Witness to the Disaster: Namlo Trip Report

Nepal Trip Report
June 1- 12, 2015

Mankha in Ruins


Prior to departure for Nepal there was a flurry of activity in response to the earthquakes, including transferring funds to Namlo Nepal ($93,000 to date), organizing deliveries to Sabhung, Mankha and Dhuskun, starting the Colorado Coalition for Nepal, meetings on seeking temporary shelter solutions, sending out appeals, drafting brochures, attending fundraisers in Longmont, the Jefferson Park street fair, and coordinating with Developing Hands. One of the greatest accomplishments was being able to recruit and work with Laura Welland (well known to Namlo) and Rick Elhert, another EWB volunteer from New Zealand, who were both to provide a significant amount of technical assistance and advice for Namlo.

In preparation for this trip, and in an effort to increase the capacity of our field teams, I also purchased a number of supplies to take with me for our staff, including a new laptop (loaded with quickbooks), new camera, two solar panel chargers, hardhats, dust masks, workgloves, a steripen, and books on disaster assessment and response. This equipment is essential for establishing Namlo base camps in Mankha and Dhuskun.

Namlo's camp at the clinic in Mankha

Namlo’s camp at the clinic in Mankha

Conditions in Sindhupalchowk –

a. Housing:

By the time we arrived, the first “emergency phase” was winding down. Whereas it appears that Kathmandu is 95% intact, the opposite is true in Sindhupalchowk where almost all traditionally-built homes – almost all homes – were leveled, which cause almost half of the total deaths reported in Nepal. It is interesting to note that the persistent reports of people “sleeping in the open” while true, were relatively short-lived. I was told that, in Mankha, most people had made temporary shelters within 4-6 days, with everyone under in some sort of shelter by day 12. The implications of this are that, a) by the time we were discussing temporary, emergency shelter in Denver, people in Nepal had already made their own arrangements and b) the need for real-time communication from people on the ground is paramount, to avoid basing decisions on old information. Regardless, the decision in Denver to make use of the “portalbike shelter” was reasonable, evidenced by the sudden surge in demand for the structure by other ngos. Unfortunately, the need for the shelter was out of date by the time we arrived, and we were fortunate in that we only ordered 5 for field testing. The structures will be used by Namlo for field staff accommodation and storage.

Portalbike Emergency Shelter

Portalbike Emergency Shelter

As stated above, the main reason for the destruction of any non- reinforced concrete structures in Sindhupalchowk was the traditional building technique of building one and two-story structures with mud and field stone. The use of corrugated, galvanized sheeting for roofing material has become wide-spread, and luckily people were able to salvage much of this for their temporary structures, which comprised of jamming one end into an embankment, and supporting the front of the structure with bamboo or wood poles. Tarps provided by USAID were seen on many rooftops, but tents were in the minority.

Local, spontaneous reconstruction

Local, spontaneous reconstruction

The government Nepal announced that it would provide $150 for every family affected by the earthquake to use for temporary shelter, which has prompted an inflation in the numbers of families needing assistance. In Dhuskun VDC, the numbers of families rose from 991 in mid May to now over 1,400 by the time of our visit. In Mankha, the target number for the four wards we are working in rose from 391 up to 487. The increase in families could be based on a number of potential phenomena including families residing in Kathmandu or elsewhere returning to their homes, or households that were previously comprised of 2 or more families splitting up to be eligible for government assistance or other reasons. The government strategy is loaded with complications including a) there is no way to guarantee that families will use the money for shelter, b) the amount donated isn’t enough for an average size home c) the money is for shelter without actually providing access to the materials and d) the sudden influx of cash could cause security issues at the community level. Regardless of the wisdom of the government strategy, it will be helpful to Namlo in that the money we have for shelter will go further since we will base our distributions on the notion that people will have at least some resources to combine with our distributions to make a more complete assistance package.

While we were in Mankha, we distributed bundles of sheeting for 126 families, with 76 coming from Namlo and 50 from Developing Hands.

Distribution of galvanized corrugated sheeting

Distribution of galvanized corrugated sheeting

In our conversations with officials of the local Village Development Committees (VDCs) and villagers alike, housing was listed as their top priority. We were able to visit a number of homes undergoing spontaneous reconstruction to get an understanding of the role we can play in the coming days, months and possibly years. In our meeting with the women’s cooperative in Dhuskun, the women said that their priority was housing, and when asked if they had a preference for the traditional style or any other style of home, their response was “we don’t care what it looks like as long as it is safe”.

Local adaptation - using what was left

Local adaptation – using what was left

When asked if they would be willing to pay for their home if there were local contractors available, all but one agreed that they would prefer to pay someone else to build it. When asked if there were any people in the room would could start a reconstruction business, 3-4 men raised their hands, one of them being the man who supervised the construction of the Dhuskun women’s center. Therein lies an opportunity for market-driven reconstruction, as opposed to creating a handout situation that will continue into the future.
Right now it’s difficult to describe the status of housing reconstruction. People have already created their “emergency, temporary” shelters. Some people are now rebuilding in something more permanent, and for others, the temporary will be permanent. Some people will wait until after the monsoons to rebuild. Some will make use of their existing structures, while others will scrape and completely rebuild. In any case, we now have a two stage plan to incorporate the differing scenarios, and will be using the balance of relief funds for the remainder of this year and into next year.

Shocked and stunned

Shocked and stunned

Rick Ehlert and Laura Welland inspected the school in Mankha and the Women’s Center in Dhuskun. They also inspected the school in Dhuskun. The Mankha school was still standing, although interior walls had collapsed. Rick recommended that we remove the entire second floor, and replace it with the roofing material from the old school, the walls of which had collapsed, leaving the roof and posts intact. By the time they left, the Developing Hands team succeeded in removing the second floor.

Mankha School

Mankha School

A similar situation exists in Dhuskun, where the walls of the old school completely collapsed, but left the roof and supports still standing. We should be able to help rebuild this school, and there are a lot of opportunities to revive with sufficient marketing and outreach, the sister-school idea. The school will at least need temporary (possibly bamboo?) walls to protect students from monsoon rains. Other government-built school structures in Dhuskun did not fare as well, and even one building under construction has problems from a design flaw not related to the earthquake.  Namlo’s recently completed Women’s Cooperative Business Center fared well in the earthquake, and is still in good condition.   On a positive note, the school has a new principal who might be easier to work with than the previous one who was not interested in continuing to work with Namlo on education issues. Given the fact that we now have an education officer, we might be able to help ways other than school construction.

In Mankha, Save the Children has established a Temporary Learning Center next to the new school that will serve as a classroom for all students until the new school is completed.

Other Priorities:

When we met with Mankha VDC in Kaudichowr, the local representative presented his ideas of district priorities (housing, water/sanitation, food, but also said that “you have to go up there and speak with the people” to learn more. This was a very wise remark, and differed dramatically from the approach in Dhuskun VDC. In Dhuskun, the VDC office is in the community and believes it represents the real needs of the residents. Whether or not this is true will be seen, but the relationship with the Dhuskun VDC will be different than the Mankha VDC.

b. Water:

Woman in Mankha collecting water

Woman in Mankha collecting water

In Mankha, the local VDC identified water as a priority need in Ward 7. Laura Welland, Steve Peterson of Developing Hands, Dipendra Joshi and Sarita Pandy of Namlo Nepal visited the area accompanied by community representatives where were experiencing the water shortage. We saw a number of water sources including waterfalls, protected seeps or springs built by government or the local community. A number of these water sources had either dried up or shifted to a lower location. Some spring boxes were cracked an leaking water. Despite this, there are a number of water sources in the area. We learned that the community that was complaining of lack of water actually had a water source nearby, but it was used by another community they were at odds with. When Dipendra offered to help broker a working partnership so that both communities could use the water source, the leader of community lacking water (Maoists) told him that his help wasn’t needed.

Regardless of this social situation, there is a lot of work that can be done to improve the water resources in Mankha VDC, but a survey will need to be done to identify the current resources, their use by the communities, volume and condition as a prerequisite, since working on one water resource will affect downstream communities. I suggested this as a non-emergency project to Laura Welland of EWB and she agreed that it would be a necessary first step, but it could be a challenge since it would require a team of water engineers with translators to track down and map the water resources, over very difficult and sometimes dangerous terrain. Since there is a water resource officer at the VDC level, it might be that some of this information already exists in reports.

In Dhuskun VDC, ward 1, we visited some water sources that were cracked and leaking, but otherwise providing water. The major problem here was the absence of a water committee that could regularly service and repair the resources. It was evident that there were numerous disconnections, faulty re-connections and “jury-rigged” connections that could be easily fixed if a water committee was established. Laura Welland determined that there were potential water projects in ward 1, that there appeared to be plenty of water per household which would increase in the rainy season, but it all has to be preceded by the establishment of a water committee.

c. Sanitation

Of major concern to me, given the imminent monsoon rains, was the almost complete destruction of latrines and subsequent open defecation taking place in both districts. In community meetings in Mankha and Dhuskun, Dipendra convinced community leaders of the need to build at least temporary latrines. Not only was this approved by the community leaders, they went one step further in stating that no one would get g.i. sheeting without digging a latrine first, and using a portion of the sheeting to cover the latrine. As much as I like this idea, I don’t know if there is enough time before the rains to accomplish both the distribution of more g.i. sheeting as well as digging latrines. This needs to be monitored very closely since there have been cases of diarrhea, which can spread quickly throughout populated areas. If, during the monsoon, we get reports of increased diarrhea and dysentery, we may need to act quickly.

d. Agriculture/food security:

Food security is a realm where you have to be looking backwards and forwards at the same time. Backwards, in looking at how much food has been distributed and how long it will last; forwards in looking at the normal agriculture cycle, the usual “lean periods” and whether or not enough seeds, tools and inputs are readily available for planting and the next season’s harvest. Shortly after the earthquake, Namlo, the government and other ngos delivered a 1-month ration. when I asked Dipendra to check on this, he found that some people had a few days food left, while others might have enough for a couple of weeks. We passed this information on to Developing Hands who organized the delivery of 2 bags of rice per family as well as the delivery of salt, oil and lentils which should last people of the four wards of Mankha another month.

We noticed extensive standing, tasseling fields of maize which appeared in good condition. People either sell the maize for rice, feed it to their cattle, or sometimes eat it if families don’t have enough money to pay for rice. In general, there seemed to be less food and agriculture concerns and people did not express any concern for additional seeds or tools for the next planting season. This is another situation that we should monitor closely.

e. Health:

In Mankha there is a health post (where we camped) but health staff that are either inadequately trained or not available on a full-time basis. In Dhuskun, there is a full-time health official, but she did not report anything out of the ordinary. Except 500 cases of diarrhea since the earthquake. Munch does not have cold chain equipment, but I think Dhuskun does. The Mankha clinic seemed to be in acceptable condition, whereas the Dhuskun clinic should only be used on a temporary basis (according to Rick). The Dhuskun clinic seemed better managed and equipped. Without an understanding of conditions prior to the earthquake, its difficult to understand the current status, suffice to say that health was not reported as a priority in either location, except as a general topic, i.e. no specific concerns reported or issues identified.

f. Leadership:

Namlo's coordinator Dipendra Joshi in community meeting

Namlo’s coordinator Dipendra Joshi in community meeting

As previously noted, the government VDC offices play a major role in determining priorities and attempting to coordinate reconstruction activities in their communities. The distance (vertical mostly) from the VDC to the Mankha community resulted in Namlo working with the local community to establish an “executive committee” and “monitoring committee” to develop reconstruction plans and to ensure fair distribution. These are committees that are representative of the community, and include three representatives from each ward. The commitment of these committees has been impressive so far, and in the few days we were there, they organized the deconstruction and clearing of the school yard and the distribution of g.i. sheeting.

A lot of credit needs to go to Dipendra Joshi, who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in his coordination and collaboration with community members, his ability to motivate and build on the capabilities of community members towards a shared goal. At one point in meeting with the community, it became clear that the laborious back-and-forth discussions on relief needs needed to be supplanted by encouraging the community to organize themselves and become the leaders of their own recovery, to be supported by Namlo but not directed by Namlo. This was a major accomplishment which, if sustained, could bode very well for future interaction with the community.

In Dhuskun, the local VDC is a body which might be just as effective, but reflects more of a top-down, political entity rather than a grass-roots initiative. Time will tell. Dipendra has excellent relations with the local VDC chairman, who is from Dipendra’s home district in the west. As expected, Namlo also has excellent relations with the Women’s Cooperative, which could become a major avenue for organizing future efforts, as evidenced by the work they are doing with their livestock project, which is planned to expand next year.

It should be noted that some of Namlo’s regular program activities intact in Dhuskun. The goat feeders that were introduced as part of Namlo’s livestock program took pride of place in how people protected them throughout the earthquake. Many people showed us their improved goat pens, and the animals are well-protected, healthy and cared for. Also, we saw coffee plants, ginger and tomato plants that were introduced by Namlo. In the case of the ginger and tomato plants, they could benefit from gravity-fed micro irrigation systems. When we think of Nepal, we should remember the resilience of the people, who now seem to be getting on with their lives.

Kanchi with her goat

Kanchi with her goat

We should also remember that the reconstruction phase, however poorly defined, can provide a lot of economic opportunities that can accelerate the recovery process.

It is difficult for an outsider to gauge the psycho-social needs and the trauma after such an event, and we should leave that to local experts. From my perspective, I saw an incredible amount of energy and effort put out by the local committee, who were possibly energized by our arrival, but who also are now in the position of creating their own future.


Namlo has committed to providing as soon as possible g.i. sheeting for 1,005 families in Dhuskun. This was an interim, planning figure that we were using prior to an even greater inflation of figures. This will cost $68,000. In Mankha, depending on what others are doing we will provide 361 bundles of g.i. sheeting at a cost of $24,000. This will give us a balance of $43,000 from the funding we received to date for a reconstruction program, the budget of which we are still working to establish.

Namlo will also be hiring two engineers to be stationed at Mankha and Dhuskun to supervise the next stages of reconstruction which will include the following:

Phase one:

Namlo will organize small teams of construction technicians to conduct outreach and provide training to homeowners in basic construction techniques that can help produce earthquake resistant homes. The training will be comprised of using L-brackets and concrete footers, covered by stone slabs, as well as tying-in posts to rafters with 8 gauge wire, and using nails to attach g.i. sheeting to rafters and purlins (as opposed to using boulders) to hold the roofing in place. Namlo will provide 1.5 to 2 bags of cement and rebar for each homeowner interested in reconstruction.

Sketches of improvements

Sketches of improvements

While we may start with general, group trainings, we want to quickly move to a situation where our teams are directly supervising installation or doing installation ourselves, to ensure that the homes are built with these basic techniques. Namlo will need to certify the construction of each home. We will use a demand-driven approach, doing general promotion and outreach to the community, and working with people who are interested. Our targets will be 1005 homes in Dhuskun and 486 homes in Mankha, or more depending on demand.

Phase two:

Based on the assumption that there is a demand for more extensive, whole-home reconstruction, Namlo will build its own reconstruction team, as well as support the emergence of other contractors by providing tools, equipment and training. Namlo will offer three options for people who are interested in whole-home reconstruction. While still under discussion with the EWB team, these options might consist of a) gabion and stone walls with g.i. roofing b) earth bag construction c) poles in footers with rafters supporting g.i. sheeting and wall made of bamboo or other lightweight material.

The idea is to train up and disseminate housing rebuilds where we can ensure quality. It might be that Namlo subsidized reconstruction for families that don’t have the resources to pay, but that the sub-contractors are used to reach homeowners who have the means to cover full costs. This is a key strategy to consider to avoid having a hand-out mentality develop in the communities, at the same time ensuring quality control and the emergence of a housing industry in the post-earthquake economic environment. When we see how much this two-phased program will cost, we will see how far we can go with funds raised to date, and how much extra we will need for 2016.

On top of this major initiative, Namlo has to finish the construction of Mankha school. Rick provided the technical plans and list of building materials to Dipendra, who now has to translate all of that into a budget for completing the school. It might be that the remaining funds are insufficient to complete the school. If this is the case, we might have to fund the balance with funds raised this year. Additionally, we can also approach our existing donors to see their level of interest in funding reconstruction programs, or possibly appealing to them to help to rebuild Dhuskun the cost of which is not known.

Rick Ehlert with Namlo staff

Rick Ehlert with Namlo staff

Rick Ehlert will send to us his evaluations of the buildings he inspected. Rick is also considering rejoining Namlo to help with the reconstruction program, and this would be an unbelievable boon to our efforrts. He has experience in many disasters and earthquake scenarios, but more importantly he could oversee the establishment of our new program.

3. A Word of Caution:


landslide just above Mankha

There are a lot of scenarios to consider when thinking about the impact of the monsoon. One prospect is that there will be a lot of landslides since the earthquake opened up fissures and cracks that can be seen everywhere. On the steep hillsides of Mankha and Dhuskun, this would be quite disastrous. While we were in both communities, we experience a 4.5 earthquake, and tremors every day. It’s difficult to say if this is over yet. The photo below shows a landslide just above a trail that we needed to hike on to get back to our base camp.

And this photo shows a part of the landslide between Mankha and Dhuskun, which caused so much havoc last year



Landslide from 2014 as seen from Dhuskun

Landslide from 2014 as seen from Dhuskun