By Rosemarie North, IFRC
This winter, 53,000 families affected by the 2015 Nepal earthquake are benefiting from cash that enables them to buy winter clothes and blankets. With more than 900,000 houses damaged or destroyed and reconstruction yet to begin, millions of people are still living in tents or temporary shelters.
To help people cope, the Nepal Red Cross Society and partners gave 10,000 Nepali rupees (about 91 US dollars) to 53,000 families, covering more than 200,000 people. The grant is unconditional but the Red Cross has recommended people to buy winter clothes and blankets or quilts. 90 percent of people surveyed by the Red Cross, on mobile phones that use the Magpi data collection app, followed the advice.
Kanchi BK, 19, lives high in the hills of Kavre district (also known as Kavrepalanchok) in a temporary shelter with her husband, baby and her parents-in-law. The family, who belong to the lowest ‘Dalit’ caste, bought quilts and clothes with their grant.
As the morning sun reaches their home, Kanchi carries a cream cotton quilt to a pile of rocks outside. She hopes the sun will dry out the damp in the quilt and maybe store some warmth for the next night.
Narayan fetches a grey jacket he bought. It feels thin. “But it’s warm,” he says. “I have a big family so I didn’t have enough money for a warmer one.”
Max Santner, Head of Delegation for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Nepal, says cash gives people dignity and choice. It is also faster and easier than distributing blankets or clothes, especially in Nepal, where a dispute with India closed the border since 23 September and severely restricted fuel supplies, driving up the price of goods and transport.
“When we monitored the cash that the Red Cross distributed in 2015, people told us they really appreciated the flexibility that money gave them immediately after the earthquake,” said Santner . “But they asked to be more involved in deciding who received help and how much each family would get so people had realistic expectations and rumours could be avoided. They also wanted opportunities to give feedback. We took these lessons on board when we distributed this latest round of cash.”
The president of Nepal Red Cross’ Kavre branch, Raghubar Chau Pradhan, says, “We took a new approach with how we communicated with beneficiaries, which automatically gave local people an active role. It made the distribution go smoothly.”
Closer to the valley floor, Bahadur Majhi and his wife Panmati Majhi bought desperately needed blankets and quilts with their grant. The couple sleep on a cotton quilt laid directly on the earth floor of their temporary shelter. Ram prefers to sleep on the floor because for two years he’s had paralysis on the right side of his body and seizures. He’s afraid he might fall out of bed at night.
“Somehow we’re managing, but it’s not enough to protect from the cold,” she says.
Even where original stone and mud brick houses still stand, people are too afraid to sleep in them. Their fears are stoked by irregular aftershocks that still occur 10 months after the earthquake. Further along the valley floor, in a cluster of houses called Sakhin Danda, lives Ranjana BK, who takes care of four girls, aged 2 to 11. Three are her own. The fourth was born after her husband took a new wife who he now lives with in Malaysia. Every six or seven months they send home a small remittance.
Ranjana split her 10,000 rupee grant with her mother-in-law. With her 5,000, she bought clothes for the children and nutritious biscuits and rice for her two-year-old who she says is healthy now but often sick with colds and fever.
“It’s really difficult for me,” she said, “Day by day the children are growing. It’s difficult to manage the costs. But I hope to receive financial support from my husband to support the family.”