Building back better for all after the earthquaqe in Nepal

Khil Bahadur Rana Magar got back home after the devastating earthquake with support of a EU - UNDP initiative who helped him get his identity papers and a roof over his head. Photo: UNDP Nepal

UNDP’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme was able to help visually-challenged Khil Bahadur from Sindhupalchowk acquire both his identity papers and a roof over his head after the earthquake through the Resilient Communities Through Building Back Better project funded by the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission.

Khil Bahadur Rana Magar had been working as a laborer in Gulmi in Nepal’s west when he lost his vision five years ago. For the 28-year-old Khil Bahadur, who was originally from Irkhu in Sindhupalchowk, and whose entire family had perished when he was but a little boy—compelling him to move to Kathmandu and then onto Gulmi to start working in construction at the young age of 14—the disability served to further narrow his already-limited prospects. “It was a dark time,” he remembers. “When you have so little, and even that gets taken away from you, it’s almost impossible to bear.”

Still, Khil Bahadur did his best to stay afloat where he was for the next few years, but when the earthquake struck in 2015, he felt it was the last straw: he had to return home. With the support of a kindly teacher he’d made the acquaintance of in Gulmi, he managed to get back to his native district, one of the worst-affected in the disaster. Here, he came face to face with the wreckage of his own house—a two-storey stone-and-mud masonry structure with a Banmara roof that had already been dilapidated by years of neglect, and was now irreparably damaged by the quake. Hoping for some positive news on reconstruction assistance soon, Khil Bahadur sought shelter at a temporary structure his cousin had put up, and lived on food donated by the villagers, biding his time, like so many others around the country.

Despite the presence of numerous organizations in Irkhu, support was not easy to come by for Khil Bahadur, though. He did not have a citizenship card or indeed other documents, and had not been able to enrol himself into the National Reconstruction Authority’s list of earthquake victims and was therefore deprived of the compensation being distributed. He was very close to despair.

Fortunately, UNDP’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme had been conducting ward and VDC-level consultation meetings in the area as part of the Resilient Communities Through Building Back Better project, funded by the Humanitarian Aid department of the European Commission (ECHO), and geared at identifying the most vulnerable citizens to be made recipients of Technology Demonstration Houses (TDH). These TDHs were designed with the purpose of not just providing homes to those who had lost their in the disaster, but also to raise awareness regarding safer reconstruction practices, illustring to visitors the possibility of building structures with technology that is both cheaper and more resilient to disaster, among other features. And Khil Bahadur was strongly recommended by local authorities for inclusion among the beneficiaries, alongside four others from Irkhu.

Of course, there was still the question of the absent citizenship papers, which threatened to complicate the process of getting an agreement signed between him and the project. But the project was prepared: UNDP advocated on his behalf, partaking in a series of consultations with the VDC office, the District Administration Officer and members of the local community regarding his case, exertions that eventually bore fruit: Khil Bahadur now had his citizenship card, and there was nothing standing between him and a brand new home.

Construction got underway in January 2016, with 11 local masons—five of whom were women—contributing their efforts as part of an on-the-job training, under the supervision of the project team, which included technicians. And when it became apparent that Khil Bahadur did not have much building material lying around that could be reused, fellow locals stepped up and provided what assistance they could—11 households gave timber, 13 offered snacks to the workers for 45 days, and others helped with quarrying stones and transporting other construction necessaries—in what proved a heartwarming display of community spirit.

For the 50 or so days that the construction of the TDH took, Khil Bahadur would visit the site, listening with wonder at the sounds around him, trying to gauge from them what was happening, the status of the structure. “I can’t convey how eager I was, how happy those noises made me,” he says. “Every day, it was like they were laying together my hopes, block by block, and I couldn’t wait to see the final result.”

The TDH was finally complete, a single-storey building constructed with stone-mud masonry applying containment reinforcement (CR) system technology to amp up its quake resilience. The inner walls were mud plastered and the verandah and front yard levelled. Khil Bahadur couldn’t be prouder of his new home, which he will be moving into soon. “I feel safe here,” he says. “And I hope others will take comfort from the fact that it is possible for even us poor folks to better prepare ourselves for another disaster with this technology.”

Of course, Khil Bahadur knows that he is still to find a way to sustain his livelihood, and is considering using his musical skills—he sings, and plays the maadal and harmonium—to earn a living. Despite still being unsure about what the future holds for him, he says his burdens have been lessened considerably by the support UNDP has afforded him. “I now have proof of my identity and a solid roof over my head—it’s far more than I could’ve imagined having not too long ago.”

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