When the dust clears: looking back, and forward, after the Nepal earthquakes

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/Ravi Mishra

The earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May 2015 affected WaterAid’s work in many ways. Staff lost their houses, projects were disrupted, new partnerships were established, and we quickly provided emergency relief in exceptional circumstances. A year later, reconstruction is still ongoing. Rémi Kaupp, WaterAid UK’s Disasters Specialist, reflects on the work done, the lessons learned, and the part we can play in Nepal’s recovery.

Last year, I led a small team to review the work done by WaterAid after the earthquake and identify the main lessons of our response. For a development organisation like us, without stocks of supplies or a disaster staff roster, responding to such an emergency is an exceptional challenge. We did not have much choice in this case; our partners and the communities we support were directly affected, and there was a strong moral imperative to contribute to the relief efforts.

Emergency response: lessons for a development organisation

Fortunately, many of my colleagues had good experience in emergencies, and those in neighbouring countries quickly provided help too. We coordinated with humanitarian organisations through the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Cluster, as usual in disasters, to identify where to work and what help was most needed. After initial assessments and listening to our partners, we focused heavily on hygiene (a neglected issue but a crucial one to prevent diseases) by providing kits and sensitisation sessions, and leading the sub-cluster on that topic.

As part of the review, I produced a short brief PDF highlighting:

  • The innovations we introduced – such as inclusive toilets, new technologies and different kinds of partnerships – and how we could better exchange knowledge.
  • How we quickly adapted to an emergency situation, and how we could be better prepared.
  • How we followed humanitarian best practice, and how we could be more useful to others in clusters by better defining our potential roles in emergencies.

I would love to hear feedback from other professionals in the sector – What are we missing? Have you had the same challenge at your NGO? Tweet me your thoughts @RemKau.

Recovery and reconstruction: looking ahead

The recovery and reconstruction work in Nepal suffered several setbacks. It took a long time for the National Reconstruction Authority to be set up and functional. An economic blockade from neighbouring India following Nepal’s new constitution increased the difficulties.

Despite these challenges, WaterAid Nepal, together with other NGOs, managed to contribute to the recovery effort. Our work mostly included the reconstruction of affected infrastructure, such as gravity-fed water supply networks, and supporting communities to return to Open Defecation Free status, whereby everybody has toilets – including those now living with disabilities. We also installed toilets in camps, and worked on menstrual hygiene by training community members to manufacture pads.  which provides more detail about this as well as stories from our work.

Beyond reconstruction, we now need to tackle wider issues in our sector, especially the chronic under-funding of water and sanitation (let alone of services that can withstand future disasters), the worrying water security crisis, and the WASH sector’s preparedness, starting with WaterAid and our partners. Only then can we be ready to act should the unthinkable happen again.

Rémi Kaupp tweets as @remkau