Recovery and Resilience in Nepal

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Journalist training workshop investigates earthquake recovery, climate change 

John Crump, senior science writer with GRID-Arendal, recollects his experiences from the field, while visiting ICIMOD’s pilot sites on Climate Smart Villages, and action research site on adaptive capacity in Kavrepalanchok district. John was one of three international trainers cum facilitators at the Regional training workshop for journalists: Strengthening reporting on adaptation to climate change for relevant policy approaches organised in Kathmandu, Nepal from 28 September–3 October, 2015. 

This post first appeared on GRID-Arendal’s website here.

A bullock stands next to the wreckage of a house destroyed when an earthquake hit Mathurapati, Nepal.

An old man sits on a bed in a corrugated tin shack and gestures around. This is his home now nearly six months after an earthquake devastated Nepal and drove everyone in the small village of Dhaitar from their houses.

Five beds are lined up close together in the 30 square metre shack, multi-coloured mosquito nets hanging over each. A fan stands on the hard-packed mud floor. An extension cord winds around the centre pole holding up a tin roof baking in the mid-day sun. There is electricity but there are no windows – just an open space where the wall ends below the roof for air to circulate. In the coming winter months, this will be a cold place to live. 

An elderly woman who lost her husband in the Nepal earthquake stands next to her makeshift home and the remains of her house in Mathurapati.
The story was similar in other nearby villages like Mathurapati which sits on a steep slope overlooking a valley terraced with rice paddies. A group of journalists from the region visited the communities as part of a Regional Workshop for Journalists, co-sponsored by GRID-Arendal and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). The programme is part of the Himalayan Climate Change and Adaptation Programme, which is managed by ICIMOD, GRID-Arendal and another Norwegian partner, the Centre for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO).  The 15 participants were selected from 85 applicants and received funding to cover the cost of their trip.

Workshop participants interview a villager in Mathurapati, Nepal.
Dhaitar is a village of several thousand people living in small clusters of mud brick houses spread out along hills lined with rice terraces. All of the houses were damaged in the earthquakes that killed nearly 9000 people in the country in April and May 2015. There were no deaths here but everyone is still in temporary accommodation. After the earthquake, the government promised 200,000 rupees in compensation. Only about 15,000 per family has been delivered, not enough to buy the corrugated tin needed to build a small shack.

Peer Muhammad from Pakistan takes notes during a briefing in Mathurapati.

Fuel shortage 

Fifteen journalists from Nepal, India, Pakistan and China attended the workshop. They spent a day in Kathmandu getting background briefings from ICIMOD and other experts and then travelled to Dhulikhel about 50 kilometres from the capital. The trip took three hours because the roads were jammed with vehicles in haphazard lines waiting for fuel at closed petrol stations. Hundreds of people unable to find transport walked along the two-lane main road out of the capital, dodging slow moving buses, motorcycles and large trucks. Police had a difficult time managing the traffic as darkness fell. In the capital, things were a bit more orderly.

A dispute with India over Nepal’s new constitution and political demonstrations in the south led India to close the border. Within days the Nepali government had banned private cars from the road and instituted fuel rationing. Nepal relies on India for all of its fuel and a major portion of its food and other goods. The border closure was quickly bringing the national economy to a halt.

The effect of the fuel crisis was less pronounced in the rural areas where the journalists traveled to write stories on climate change and how agricultural communities were coping with water shortages and temperature increases. They were also to write a piece on earthquake recovery.

Himalayan temperature increase double the global average

The Hindu Kush Himalayan mountain region stretches from Afghanistan in the west to the Tibetan plateau and China in the east. Nepal is part of this vast and in places inaccessible area, which, like the Arctic, is experiencing temperature changes at double the rate of the global average. In briefings before they headed into the field, the journalists were told that melting glaciers in the region threaten the livelihoods and water supplies of 1.5 billion people.

Traditional and modern technologies at work in Mathurapati.
Rainfall patterns are changing as climate change contributes to more frequent extreme weather. Unseasonal rainfall result in flooding that destroys crops. If there’s not enough rain, crops can fail and have major effects on people’s lives and the country’s economy.

A 95-year-old woman takes a rest from working in the fields in Mathurapati.

Adapting to climate change, one farm at a time

In Dhaitar and other villages they visited, the journalists were introduced to a number of techniques being tested to deal with climate change, including conserving and reusing waste water, improved harvest of rice and other grains, and growing different kinds of vegetables. Called “Climate Smart Villages” these initiatives are a joint effort by ICIMOD and the Centre for Environmental and Agricultural Policy Research, Extension and Development (CEAPRED). The group heard from villagers and experts about how different planting techniques were increasing harvests.

A grove of bitter gourds proves shelter from the hot sun beating down on the village. Crouching beneath a low trellis of hanging vegetables, a farmer explains how mulching with shredded plant matter has extended the growing season and increased her earnings from 30,000 to 70,000 rupees this year (about 700 USD).
It may not sound like a lot but any additional income is welcome in a country that the United Nations Development Programme ranked 145th out of 187 countries on its 2014 Human Development Index.