UNDP helps restore communities through debris management

Jul 13, 2015

Women in Sindhupalchowk earn a daily wage from UNDP’s cash-for-work programme launched in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake. Photo: Laxmi Prasad Ngakhusi/UNDP Nepal

One Sunday morning in June, William Vastine, who leads a team of 78 UNDP-trained demolition workers and 1,300 local community members, received a handwritten letter from Buddhist monks requesting help to remove the debris from their quake-stricken monastery.

“Dear sir, the earthquake has damaged our holy Gumba. Could you please help us demolish and remove the debris?” the letter sent by the head monk read. 

Before the quake, the monastery was a spiritual centre for over 500 Buddhist families living in the Irkhu area of Sindhupalchowk district. It used to be a place of prayers and other religious gathering for the local people until it was severely damaged by the April 25 earthquake.

Vastine and his team, who live in Irkhu during their work on the ground, had been demolishing damaged houses and removing debris for over a month as part of UNDP’s cash-for-work programme. Most of the houses in the area were a continuing threat to the survivors still living in their vicinity and required prompt demolition. 

“We decided to go right away to clear the debris from the religious site,” Vastine said. “Our mission is to assist as many people, as quickly as possible, prior to monsoon.”

Within three days of receiving the letter, the UNDP team safely demolished the damaged Gumba and removed the debris engaging 17 workers from the same community. “I have worked for over two weeks with this team and earned some money too. This is helping me cover my family’s expenses,” said Salina Moktan, one of 1,300 community members working under the emergency employment scheme.

“I am very thankful to this team,” said the lama as he stood beside fluttering Buddhist prayer flags. “We weren’t sure how to do this. The structure was unsafe and required many people to clear it, when we have very few youth around.”

Sindhupalchowk, one of the districts hit hardest by the quake, has recently seen a migratory exodus of young, able-bodied youth for foreign employment, leaving behind rural communities composed mostly of women, children and the elderly. According to official records, around 1,400 Nepalis leave the country every day for work overseas, mostly in the Middle East.

This lack of human resource has meant that many communities found it difficult to cope with the aftermath of the devastating quake. Without young people to assist in the clearing of debris and demolishing of unsafe structures, many people had continued to live in fear. The UNDP demolition team helped to alleviate that fear, while also providing a much-needed cash to the community. 

“The lack of a workforce is a major challenge here,” says Mr. Chudamani Parajuli, Secretary of the Irkhu VDC. “As not many have returned home from foreign jobs after the earthquake, the cash-for-work program has helped address the labour shortage to some extent, besides providing cash to the people.”

With funding support from Japan, over the first month of debris management work in VDC Kunchok, Irkhu, & Kartali, the UNDP team has assessed over 2,900 affected houses, demolished and safely removed debris from 1,200 houses, including over a dozen community buildings and provided emergency employment to over 3,000 locals, spreading the benefit to several thousand people in the quake affected areas.

The earthquake has damaged nearly 600,000 houses, displacing millions, and with the onset of the monsoon season, there is urgency to provide assistance to those who are most vulnerable. UNDP aims to clear debris from 3,000 houses by employing over 3,000 local people in the next three months. This will inject a total of Rs. 80 million (US$800,000) in cash into the community.

“The scale of the task ahead of us is enormous,” said Sophie Kemkhadze, UNDP Deputy Country Director. “Besides, the mountain geography and the fact that the houses are dispersed make our work even more challenging.

“We are, however, excited to see the progress. This is part of UNDP’s early recovery response which helps the local people and community recover faster”, added Kemkhadze.

In close coordination with the Government of Nepal, in addition to debris management, UNDP has started working on restoration of community infrastructure, resumption of local service delivery, rehabilitation of enterprises affected by the disaster, and promotion and creation of new micro-enterprises in order to help revive economic activities in the affected areas.

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