale was made obvious to everyone involved.
I am pleased to share with you that my employer, German Development Cooperation - GIZ, had taken precautions from early on. This year several of the office premises, including the country offices, which were found vulnerable, were relocated into a more secure location. Among other precautions emergency tool kits were distributed to staff members. Initially, the usefulness of the tool kit was questioned, but I feel that it already gave people signs that something like this could happen any time. Looking back at the toolkit now, almost every appliance and material in the kit has been very useful. In this regard, I would genuinely like to acknowledge the commendable support provided by GIZ for the continued support before and emergency support after the earthquake, both within and outside the organization.
As aftershocks continue, I am not in a position to say when I would be able to start working as I used to in 'normal times'. It will probably take weeks, months, or even more before everything will return to normal. In addition to human casualty and displacement of families, lots of monumental heritage buildings and houses of renowned historical sites have been severely damaged. It is disheartening to see people losing their loved ones and their possessions. However, on bright side, during this period, the Nepalese have united like never before in rescue and relief efforts. We have been communicating with each other and motivating each other, especially our children, to live with such a situation. In these challenging moments, I want to acknowledge and give my heartfelt thanks to my former supervisor, friends, colleagues at IEE, and MADM alumni both in Bochum and in different corners around the world for their genuine words of affection and inspiration which has counted a lot during the most tragic circumstance in my life.

Sanjay GorkhaliDr. Sanjay Gorkhali, a MADM graduate of the first batch 2000-2002 received his doctorate from RUB's Faculty of Economics in 2009. He currently works for the German Development Cooperation - GIZ as Senior Programme Officer for Nepal Energy Efficiency Programme (NEEP).

A strong sense of community

I was suddenly informed by email that a very strong earthquake had hit my home county, Nepal. I was stunned. I clearly imagined the disaster situation in the most populated city, the capital, Kathmandu, and in the remote areas where there is a lack of disaster response capacity. I was quick to follow the social media. A video that I saw shocked me. I desperately tried to reach my family in Nepal, through the telephone and through the Internet, but I was unable to do so during those first hours, which were the longest hours of my life, filled with fear and panic. Finally, I reached them and I heard that they were safe.
The Nepali government estimates that more than 8 million people are affected by the earthquakes. Hospital, schools, roads, infrastructure, and water supplies have been destroyed. Thousands of years old architectural heritage in the cities of Kathmandu, Lalitpur, and Bhaktapur were destroyed. It is estimated that 40 percent of the country has been affected, with 11 districts very severely affected. The Education Ministry’s recent assessment shows that more than 1300 schools have been completely collapsed and more than 5000 schools damaged. However, it is difficult to estimate exact damage right now.
Nepal government high school
Former government high school in Muchchok (Gorkha district); four teachers died on the spot (photo: private)

Thousands of children have been affected in at least one way. They may have lost their home, parents, and school, and are living with a huge trauma. On 12 May, another strong earthquake hit Nepal, adding on to the already existing troubles. Huge landslides swiped away many villages in the mountainous areas in the Rasuwa, Gorkha, and Sindhupalchok districts. Thousands of people are internally displaced, spending their nights in the open space in cold and rainy weather. The people in the remote villages experience this disaster the hardest due to the complex geography, high altitude and the lack of road access.
In rural villages people begun to build temporary shelters by using whatever they could find. However, these shelters are not enough to protect from heavy rainfall and cold weather. Even schools need to be run in temporary shelters so that children can come to school, play, and talk with their friends, restoring a sense of community and stability in their lives. This will help to relieve them from the trauma that they are experiencing. I appreciate and am thankful to the Nepal Army, Nepal Police and all the civilians who were and still are actively involved in the rescue and relief operations and supporting each other. Being a Nepali citizen I am also thankful for all international rescue and relief operation teams who support and help Nepal in this emergency. We Nepali people have a strong sense of community. I believe that Nepal will recover but it will take more than a decade to accomplish this and we need your support and extra pairs of hands now and for the long run.

KCRajeev K.C. is from Kathmandu, Nepal. He is a student of the MADM 2014-2016 intake at the RUB and currently living in Bochum. When the first earthquake struck, he was doing his internship with the Finn Church Aid in Helsinki. Since 25th April 2015, he has been supporting the earthquake response efforts of his internship host.

Long-term support needed for Nepal

Luckily, even before I heard about the earthquake in the news, I had received an SMS from my husband indicating that he and our family in Kathmandu were all safe. Through the 'Nepal earthquake safety check' on Facebook and e-mails, I gradually learned in the following days that my Nepalese friends had survived the earthquake as well.
Notwithstanding the terrible pictures of destruction in Kathmandu that were flowing in via all news channels, I knew immediately that the situation in the earthquake-affected rural areas must be even more horrible. I was extremely concerned about the people and villages in the Gorkha district, which I am so familiar with from having worked there for more than three years. I quickly liaised with my former Nepalese colleagues, trying to find out more about the situation. Unfortunately, this only confirmed my worst nightmares. According to what we know so far, 80% of the houses have collapsed, burying with them livestock, stocks of staple foods and the little infrastructure that had existed there before. Some villages are completely wiped out. Hardly any school is remained standing. If there is anything in terms of consolation, it is the timing of the earthquake. It struck around mid-day on a Saturday. Schools were all closed, and most people were outside the house, farming in their fields. As a result, the reported death toll from those villages is surprisingly low. Other areas were much less fortunate. For example, several villages in the beautiful Langtang Valley, popular among international trekking tourists, were completely buried by avalanches. According to news reports, the people there, probably including many foreigners, did not even have time to run for their lives.
Nepal survival
Trying to survive in the rubble (photo: private)

Knowing Nepal and its seismic risk well, I know that things could have been much worse still. However, I also know that for the people in the rural areas, life will get extremely difficult in the months to come. The monsoon, the rainy season which is also the main planting season, is about to start now. People urgently need shelter, food and medical care in order to survive. Even in "normal times," life is very hard for the many women, children, and elders who are left to themselves, as most of the male adults are staying abroad to financially support their families from migrant labour in the Gulf region and elsewhere. It will take months and years for the people to rebuild their livelihoods. Apart from on-going efforts of the Nepalese government and international aid organisations, rehabilitation and reconstruction work on the ground will also rest on the shoulders of local non-governmental and community-based organisations, private businesses, committed individuals and the affected families themselves. They will all need our support—not just now, but for many years to come.

ShakyaDr. Martina Shakya lived and worked in Nepal from 1998 to 2001 as an advisor to the Nepalese NGO CCODER, on behalf of the German Development Service (now GIZ Development Service). From 2006-2009, she did her doctoral studies on the impact of tourism on vulnerability and poverty in Nepal.

Appeal for Donations

The IEE is kindly asking its friends, colleagues and alumni to support the earthquake victims in the particularly affected villages near the epicentre in Gorkha district. The Nepalese non-governmental organisation CCODER (Center for Community Development and Research) has worked in this area since 1990, promoting community-based organisations, micro-finance, formal and non-formal education and a range of income-generating activities, including tourism. Together with the village organisations, the CCODER has been implementing local development projects with the support of German and international organisations, including the German Embassy Kathmandu, Misereor, the German Development Service/GIZ Development Service, UNDP/GEF, Practical Action Nepal and Handicap International.
As an alternative to the deficient public education system and unaffordable private schools, the CCODER has been promoting the concept of "community schools" in remote villages of Nepal. Since ten years, the Johannes-Kepler-Gymnasium (high school) in Ibbenbüren has been supporting the community school in the village of Lamidanda through the "Nepalschulprojekt Lamidanda e.V.". Starting off as a school partnership, the commitment of the German students, their parents and teachers has gradually grown in the past years.
Nepal lamidanda school afterschool Lamidanda klein
Before and after: The Lamidanda Community School in better times.... and after the earthquake of 25th April (photos: private)

Beyond the support of the community school, a number of projects were jointly implemented with the CCODER to improve the living conditions in Lamidanda and neighbouring villages. Much positive change has been brought about in those villages in the past years. However, the earthquake has completely destroyed the community school (see picture below), as well as the hopes of the children, their parents, their teachers, and the community at large.
Nepal lamidanda school collapsedAs the photos in this article demonstrate, the effort needed to re-build hope and livelihoods in those communities is overwhelming. Together with the School Project Lamidanda, the IEE is supporting the work of the CCODER and the community-based organisations in the affected villages through this call for donations. With the monsoon looming, immediate relief work will be focusing on the establishment of a temporary learning centre to bring the children back to school, as well as supporting affected families to rebuild their homes in safer locations.

We will report about the reconstruction efforts in future issues of the IEE News!

To support the work of CCODER in Lamidanda and neighbouring communities, your donation is urgently needed:
Nepalschulprojekt Lamidanda e.V.
IBAN: DE 5640 3510 6000 7250 2081
Reference: „Erdbeben-Hilfe"

Please don't forget to write your name and address when transferring money! For tax deduction, you will receive a tax deduction receipt from the School Project Lamidanda.


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