World Affairs Council: Rebuilding in Nepal

May 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Response

Candice S. Avanes & Lauren Biscombe

On May 13, 2015, the World Affairs Council hosted a panel discussion that focused on Rebuilding in Nepal. The event took place in downtown San Francisco, CA. The panel consisted of the following three individuals:

The discussion was moderated by David Arnold, President of The Asia Foundation, and touched on many topics in regards to rebuilding in Nepal after the devastating Gorkha earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

© World Affairs Council

Challenges & Goals

Elizabeth talked about the numerous buildings, namely unreinforced masonry structures, that have been damaged or completely destroyed throughout the affected areas. Build Change will focus on visiting these structures to assess the collapse mechanisms and determine how to build back better. Build Change also aims to work with other NGO’s on the ground to use aid money in such a way that it incentivizes the local construction of safe buildings.

Birger mentioned that there has been a lot of aid money flowing into Nepal. However, one challenge is making sure that the aid goes where it is most needed; in particular, rural areas.  Another challenge is developing and funding long-term recovery measures in addition to relief efforts. Give2Asia has been working with local organizations on the ground to fundraise and build financial support for long-term recovery acts.

Norbu brought up the challenge of delivering water, food, and shelter to the rural areas in the Himalayas. The American Himalayan Foundation has set up a relief fund to support the delivery of necessities to such areas. Norbu also mentioned that the government barriers on supplies coming into Nepal have been removed, which has been a great help for delivering provisions to those in need.

Gender Dimension

Norbu shared that Nepal is predominantly a male-dominant society, and a large number of Nepalese men are working in the Middle East to support families back home. Many of these men are stuck in the Middle East due to their jobs and are unable to return to Nepal during this time. There has also been talk that the already existing risk of young women being trafficked out of Nepal has increased due to the current situation. This was not confirmed during the panel discussion.

Elizabeth mentioned that Build Change believes in empowering women to build back better. From her account, in fact, female head-of-households tend to more highly prioritize building back safely compared to their male counterparts. Build Change has trained women in multiple countries to reconstruct safe buildings and is also doing so in Nepal.

Political/Governance Dimension

Norbu gave the Nepalese government credit for trying their best in dealing with the current situation. The government has reacted fairly quickly and has done what it can to facilitate the flow of incoming supplies by removing taxes and other barriers. He also more specifically focused on the Tibetan community in Nepal that has been affected by the earthquake. Because of political issues, it has been difficult to transport aid to the Tibetan community, but the situation is improving.

Elizabeth mentioned that many NGOs are regularly collaborating with government bodies. Therefore, since this collaboration is very important in order to deliver aid to those in need, it is better that the NGOs support these government bodies.

Q&A Session

The discussion then moved on to a question and answer session with the audience. A few of the questions have been reproduced below.

Q: What is the best way to donate to immediate relief efforts in Nepal?

A by Birger (paraphrased): The best way is to support local organizations rather than mailing cash. Give2Asia connects donors to local organizations.

Q: Does Build Change take on volunteers?

A by Elizabeth (paraphrased): No volunteers are used to rebuild structures because the point of Build Change is to encourage local workers to rebuild their own structures. In other words, instead of just giving someone a home, Build Change allows the homeowners to be the decision-makers and provides cash incentives to homeowners to encourage them to rebuild their own home back better. However, Build Change works with different structural engineering firms that volunteer to help train locals in proper construction techniques

Q: What are some recommendations for NGOs or donors?

A by Birger (paraphrased): Organizations funding continuous efforts such as health, education, etc. should also include disaster preparedness in the agenda to some level in an ongoing manner.

Q: How realistic is it that one can be prepared against such level of disaster as was experienced in Nepal?

A by Elizabeth (paraphrased): It is possible. The knowledge of how to build structures well is in Nepal. The next steps are to figure out how to get that knowledge in the hands of local builders and to figure out how to fund such efforts.

Elizabeth and Norbu touched on the resiliency of the Nepalese people. They discussed a photo gallery published online by National Geographic that captures the strength and will of the villagers in Thame in rebuilding their homes:

“Life Carries On. After her home was destroyed, Kami Tshering Sherpa set up a makeshift kitchen. ‘The people aren’t waiting for aid or government help, they are banding together and starting to put the pieces back together,’ says Morton.” © David Morton [photographer]/National Geographic

Q: Is there a risk of inflation due to large sums of donor contribution and international aid?

A by Birger (paraphrased): Yes, this is very common with disaster response and is something to keep an eye on. This provides more reason to support local organizations that are responding in Nepal.

Q: What are the challenges that Nepal is facing with the approaching monsoon season?

A by Norbu (paraphrased): Monsoon season typically begins in late May/early June. The nonstop downpour of rain will damage temporary shelters (i.e., tents) that are located at the top of the hills as well as run the risk of a cholera outbreak at the down slope. Short term and long term shelter solutions need to be sorted out quickly. There is a short window of time that Nepal has to get this done.

The panelists concluded with the message that there are many NGOs in Nepal, but that they need continuous supply of resources and funds to get their work done. Incentive-based cash programs are a good way to pass on knowledge and information to the Nepalese community to stimulate change and build back better.

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