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A year after Nepal quake, villagers rebuild from the ruins

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A year after Nepal quake, villagers rebuild from the ruins

Reconstruction continues following a deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake that flattened homes across the Himalayan kingdom on April 25 last year.
25 April 2016
Jagat Lama and his wife Dawa Sangmo take a break from rebuilding their earthquake levelled home in Baramchi Village, Nepal.

BARAMCHI VILLAGE, Nepal – In this rubble-strewn hamlet perched on the edge of a hill in north-east Nepal, a constant hammering on corrugated iron sheets breaks the calm as 40-year-old Jagat Lama fixes a roof over his newly built home.

"I'm planning to move into the new house before this monsoon," said the father of two, who is among thousands in Nepal still remaking their lives a year after a deadly 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck.

When the earth shunted violently back and forth around noon local time on April 25, 2015, Jagat and his wife, Dawa Sangmo, were planting maize in the field a kilometre from the village. When they rushed back home, they were horrified by what they found.

"My two-storey house was gone. There was so much panic. People were shouting, crying and running. I could hardly see beyond a few metres as a cloud of dust covered the entire village and the hill," said Jagat. "In a matter of a few seconds, my beautiful village looked as if it had been bombed."

About 8,500 people were killed by the quake and more than half a million homes were demolished, most of them in rural areas like Baramachi Village that were cut off from emergency or medical care. Just as Nepalis were starting to recover in May, a second major quake struck killing a further 153 people.

In the months that followed, homeless families faced tough challenges. These included heavy monsoon rains – which drench the country from June through August – as well as shortages of essentials like food and medicines due to protest blockades on the Indian border. Then, the harsh Himalayan winter set in.

In the first few nights after their house rattled down, Jagat and his family slept in the forest on a mattress stuffed with brush and straw. They subsequently moved to an open terraced field near their collapsed home, where they spent three months sleeping under plastic sheeting provided by UNHCR.

Following the earthquake, the UN Refugee Agency distributed 42,000 tarpaulins to nearly 210,000 displaced people. Additional aid included 8,000 solar lamps, 5,000 blankets, 450 shelter roof kits and 175 temporary schools.

"With our own supply of tarps and solar lights already in country, UNHCR was a first responder in several earthquake-affected districts," said Craig Sanders, UNHCR's representative in Nepal, recalling the relief operation that ramped up to help families like Jagat's to start rebuilding.

"As relief efforts scaled up, we switched gears to focus on using innovative techniques in the reconstruction of homes and schools using locally-resourced materials. Despite the logistical challenges, difficult terrain and widespread devastation, we were able to reach some communities with much-needed support."

In the weeks after the disaster, Jagat was among the quake homeless who received shelter roof-kits from UNHCR. As he prepares to move back home, he says he is "very happy. I wouldn't have been able to build such a nice house without the support" from UNHCR.

He has taken a loan of Rs.50,000 (US$475) to put windows and doors in his new house. He hopes to repay the loan by working in a neighbor's field and laboring for other people rebuilding their homes.

"The aftershocks still continue and we are always scared," he says. "Moving to my new house will be such a relief and I am really looking forward to it."