Nepal Earthquake: “Your place for safety & comfort almost killed you”

Nepal Earthquake: “Your place for safety & comfort almost killed you”

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Amelia Rule

The devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal on June 25 has damaged or destroyed more than 750,000 houses. Amelia Rule, Emergency Shelter Advisor for CARE, talks about why a safe house is so important and how CARE supports people to rebuild their homes. She has been supporting CARE’s emergency team in Gorkha, one of the most affected areas, since late April.

Where are people living one month after the earthquake?

Most of the people are still living outside their homes. Their houses have been damaged or destroyed by the earthquake. CARE, the government and other organisations have been distributing tarps, which people used to put makeshift shelters together. Some families are already starting to rebuild; they are salvaging material from their destroyed houses. I see examples of resilience and capability from households every day. But many others do not have the means, tools and knowledge to start reconstructing their homes to withstand earthquakes. I have also met many elderly people who do not have the physical strength and are too traumatised to build their houses again. Others are too afraid to rebuild on the same plot, as they think something might be wrong with the land itself. It will be critical to rebuild people’s confidence and trust by making sure reconstruction is appropriate for each different area. 

Even people whose houses are mostly intact are too scared to sleep inside, as without proper expertise it can be difficult to know the difference between superficial and structural damage. I myself experienced the second big earthquake here in Nepal, and decided to sleep outside in a tent for many nights. There are still big aftershocks, and the fear of another earthquake is great. People were almost killed by their homes, which is usually their place for comfort and safety. We cannot underestimate the psychological damage which comes along with the material damage.

How is CARE supporting people to rebuild their homes?

Within days after the earthquake, CARE distributed tarpaulins to people in the hardest-hit areas. But this is obviously only a temporary measure and we need to quickly move towards longer-term solutions. In just a few weeks from now, the monsoon starts. We will provide more durable items such as corrugated iron sheeting to communities so they have a roof over their heads before the rain starts. After the rainy season in September, families can reuse these materials. Traditionally, tiles were used for roofing. But people are now in favour of corrugated iron sheets, as it is lighter and is less dangerous should it fall down. We will also provide technical assistance and expertise. Many families managed to salvage material from their destroyed houses; I even saw them pulling out the nails and screws in order to reuse them. It’s important that everyone knows how to safely demolish houses and salvage material, as it should not go to waste. Families want to know how to rebuild their homes safer and better. No one wants to experience a disaster of this scale ever again. 

What are the biggest challenges?

We are racing against the time. A few nights ago it already started to rain and some forecasts predict the monsoon to start earlier than usually. Many of the hardest-hit, remote villages are extremely difficult to access. My CARE-colleagues and I have to drive for hours and hike up steep slopes to distribute relief items to people in need. It is an expensive, time-intensive and logistically challenging humanitarian response. With the impending onset of the monsoon season and a high risk of landslides, access will get even more difficult. CARE is closely coordinating with other organisations and the local authorities, so the immense needs can be met. We are setting up base camps high in the mountains, using 4-by-4 trucks and helicopters. 

But people have not only lost their homes, they have often also lost their livelihoods. I met a young mother in the village of Barpak. She had a little shop in the ground floor of her house, which was totally destroyed. To provide for herself and her children she has borrowed money from neighbours and – only a few weeks after the earthquake – is in debt. She had few means before the quake, but now she is caught in the vicious downwards spiral of poverty. Many families I spoke to also told me that they cannot continue to work on the fields and earn an income, because they now have to build emergency shelter. CARE is therefore planning to provide cash assistance, so people can pay for skilled labour, materials or other costs related to construction.


Amelia Rule, Emergency Shelter Advisor for CARE, talks about why a safe house is so important and how CARE supports people to rebuild their homes.