Reflections From Post-Earthquake Nepal

It was two weeks after the massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal when we finally, cautiously, starting moving back into our homes. After spending rainy nights in tents and cars, we were ready to be back in our beds. Nepal suffered tremendous losses, and there would be years of recovery to come. But for now, aftershocks were minor, rubble was cleared away, and media outlets and geologists verified that it was safe to move back into our homes. The worst seemed to be over.

Not everyone was lucky enough to resume their lives so quickly. Some houses were unlivable after the earthquake. Rural districts near the epicentre of the quake experienced the worst of it. Older buildings without concrete foundations were more vulnerable to earthquake damage. Villages in Gorkha and Sindhuli were nearly entirely flattened by the earthquake. Once our team was back in the office in Kathmandu, we refocused our efforts on how to provide relief to people who lost everything.

On May 12th our team was in the office when we heard the glass window of the office rattle and ground beneath us tremble. At first we thought it was just another minor aftershock that would pass in a couple of seconds, but what started out as a slow rumble was now getting larger in amplitude and didn’t seem to stop.

We rushed outside and headed to an open space nearby. We held on to each other till we found our balance. When we looked around we saw the metal structure of the indoor soccer ground behind our office swinging from left to right like it was balancing on jelly. A terrified woman began crying beside us and one of us held her in our arms to comfort her. There were people all around us, elderly men and women, and children--even two dogs had found their way to safety.

A few minutes later, the ground stopped shaking. We ran into the office to grab our phones, and found the cell phone network was jammed with people trying to connect with their loved ones. When we were able to reach our families and make sure they were alright, we returned home.

Thankfully, the second earthquake wasn’t as deadly as the last because so many people were still on high alert from the continuing tremors. But buildings that were weakened by the first earthquake were flattened by the second one. A health clinic in Kathmandu had been evacuated due to structural damage after the April 25th earthquake and the second earthquake left it in ruins.

Another disaster hit us just as we were starting to believe that it was safe. The second earthquake has left us with psychological damage. Riding around Kathmandu, we still see people camped in tents in nearly every open space, and it’s hard to imagine they will find more permanent shelters any time soon.

These earthquakes have left thousands of people without a place to call home. Some areas in Nepal are no longer accessible by road and have lost access to all their basic needs including food and shelter.  These people have now lost their source of income and are entirely dependant upon food donations.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been working round the clock to distribute solar lanterns, charging stations, and water purification systems to communities in need. But we know that the road to reconstruction will be a long one, and we must allocate resources wisely in order to maximize our long term impact. For example, we want to make sure that community solar systems end up in schools and health clinics where they can continue to benefit entire communities. We are working closely with our partners to ensure that we can keep track of the systems once they have been distributed.

But the second earthquake has left people with psychological scars which will take longer to heal. During relief work with our partners, our team has seen strength and resilience from the people of Nepal. We believe that Nepal has a long journey to recovery but with the outpouring help that the country is receiving, we will rebuild stronger than before.