(Posted by Laurence)
That Jane I were able to slot in a timely and meaningful trip to Nepal this month may seem fortuitous, or just incidental – or it could be God, yet again, weaving the tapestry of our lives that we can only see in retrospect. Regardless, we have had a fascinating and enjoyable time seeing – and being a small part of – the work being done by OM Nepal in the wake of the 2015 earthquake. But wait, you say, that was two years ago… surely Nepal is well on its way to recovery by now?
I can’t speak to all the factors at play but I believe seasonal extremes of weather, government directives, and the logistical remoteness of many communities have played a part in slowing reconstruction. We spent two weeks visiting the Langtang Valley, OM Nepal’s current focus for reconstruction and the site of huge devastation in 2015. The main cause of death and building collapse here was not so much the earthquake tremors but the avalanches and landslides triggered as a result. The former site of Langtang Village is now a wasteland of fallen rocks where a major landslide took hundreds of lives and literally wiped a village off the hillside. This village is around 30km from the nearest road, and unless you can afford the luxury of a helicopter (also very weather dependent) all goods and materials must be carried by porter or mule. Inconvenience aside, this causes the cost of materials to rocket – a bag of cement in the nearest town costs $9, but by the time you add in transport costs (by mule, the cheapest) it will cost closer to $35 in Langtang.
OM Nepal have provided logistical assistance to the people of Langtang – through monetary grants and donation of mules – and are now constructing ‘model houses’ in strategic locations. NGOs are not permitted to directly rebuild or even fund the rebuilding of general housing in Nepal – the Government is providing rebuilding grants to households – but they are allowed to build houses for the most vulnerable households in a community while simultaneously demonstrating safe building techniques and training local workers.
Jane and I were in Nepal primarily so that I could provide Construction Management support to OM Nepal – this was somewhat of an experiment, brought about through a connection I had within OM, but we were confident that having a second opinion on the ground for a few weeks could only be helpful in some way. This is not the first time EMI has been involved in the earthquake response, in fact a series of EMI teams were present in Nepal in 2015 and 2016 supporting a number of different organisations.
The OM Nepal team are doing sterling work in the face of many challenges, and while I discussed several technical aspects of the construction with them I felt that they were already managing the work to a high standard, and most of the changes we discussed would be going above and beyond government requirements. One particular opportunity I had that felt extremely worthwhile and satisfying was spending some time with OM’s project engineer introducing him to the concept of a Gantt chart (a project planning tool); he took to it extremely quickly and was keen to put it to immediate use on the next house project that was starting that day. In an environment where funding is tight and supply lines are long and expensive, good planning is essential and so it was encouraging to see a simple project management tool adapted and used appropriately.
As is often the case with short-term ‘voluntary’ work, I feel that I was one of the main beneficiaries of our trip! The three day hike up the valley, a week of living simply ‘off the grid’, with construction observations thrown in… it was a dream for me, and even a chance for us both to spend some time away from the busyness of life.