Nepal: From relief to reconstruction


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Keshav’s house (left) and his mother’s house (right), before the earthquake

In Nepal’s hamlets and villages, in the first days following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, families sheltered under crude lean-tos, made of whatever relatively waterproof materials they had to hand.

Keshav and his family

Keshav Thapa Magar, who lives with his wife, son and two daughters on the southeastern edge of the Kathmandu valley in Kot Gaon, had a typical earthquake experience for families of his 100-household village. The village consists in Newars, Magars, Chhetris and Tamangs, who mostly lived in traditional mud-brick or mud-stone houses before the earthquake destroyed them. Keshav’s own house, his cousin’s (like his, a traditional house) and his mother’s concrete post-and-beam house were all destroyed on April 25.


Keshav's house destroyed by the earthquake.

Within hours of that first earthquake, knowing that they would need shelter immediately from the unseasonably cold and rainy weather, Keshav and his son moved what valuables they could salvage into a small bamboo-framed plastic-covered greenhouse that stood near his ruined house. This structure, with their bedding laid out on the dirt floor, served as his family’s shelter for the first week or so. His mother, Kaili, 60 years-old, received a small tent for herself from her church (she is Christian, her son Hindu), where she slept with her grand-daughters.
Over the following week, Keshav and his family were able to retrieve some of the furniture from their rubbled houses, and they had chairs, bedsteads and a wardrobe in their shelter. They no longer slept on the dirt.  At the same time, they began building a new shelter on a small corn field next to the greenhouse:  this new structure, made with timbers and galvanized corrugated iron sheets (GCI) that they recycled from the ruins of their house, would be home during the monsoon, now just a few weeks away. 
At the same time, Keshav and his son, the eldest, kept at the long hard work of pulling down their house and Kaili’s house, separating the rubble into reusable stone and brick, timbers, door frames, window frames, and other salvageables. Unrecyclable wood was stacked for firewood for the cold winter. Unusable stone was piled for later disposal, or strewn along the dirt street.
Keshav shared in this arduous task after work and on the weekends—because he had returned to his job as a driver a few days after April 25.  There is no government safety net to help his family, so he has no choice but to get back to work as quickly as possible.
Keshav's transitional shelter

While many families in Nepal’s earthquake-affected districts have made progress similar to Keshav’s family, some are far behind.  They are inevitably the poorest families, the elderly, families who lost their breadwinner in the earthquakes, who have many young children to feed or who have other issues. They do not have GCI sheets to recycle, or money to buy new ones—and with demand for timbers, bamboo poles and GCI sheets sharply higher, as everyone tries to rebuild before the monsoons, the prices are sharply higher too.
In rural Nepal, which has known self-reliance for centuries, everyone pitches in to help. The village drunk in Kot Gaon has not been able to help himself after the earthquake, but his neighbors—despite their own difficulties—are providing support.
With the emergency rescue and relief operations winding down over the next weeks, the government and its development partners are now starting to look into rehabilitation and reconstruction.  This is where the World Bank has been active.
What the Bank is doing on the ground

​Staff from Bank offices around the world were mobilized within days of the first earthquake to begin thinking through the activities and modalities that would enable Nepalis who suffered the most from the earthquake to resume their lives as quickly as possible.
Bank staff, in partnership with the EU and the UN, are leading a post-earthquake damages and needs assessment. A team is advising the government on conducting a comprehensive review of the structural integrity and reparability of buildings damaged in the earthquakes.  Another team is preparing a budget support operation to help the government to finance immediate needs, building on a financial sector development policy credit that was almost ready to go to the Board for consideration when the first earthquake struck.  Sectoral teams are also reviewing projects in our ongoing portfolio to see how already-committed funds can be reallocated to address emergency conditions:  in fact, a roads mission that had arrived in Kathmandu just before the earthquake stayed in Nepal to work with the roads authorities to ensure that transport bottlenecks were addressed as quickly as possible in the crucial early days of the relief and recovery effort.
Bank staff are also working hard to help the government and its development partners address the most difficult immediate challenge emerging from the earthquake emergency, namely, helping the rural poor to get through the upcoming monsoon and winter, to rebuild their houses (to a higher earthquake-resilient standard) and to resume their agricultural activities. Many rural households will need small cash transfers for six to twelve months to keep them afloat as well as to help them to acquire the inputs needed to rebuild their houses. Determining who the beneficiaries should be, in thousands of small villages strewn along remote mountain slopes, and what system will work best to transfer cash and knowledge to them in a timely and reliable manner is not easy.

With extensive experience from earthquakes in Haiti, India, Pakistan and Turkey—among other places—the Bank is in a good position to help.


Johannes Zutt

Country Director, Bangladesh and Nepal

Join the Conversation

Gopal Shrestha
May 28, 2015

We look forward to your further improvement. Best of luck!

Bhushan Jha
May 29, 2015

Dear sir, thanks for your quick reply. As a responsible citizen of this country and well wisher of international community I want rightful use of the assistance so that democratic system institutionalizes and ends the possibility of any type of violent conflict. WB must be aware that Nepal is still in the transitional phase of democratic system, yet to emerge as a fully functional democracy. Thus it must be monitored accordingly. I'll continue expressing my opinion to you in coming days. Regards...

Bhushan Jha
May 28, 2015

Dear concerned authorities, it's good to know that WB is coming to help Nepal but as a responsible citizen of this country I would like to remind that Nepal is still a fragile democracy where corruption is every where so donors must be alert in this regard so that privileged people won't mishandle the fund. Donation must be directed towards rural area rather than in cities. Failure to do will invite new conflicts creating a big headache to international communities. Thank you.

earthquake victim
June 04, 2015

Dear Johannes sir, Thank you very much for your blog. Its really help our government and politicians to open their eye. But do you think our Nepal Government will help Keshab and his family and other earthquake victims? We have seen 104 year Rana regime, 30 years of Panchayat regime, and after that multi-party system and now Federal Democratic Republic, all of them only oppressed the poor people. Poor never got better, they became poorer, and rich got richer. So my suggestion would be while making WB’s strategies and approving loan/grant etc., it should be made only after consultations with poor people from rural and remote areas, because Kathmandu's government officials, politicians, policy makers, NGO/INGO do not know about our problems. Even our representatives whom we elect and send, they also do not know our problems. That's why we expect what you carefully supervise/monitor World Bank’s assistance projects/programs. We have great expectation that WB will help the earthquake affected people, and powerless people. Let me tell you that donors will achieve nothing, unless their dream is the poor people's dream. I think you joined the World Bank Nepal office since August 2013 and you know better that our politicians and GON staff minds are always full of only how to usurp the country's rule and how to amass wealth by indulging in corrupt practices. If you agree, I would like to know your comments on the above. Once again, thanks you very much for supporting Nepal and Nepalese poor people.

sjoerd nienhuys
November 05, 2015

I see that Johannes is not answering the question, probably because he wants to keep his job. He would be critisized by his boss and probaly the Nepali government officials if he was too critical. I was in Nepal working for an INGO and with NGO's during the main Maoist uprising. We were as INGO not targeted by the Maoist but the boss of our organisation wanted to stay clear of the Maoist because he feared that contacting them would be frowned upon by the Nepali government, and hence run the risk of being kicked out of the country. In that case the INGO would not be able to do anything. The INGO's new very well wat was going on but wanted to be soft politicians. This situation occurs in many Low-Income-Countries. Because internally we were critisizing our own INGO, the contracts of me and a collegue were stopped short.
Another point you may ask is why the Rana government did not take action after the 1934 earthquake, since they knew more-or-less that another EQ would occur in 75-100 years time. Simple: that would not be their problem, but for those living after them. So would say the Panchyat Regime. The following governments were too busy to get organised, even when NSET and others repeatedly warned about the oncoming disaster. In my opinion of EQ expert, Kathmandu got lucky, because if the EQ would have been slightly stronger, about 50,000 concrete frame buildings would have collapsed, causing a human and economic disaster five times bigger than the Pakistan Kashmir EQ.

Sushma Joshi
January 14, 2016

Instead of individual handouts (will not be enough for all and accusations of corruption sure to arise), might make sense to give block grants to communities with express purpose to:
1. Organize community groups and train them to collaborate to reconstruct homes
2. Support fundraising efforts and platform: eg from diaspora to raise bigger funds for each village
2. Techical/architectural help to teach how to build safe buildings
3. Seed grants for school, hospital, coomunity hall rebuilding
Hope to see WB disburse its funds asap. Sushma