Cash distributions keep Nepal’s earthquake survivors warm through winter

Published: 22 December 2015 11:41 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC @RosemarieNorth

Silver flashes off the new sheets of corrugated iron that roof almost every building around Lachyang village, in a mountainous part of Nuwakot district, five hours’ drive from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

One of these houses belongs to Januka Tamang. After losing everything in the earthquake earlier in the year, she now shares an iron shed with her daughter, 6, and son, 12. Her husband – like many men here – works overseas. He works in Saudi Arabia and has been away for 13 years. She last saw him 18 months ago.

During the few hours of bright sun, Januka Tamang collects her money at a cash transfer distribution in the village. The money comes with no conditions but a team from the Red Cross, who are dispensing the cash, has suggestions for staying warm during the winter and is recommending that people buy clothing, blankets and mattresses.

The Nepal Red Cross Society aims to distribute 10,000 Nepali rupees (94 US dollars or 94 Swiss francs) cash to 50,000 households before the end of 2015.

Januka’s wishes are basic. “There are no doors on my shed so I’m planning to buy plywood to make doors. I’m worried about burglary. We also have to sleep on the floor so I’m worried about the cold this winter. My next priority is blankets.”

Januka and her children have been identified as being particularly in need of extra help as winter bites. Lachyang sits below the 2,000-metre snow line, but it will get very cold, especially for people living in temporary shelters like here in Nuwakot district, where 90 per cent of houses were badly damaged in the earthquake.

Another woman collecting her entitlement, Ram Maya Tamang, says “Before the earthquake we had a stone and mud brick house with two storeys. It was very warm inside. Now we live in a shed made of corrugated iron, and it’s cold. We lost everything in the earthquake – our supplies of food and clothes too”.

Ram Maya Tamang will see how far her 10,000 Rupees stretches for herself, her son, his wife, and their children.

“We have to buy clothes and shirak (cotton quilts). I’ll buy other things depending on our needs.”

Some people try to insulate their corrugated iron hut by lining it with mud, straw or thin mattresses, which also catch the dew or condensation, keeping the hut drier.

People in this remote area belong to the disadvantaged Tamang ethnic group and they have few opportunities to earn a living, says Tirtha Raj Joshi, a programme coordinator with the American Red Cross in Nepal.

“Almost all the people here farm all year round and will have enough food for several months over winter. But they will need to buy some of their food and their clothing. This is why many men are overseas as migrant workers. Coping with the upcoming winter is a real challenge.”

At a help desk during the distribution, Red Cross staff and volunteers – in coordination with local public authorities – solve problems such as cash being in the name of a person who is now working abroad.

Volunteers carry out an exit survey, relayed instantly by a data collection app called Magpi, that asks how well the distribution has met people’s needs and what they intend to spend the money on. A separate market survey monitors how much the cash affects the supply and price of goods including clothes, blankets, cooking gas and food.

Max Santner, the head of the IFRC delegation in Nepal, says a dispute between India and Nepal influenced the Red Cross’ decision to distribute cash.

“Since 23 September, disputes at the border have drastically reduced the availability of vehicle and cooking fuel and other essential supplies, forcing the Red Cross to restrict movement and rethink some early recovery activities and preparation for winter,” he said.

“So in November we began giving cash to 50,000 households in the 14 districts hardest hit by the earthquakes, instead of directly distributing blankets or warm clothes.”

Nepal Red Cross Society volunteer Ramesh Giri is a school teacher and he is using a week of his holiday to help with the cash distributions.

“I like the humanitarian work of the Red Cross and I wanted to do something in the community so I started volunteering.

“It’s the satisfaction you can get from helping people. You help many kinds of people and they feel happy after getting something – poor people, old people, small children, everyone affected by the earthquake.”