Two years after Nepal’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, 19-year-old Gita Magar together with her parents and sisters moved into their brand new stone and timber house on a hillside in Ramechhap, four hours’ drive southeast of the capital Kathmandu.
“I feel a sense of happiness and safety now,” says Gita. Since the disaster, the family has been living in a temporary shelter converted from a cattle shed.
“With no proper doors or windows, it was not much better than living in the open air,” says the teenager, who is studying sociology at a college in the nearby town.
Over 800,000 homes were damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. Gita’s family are amongst those who are gradually moving into new homes built with Red Cross support.
A short journey away over the area’s unpaved roads, Kedar Man Shrestha, 43, shows off his finished house, right next door to his parents’ home. It is still sparsely furnished with little more than a bed and a rack for his clothes. But it is a home.
“I will stay here so I can look after my mother, who is still in poor health after suffering a heart attack,” he says.
Kumari Tamang’s new house is just a few minutes’ climb from the Nepal Red Cross field office in the village of Rampur. Sitting on her bed alongside a sack of rice and pots and pans, she says she plans to add a new gas cooker as soon as she can.
The Red Cross is supporting some 7,000 households with reconstruction cash that amounts to 300,000 Nepali Rupees (2,860 USD, 2,690 Euros). An extra 100,000 Rupees is also available for the construction of a toilet and a solar panel.
The grants are provided in three instalments, accompanied by technical support to meet government earthquake-resistance criteria and while a small number of people have now completed their homes, thousands more are still at different stages of the construction process.
The reconstruction effort is led by the Government but progress has been slow due to delays linked to the Himalayan nation’s political volatility and the difficulty of reaching consensus on earthquake-resistant construction guidelines.
“We are still at the beginning, not even at the middle of the reconstruction process,” says Ram Thapaliya of Kathmandu’s Institute of Crisis Management Studies, who is a former disaster management advisor to Nepal’s Prime Minister.
While shelter is the most urgent priority for many families, it is only one element in an integrated Red Cross strategy to help families recover.
“People affected by the earthquake need new homes but they also need clean drinking water and sanitation, new health facilities and safer schools, as well as better ways of making a living,” says Umesh Dhakal, Head of Earthquake Response Operations at Nepal Red Cross Society.
This strategy can be seen through a range of diverse projects spanning the 14 districts most severely affected by the earthquake. At Kedar Man Shrestha’s finished house, a yard full of goats and buffalo have been tagged and marked as insured under a government-Red Cross partnership scheme.
“I lost ten goats to disease after the earthquake, so I decided to get them insured,” he says.
Shrestha also took part in Red Cross training which have not just helped improve his farming techniques to get more out of his land, but also given him new skills as a mason, which he says should guarantee him a steady income and contribute to wider reconstruction efforts within his community.
On a hilltop not far away, two concrete water tanks perch on top of an arid slope fringed with cacti. Local Red Cross staff say they are weeks away from completing a water-lifting scheme to help more than 150 households. Many of the community members say they will finally be able to start rebuilding their homes once they have easy access to water.
For Mansari Tamang, 48, the water tanks will relieve the burden of having to trudge down the hill to the water source three times during the night to fill the family’s water jars.
“It will make a big difference for our family. We will have better sanitation and it will help me get a decent night’s sleep,” she says with a grin.