On the frontline of crisis response: UN Volunteers with UNDPNov 30, 2017
United Nations Volunteers (UNVs) have long comprised a crucial pillar of support in the work of various UN agencies in Nepal, including that of UNDP. And nowhere was their contribution starker than in the response and recovery operations undertaken following the devastating earthquake of 2015.
Building back safer
In order to implement the National Building Code and improve the capacities of affected areas to adopt safer construction practices, UNDP’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Programme (CDRMP) had initiated a project—financed by the Government of Japan through the Japan-UNDP Partnership Fund—in three municipalities between January 2016 and March 2017, an initiative which saw active engagement of UNVs.
Three engineers—namely, Suresh Deuja, Aditya Timilsina and Hari Satyal—were recruited as UNVs to support project activities in Melamchi and Chautara in Sindhupalchowk, and Panchkhal in Kavre respectively. Their work was focused largely on carrying out weekly orientations on more resilient construction for the community in their given municipalities in conjunction with consultant engineers. These orientation programmes have been institutionalized through the building permit process, since houseowners are required to have completed such courses prior to submitting requests for permits.
These programmes were very effective in disseminating vital information on safer building techniques, the importance of adhering to the guidelines of the National Building Code and clarity on the building permit procedures. The UNV engineers also held ward-level orientation campaigns for groups that were unable to attend the weekly orientations owing to, say, the difficulty of travelling to where the sessions were held—and in some cases, even reached out to homeowners on an individual basis. As a result, 1,818 people, of which 786 were women, were coached through the community outreach programmes, while 1,246 homeowners, of which 250 were women, benefitted from the individual sessions conducted by the UNVs.
Leave no one behind
Also effective were the Technology Demonstration Centers (TDCs) that were installed in the three municipalities for the informational benefit of homeowners looking to rebuild. And during the construction of these TDCs, key stage orientations were organized by the UNV engineers—with assistance from municipal engineers—specifically for women’s groups.
Women were targeted in this way in recognition of the critical role they play in raising awareness and promoting the well-being of their communities. They were thus equipped with the appropriate knowledge regarding improved building technology for their own benefit, as well as laying on them the responsibility of spreading the message as far and wide as possible. Under the dedicated supervision of the UNV engineers, then, 1,082 women were oriented on safer construction practices.
Supporting project activities from the central level was Pragati Manandhar, an architect, who has been serving as a UNV with CDRMP since September 2015, and who providing key inputs to the project, both technical and non-technical—whether that had to do with preparing Terms of References and contract documents, developing information, education and communication (IEC) materials, or coordinating and communicating with field staff across the three municipalities.
Even after the Japan-funded project came to an end, UNDP has continued to remain active in Melamchi and Chautara, with funding support from the UK’s Department for International Development through the Community-Based Disaster Management in Asia (CBDMA-II) project. With the departure of the three initial recruits, UNV Manish Uprety had taken up duty for some months in Chautara, followed by Naveen Kumar Yadav, who is presently stationed in the municipality; while UNV Suyog Pradhan has been working in Melamchi of late.
Improving disaster information management
Management of information was an important aspect of UNDP’s work following the earthquake, and several UNVs under CDRMP have been involved in the streamlining of the system, working very closely with government teams at the different Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs). Arun Poudel, for instance, is based at the National Emergency Operation Center at the Ministry of Home Affairs; Vicky Koirala at the District Emergency Operation Center in Sindhupalchowk; and Subash Gyawali at the Regional Emergency Operation Center in Surkhet.
Following their deployment to the EOCs, the UNVs provided valuable support in collecting, documenting and disseminating a variety of information, documents and reports related to Disaster Risk Reduction and reconstruction. This also extended to updating various relevant online portals, as well as preparing maps and charts related to the work of EOCs across the country, efforts whose benefits go well beyond the earthquakes and have since proved useful in the context of information management in other disasters, such as the 2017 floods in the Terai.
In this way, UNVs have made for commendable assets to CDRMP’s teams, and to UNDP’s broader achievements. In collaboration with members of the host agencies, government agencies and local communities, they have been instrumental in ushering recovery forward. Apart from the impact their hard work has had on the communities in need, such engagement has also served to enhance the skills and capacities of UNVs themselves, ultimately resulting in overall development of the human resource pool related to the development sector—and disaster risk reduction in particular—in the country.