Pasang Tamang’s face lights up as she chats with visitors on the veranda outside her new house. “I feel more secure here than in the temporary shelter,” says Pasang. The temporary shelter was made of corrugated iron, which was home to her and her family after the earthquake destroyed their old house and killed their daughter.
Living with disability even before the disaster, which battered Nepal on 25 April, 2015, leaving nearly 9,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands of families homeless, Pasang, 48, has become even less mobile and is dependent on her husband and other relatives.
Hers is one of nearly 7,000 households throughout the worst-affected districts of Nepal, who have received cash grants from the Red Cross of 300,000 Nepali Rupees (around 3,000 US dollars) and technical support to build new, more earthquake-resistant homes.
In this village of Kaule, a day’s journey northwest of Kathmandu, around 900 families have received such support and at least 3,200 have finished their homes.
The rest are at various stages, some still working on the walls, while others just putting the final touches to the roof.
“We have made rapid progress with reconstruction and recovery over the past year or 18 months, even though there is still some way to go,” says Umesh Dhakal, Head of the Earthquake Response Operation at Nepal Red Cross Society.
Among the factors slowing things down have been shortages of construction workers and engineers, logistics made difficult by the country’s poor infrastructure and delays in formulating government guidelines amid a period of political restructuring.
But the needs of earthquake-affected communities go far beyond shelter. In the hills of Ramechhap district to the east of Kathmandu, residents of many of the scattered hamlets, which also suffered wide scale destruction, have had to contend with a pressing shortage of water.
Until August last year, those living in the village of Dara Tol had to spend several hours a day trudging to a water source, where they had to queue to fill their jars before returning home.
All that changed after the completion of a Red Cross-supported new system, which pumps water up to storage tanks, allowing villagers to fill up with water from a tap stand less than 100 meters from most of their houses.
The time this has freed up has allowed local people – especially women, who bore the brunt of the water-carrying – to devote more energy to growing vegetables and animal husbandry.
“We can save about 1,000 rupees (about 10 US dollars) a month by growing vegetables so we don’t need to buy them,” says Ram Das Waiba Tamang. Others put the figure at a more modest five dollars. But in a country where per capita gross domestic product is less than 800 US dollars, this is still significant.
As well as boosting income and bringing health benefits, the availability of water on people’s doorstep has also helped people to speed up work on rebuilding their homes, says Nepal Red Cross Society’s Umesh Dhakal. “It shows the benefits of an integrated approach to recovery programming.”
If such water schemes have had an indirect impact in strengthening families’ livelihoods, many communities have benefited from direct support to boost their economic resilience in the form of cash grants.
Goma Sarki’s house was damaged, forcing her family to share a temporary shelter with her husband Sanbabu’s ’s two brothers and their wives. Since he has had a disabled arm since childhood, he cannot do heavy work on the farm and works as a driver in Kathmandu.
The family used a Red Cross cash grant to buy a buffalo, in place of the cow they had before. “She produces more milk than the cow,” says Goma, yielding an income she estimates at about 20 or 25 US dollars a week.
In the area where she lives, in Kavre, east of Kathmandu, most households have used the grants for additional livestock, also upgrading the sheds and receiving training in better husbandry techniques. A minority have also used the money to start or strengthen such businesses as sewing, metal working or carpentry.
In 41 of the worst-affected communities, the Red Cross has also rehabilitated or rebuilt the health posts, providing basic medical care and a place where local women can give birth, assisted by qualified midwives.
In the mountains of Dhunche, close to Nepal’s northern border, the Red Cross has supported the construction and equipment of a new district hospital including staff quarters, replacing one destroyed in the earthquake.
Six-month-old baby Krishtila lies in the inpatient ward, swaddled in blankets. She’s fussed over by her grandmother, Biba, who’s had an anxious time after the baby caught pneumonia, which she blames on the cold in the family’s temporary shelter. Krishtila’s mother died weeks after giving birth. Thankfully, Krishtila’s looking more perky now after several days on antibiotics.
But Red Cross managers are keen to stress that the recovery is centered not just on hardware but on grass roots work with communities, whether it is promoting hygiene and disease awareness or making people more prepared to face up to potential future disasters.
Such preparedness lies at the core of intensive work to strengthen Nepal Red Cross Society’s ability to provide support at local level, which has so far been carried out in 16 districts after the earthquake.
“After three years, we’re now entering a period of transition, where the focus will be on sustainable work at at local level to address needs and risks for the future,” says Juja Kim, Head of the IFRC’s Nepal Country Office.