On April 25, Nepal was devastated by a massive earthquake measuring 7.8 on the richter scale, which killed thousands and displaced millions.
Now, the Nepalese need to rebuild what was lost—most importantly, their homes and key facilities like healthcare and education. And that is the toughest part.
According to the Nepal government, the tiny Himalayan country is staring at losses estimated at about $10 billion—nearly half of its gross domestic product of $19.2 billion.
Two organisations—Global Shelter Cluster and the REACH Initiative—surveyed about 1,680 households in the 14 districts that were worst affected by the earthquake, about their living conditions after the earthquake.
The preliminary results are staggering. Around 68% of displaced households are living in areas adjacent to their damaged homes, where access to sanitation, education, healthcare and clean drinking water is severely curtailed.
The damage and displacement
The United Nations estimates that 2.8 million people were displaced after the earthquake and its aftershocks flattened their homes. According to the survey, many people in districts such as Okhaldhunga and Sindhuli are still living in close proximity to their destroyed houses.
While 86% of the surveyed households were displaced because of damaged houses, 72% said they had to leave their homes because of the aftershocks.
On an average, 90% of the households surveyed across districts reported some kind of damage following the earthquake. The worst of its effects were seen in the Sindhupalchok district, which was also hit by a 6.7 magnitude aftershock, compounding the damage and death toll. Barely any of the houses in Sindhupalchok remained standing, with most reporting extensive damage, if not complete destruction. Most of the buildings built from stone were flattened, and those made of brick were partially destroyed and made impossible to live in.
Living and rebuilding
The impending monsoon rains could make things worse for people living in temporary shelters, while a lack of access to proper sanitation and healthcare facilities will add to the misery. About 60% of the households surveyed said they had begun to build temporary shelters, with districts such as Kavrepalanchok and Ramechhap leading the way.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, aid groups scrambled to collect building materials to construct temporary housing. Governments in the region stepped in, with India, for instance, providing zinc sheeting to build temporary roofs—57% of the households surveyed in this study said they had received some sort of assistance for shelter.
In addition, 69% of the households reported a significant decline in income following the earthquake as most relied on subsistence gardening and their livestock to earn money.
Meanwhile, the earthquake damaged several of the country’s hydropower plants, a key source of power. Together with a loss of infrastructure, electricity has been disrupted in almost all the affected regions, with households in districts such as Sindhupalchok, Okhaldhunga, Dolakha bearing the worst impact. Overall, 31% of households have no source of energy after the earthquake.
For the displaced, the biggest concern at the moment is the monsoon season, which runs from June to September, and threatens to worsen the situation. Only 21% of those surveyed believed they would be protected during the monsoon, with a majority fearing that their temporary housing will not survive.
On an average, 31% of the households said quality of water has declined, raising the threat of disease. A recent study showed that areas hardest hit by the earthquake are at high risk of the spread of the hepatitis E, largely because of contaminated water and food supplies.
Nepal’s already poor sanitation facilities have worsened in the aftermath of the earthquake, with an average of 11% of the respondents reporting that they don’t have access to any toilet facilities. This is a primary issue for menstruating women living in temporary housing.
Around 70% of the households said they were receiving public information by word-of-mouth, followed by radio. With mobile networks and internet connections damaged, the dissemination of information is another challenge the Nepalese are facing.
With the earthquake having destroyed school buildings in the affected regions, thousands of Nepalese schoolchildren are at risk of long-term disruption to their education. Nearly 40% of households reported that they don’t have access to education facilities, with most of the destruction concentrated in the districts of Sindhupalchok, Nuwakot and Gorkha.
The earthquake has compounded the difficulty of providing adequate healthcare to the population of Nepal, with 10% reporting that they did not have any access to health services. The situation is particularly dire in Sindhupalchok, Dolakha and Gorkha where health facilities have been largely destroyed. Acute respiratory infections and diarrhoea are among the top risks for children in Nepal, and their problems will likely worsen because of the damage to health facilities.