21-27 July 2017 #868

Rebuilding lives as important as rebuilding homes

Even if earthquake families move into new houses, they need help finding jobs
Shreejana Shrestha

WORKING TO REBUILD: Ganga Tamang (left) her village after the earthquake, and is lucky to have found a job at Tranquility Spa in Kathmandu. She pays for her college and sends money home to her parents in the mountains.

Ganga Tamang left her village in Sindhupalchok six months after the 2015 earthquake to look for a job in Kathmandu so she could take care of her family still living in tin huts up in the mountains.

Her family house was so badly damaged they couldn’t live in it anymore. The poultry shed collapsed, as did a small shop that was their source of cash income. Destitute, 20-year-old Ganga had no option but to migrate to Kathmandu, like thousands of other young men and women.

Although the family received the first tranche of the government’s housing grant of Rs50,000, it just wasn’t enough to put together salvaged material to build a makeshift shelter.

The family doesn’t have enough money now to start rebuilding as per designs approved by the government, which means they will not be eligible for the second tranche.

Earthquake recovery was an opportunity for Nepal to upgrade the skills of survivors, train them in construction techniques to stop out-migration and even attract Nepali workers back from abroad. A skilled concrete-layer or mason can earn up to Rs1,500 a day, which is more than what an unskilled Nepali worker earns in Malaysia or Qatar.

However, instead of creating new job opportunities the earthquake has actually accelerated out-migration. Those who remain behind, like Ganga’s family, are being cared for by money sent home by family members working in Kathmandu or abroad.

We put this to Govind Pokhrel, head of the National Reconstruction Authroity (NRA) and asked why rebuilding was taking so long. He replied: “No earthquake-affected country has completed reconstruction in two years. The NRA is focusing on private housing this year and will start working on rehabilitating livelihoods and creating jobs.”

The NRA is planning to provide demand-based training in all rural municipalities of earthquake-affected districts in the coming year, and is working to make sure that its concept of ‘Integrated model settlement’ includes livelihood components.

The NRA has achieved modest success in what it calls ‘social reconstruction’. Because most young men have left rural areas, the agency has trained women in masonry and other building skills. It hopes to make new public infrastructure disabled-friendly, ensure improved access to bank accounts and that households comply with building codes.

Rebuilding livelihoods is important if Nepal is to graduate from its status of a least developed country to a lower middle-income one by 2030. To meet the goal of ending poverty in all forms, set out in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), people need to have sources of income wherever they are resettled.

Renaud Meyer, Country Director of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), says balancing supply and demand is a must in the reconstruction process. He is encouraged by what he has seen in some of the earthquake districts.

“Having houses is not enough. Victims should have jobs. It is amazing to see how people re-equipped themselves with livelihood skills and tools through micro-entrepreneurship programs supported by UNDP,” Meyer told Nepali Times, adding that the NRA had to convince donors to put money into economic reconstruction.

For Ganga Tamang, it is a busy time in Kathmandu. Besides her job in a spa, she is also paying for college and trying to save enough to send home. She says: “I want to save money to help my parents who lost their income in the earthquake. It is difficult for my family to rebuild our livelihood.”

Read also:

Migrants inbound, Om Astha Rai

Failing to make the list, Shreejana Shrestha

Aftershocks in a migrant economy, Mallika Aryal

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