We have a new calendar in Nepal: rather than AD or BS (Bikram Sal, the Nepali calendar – currently in the year 2074), we count time in “BEQ and AEQ” – “before and after the earthquake”.
This is partly because the earthquake was such a big event that everyone knows where they were before and after, and partly because everything changed on that day in April 2015, for almost everyone living in Nepal.
In many ways, I think it is only now becoming clear how big a trauma this really was, and how much it has set the country back. I often hear the opinion that at least the earthquake has moved Nepal into the centre of international attention and that surely there is a lot more money available now for development work. This is true. However, compared to the amount of resources needed to re-build what was destroyed in the earthquake and to mitigate for the losses of so many people, this new money is a drop in the ocean. And no amount of money can pay for the loss of family and the trauma of rebuilding a normal life after the earthquake.
Despite this, it has to be said, that the people in the Nepalese hills are incredibly resilient. Life in these villages has always been a challenge, especially in winter, and people have had to adapt to an even more insecure and uncomfortable life whilst they recover from the earthquake’s destruction. Only through this adaptation could people in Kathmandu cope with the Indian border blockade last winter, when they had to cook on wood fires and could only buy petrol and cooking gas either on the black market or after hours of queuing.
Even after the blockade was lifted and the weather became warmer, the effects of the earthquakes were there every moment of our working days at PHASE, not only because the volume of work had increased so much due to a number of earthquake related construction and recovery projects, but also because the working environment had changed. In addition, government regulations are becoming ever tighter, as the government tries to retain control of what’s happening and tries to ensure equitable distribution of resources and high standards in reconstruction.
While we were struggling with all this, in addition to the usual problems of the monsoon season and of a growing organisation, PHASE suffered the greatest loss yet in its history: Nisha, one of our nurses, died in a helicopter accident, together with the pilot and several members of the same family from the community she worked in, including a sick new mother with her newborn baby. This was followed by another nurse, who had previously worked with PHASE, dying in a landslide while walking down from the same village just a few weeks later. This emphasised further how dangerous the work here really is, and that there is little we can do to protect our staff from the risks they face in daily life.
These tragedies were such a big shock for all of us in PHASE that it seemed to take us weeks to recover and get back into our stride – but there wasn’t really time for this, as the festival season and several new projects were looming and demanded full capacity from everyone. All this meant that it was hard to keep on top of all the reporting and communication needs associated with all of PHASE Nepal’s many projects.
It is only now, a few months into the New Year, and having arrived back from my Christmas / New Year visit in the UK and Austria, that I am finally getting round to writing this summary of what was a very hard year for me personally and many of my friends in PHASE.
In spite of all these events in the wider world, however, for me here in Nepal it seems that there is a lot of hope in 2017, as many positive things are happening in the country and with PHASE:
- In Kathmandu, for the first time I can remember, there have been no scheduled power cuts during the winter – a huge relief, especially compared to last winter, but also giving hope that it is actually possible to manage things better.
- It seems that the Melamchi Drinking Water project may finally come to pass, sorting out water shortages in the capital.
- PHASE is developing stronger relationships with several government agencies and bigger INGOs and is working on a project for environmental health and primary care in Kathmandu valley itself, as well as looking at expanding in our main focus area, the Far West.
- The tensions with various donors seem to be resolving and several new exciting projects are in planning or underway.
- The recent evaluation of PHASE projects conducted by the government agency (Social Welfare Council) was very positive, and we are awaiting a further external evaluation of the UK Aid funded project in Humla and Bajura.
- Jiban, PHASE Nepal’s Executive Director, was awarded the Chancellor’s Medal by the University of Sheffield for his work after the earthquake, effectively acknowledging the efforts of everyone in PHASE Nepal.
- Finally, Jiban is back in Nepal, having completed his PhD in Public Health, bringing all his experience and energy back to achieve even more for the disadvantaged people in Nepal.
So, although 2015 and 2016 were years I really don’t want to live through again, I am looking forward to the rest of 2017!
Dr Gerda Pohl, 2017
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