One year on, millions are stuck in temporary shelters

Published: 25 April 2016 3:53 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC

On 25 April and 12 May 2015, Nepal was struck by two deadly earthquakes that killed 8,856 people, injured 22,309 people, and damaged or destroyed more than 800,000 houses.

One year on from the disaster, millions of survivors continue to live in temporary shelters, exposed to heat, wind, rain and cold, uncertain if or when they will be able to rebuild their houses.

Shelter remains a priority need – yet humanitarian organisations planning to support families to rebuild their homes are waiting while the government clarifies its guidelines.

In the rural hills of Kathmandu district, Roshani Ghimire’s family of four lost their house, farming tools and seeds in the earthquake. They moved into a plastic tunnel they had used before the disaster as a greenhouse, reducing the land available for growing crops to eat and sell.

In December, Roshani Ghimire received a cash grant of 5,000 Nepali rupees (about 50 Swiss francs or US dollars) from the Nepal Red Cross Society to buy tools and seeds as part of a livelihoods programme supported by the British Red Cross with funding from the Disasters Emergency Committee. 

“It would have been very difficult for us had Red Cross not helped us at that time,” says Roshani Ghimire. “We would have had to look for loans. We could at least buy seeds and plant them. Then we were able to sell that crop and buy more seeds.”

Reinforced with corrugated iron and bamboo, their plastic tunnel home is far from ideal, says her husband, Rishiram Ghimire.

“It’s hot in summer and cold in winter. We perspire a lot during summer under the corrugated iron sheets. The children fall sick more often.”

He is keen to rebuild their stone and wooden house, but is not sure if the family will receive help to buy materials.

“If the local government doesn’t give us money, then we will live in the temporary shelter, like this and use plywood as the ceiling so we can control the heat and cold, and we won’t be afraid of the house collapsing on us if there is another earthquake. That is our plan,” says Rishiram Ghimire.

As Nepal approaches the first anniversary of the disaster, the Red Cross and Red Crescent is keen to support people to move out of temporary shelters made from corrugated iron, bamboo and plastic sheeting and into permanent housing that protects them and their families.

There are other benefits: new or rebuilt houses will have water and sanitation; the huge rebuilding effort will create jobs; houses will be built using earthquake-resistant techniques The Red Cross had already begun to provide training to local stone masons, carpenters and community members in earthquake resistant building techniques. Plans are in place to help people rebuild their homes which in turn will bring a badly needed boost to local employment opportunities. 

“We are hoping that the government will provide clear guidelines on reconstruction soon so people have clarity on what help they can expect and when,”  says Max Santner, Head of Country Office for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Nepal.

“The monsoon season is looming and we need to look at the immediate needs of people who are still waiting to rebuild their homes. There is still so much to be done, and there’s no time to waste.”

In the six months following the earthquake, the Nepal Red Cross Society, supported by Red Cross and Red Crescent partners from around the world, was able to reach more than three million people with emergency help including food, water, shelter materials and tools, and cash for immediate needs.

Nepal Red Cross Secretary General Dev Ratna Dhakwa says, “One year on, the Red Cross has made significant progress in helping affected families and communities to recover from this disaster. But we know recovery will take years and the Nepal Red Cross is here for the long term.”