Eastern Nepal's Goldhap camp starts to rise from the ashes

UNHCR starts rebuilding Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal after a fire last month left nearly 8,000 refugees from Bhutan homeless.

Health workers conduct check-ups in the camp.   © UNHCR/B.Thapa

KATHMANDU, Nepal, April 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is rebuilding Goldhap camp in eastern Nepal after a fire last month left nearly 8,000 refugees from Bhutan homeless. Once completed, it will feature fire-retardant thatched roofs and wider spacing between huts to minimize fire hazards.

The blaze in early March was sparked by an oil lamp in a centrally located hut in Goldhap camp. It spread quickly through the dense network of huts, some of which had recently been built into the walkways to accommodate the growing refugee population. Nearly 95 per cent of the camp was destroyed, but fortunately no one was killed.

For the last eight weeks, the refugees have been living in temporary shelters and with host families in and around the camp. The most vulnerable ones live in the camp school, which survived the blaze.

The Nepali government, UNHCR and its partners - including the Lutheran World Foundation, Caritas and the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia - together with the World Food Programme and other aid agencies, have been distributing food, tarpaulins, plastic mats, jerry cans, mosquito nets and emergency cash grants to these refugees.

To prevent the spread of diseases, UNHCR has brought in health workers, installed water tanks and latrines, dug waste disposal pits, conducted sanitation awareness activities, and carried out anti-mosquito fogging around the temporary shelters.

Life is slowly returning to normal for Goldhap's refugees. UNHCR made copies of school notes for students who had lost them in the fire. Refugees who had to take their annual exams were moved to other camps and hosted there until their exams were over.

The longer-term reconstruction of Goldhap camp was delayed as the Camp Management Committee did not agree on the roofing material. It had requested expensive sandwich panels which were not available in the local market and did not address fire hazards. UNHCR and the government are trying to resolve the issue by having partners demonstrate how to build fire-retardant roofs with thatch.

Based on a new camp design that focuses on fire safety, sites are being cleared and roads widened. The water supply system is being repaired and the latrines are being rebuilt. The refugees themselves are making mud bricks for the foundation and walls of their huts. Bamboo materials have been distributed to more than 300 families.

The reconstruction is expected to be completed by June, before the monsoon rains start in July.

UNHCR and its partners have received some US$177,000 to rebuild Goldhap camp, but still need an additional US$407,509 to complete the job. More than 107,000 refugees from Bhutan have been living in seven camps in eastern Nepal since the early 1990s.