Dhading isn’t far from Kathmandu as the crow flies; the main highway connecting the capital to the outside world runs through the southern bit of the district. It can be hard to believe that in practical terms, northern Dhading district is one of the most remote and isolated places left in Nepal — with villages you can only reach after a full day of driving followed by three days’ walk.
That’s where UMN is doing much of our earthquake response work. And at the end of March and beginning of April, Joel was able to spend ten days visiting that oddly near, very remote bit of the country.
Dhading was close to the epicenter of the first 2015 earthquake, and the destruction remains visible everywhere. Across north Dhading, some 80-90% of houses were destroyed or badly damaged. The survivors moved out of their shattered homes and landslide-threatened villages into shanties built of wood, corrugated iron, and tarpaulin. And there, for the most part, they’re still living today.
The reconstruction grants from the government of Nepal have allowed some people to begin rebuilding. Joel passed many foundations with wooden “ring beams” built in, per the official quake-resistance guidelines:
While UMN wasn’t able to rebuild houses directly through our partners, we have trained as many of the masons in north Dhading as we could find, and Joel was glad to find that time and time again when we spoke to a builder, they confirmed that they had learned their quake-resistant techniques from UMN.
UMN’s partners in the north have also spent a great deal of money and effort repairing bridges and trails. Having crossed one bridge in need of repair post-landslide, with a hop across the void required at the end (see right-hand pic below), Joel could appreciate how much difference that would make. Let alone in cases where the bridge had collapsed entirely into a ravine (as in the left-hand pic below, before it was hauled back up and reaffixed to the cliff by our partner).
Likewise with the trails: the landslide crossings and steep, slippery descents gave Joel a deep appreciation of the 28 km of trails (and, elsewhere, 7 km of motorable road) that our partners have restored. Sometimes, as in the right-hand picture below, this involved workers hanging by ropes from a cliff-face while rebuilding the stone stairs running along it.
Water infrastructure all across Dhading was broken by the quake, or dried up because of shifts in underground springs. UMN’s partners have rebuilt five community drinking water systems so far, from the sources to the taps, and provided new toilets, drinking water taps, and handwashing stations for schools across the north.
For the school buildings themselves, construction is still underway — with steel frame trusses that need to be driven to the end of the dirt jeep track, then carried along the steep foot trails for days to the construction sites. It’s a monumental task. UMN has already finished rebuilding 15 schools in southern Dhading, and Joel was able to visit another five under construction in the remote north during his days there.
The post-quake work isn’t just “building stuff.” UMN’s partners have been doing a great deal of work helping people restore their livelihoods or take up new income-earning opportunities, like off-season vegetable cultivation, shade-grown cardamom farming, and mushroom growing. Several families received goats to help them earn money through goat-rearing; some of these bucks have already sired 40-60 kids post-quake.
Relatively few other agencies work in the far north; some of the villages where UMN’s local partners serve would have received no outside assistance at all if it hadn’t been for the mission. These are the kinds of places we want to keep our focus — where the need is great and the workers few.