This excerpt is from an article originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of MCC Intersections. Click here to access the full article.
By Avash Karki and Ryan Fowler
The April 2015 earthquake in Nepal is an event etched in the memories of many Nepalis. The immense damage brought on by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake took the lives of nearly 9,000 people, caused around 22,000 severe injuries and destroyed more than 600,000 homes. The earthquake’s epicenter that struck Barpak village of Gorkha district destroyed every house in the village. MCC Nepal’s working districts of Dhading, Lalitpur, Ramechhap and Okhaldhunga were among the highly affected districts. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the people of Nepal experienced the effects of trauma and faced the prospect of a long and difficult recovery.
In the weeks following the earthquake, MCC Nepal supported rapid response distributions of emergency food, toiletries and shelter supplies in Dhading, Okhaldhunga and Lalitpur through its existing partner organizations. MCC mobilized an assessment team to survey the damage caused by the disaster and assess the ability of MCC and its partners to respond to recovery needs. MCC launched a humanitarian appeal to its supporters, resulting in about US$3 million raised to support the needs of those most affected by the earthquake. Due to the magnitude of damage sustained and the overwhelming requests from local communities for assistance, the government of Nepal loosened restrictions on international non-governmental organizations (INGOs) wishing to respond, leading to an influx of INGOs seeking to aid communities devastated by the disaster.
Coordination with the government throughout the earthquake response was a learning experience for MCC and our partners, particularly as the government was going through a federal restructuring process. Since MCC was already a registered INGO in Nepal, our partnerships with local Nepali organizations and existing government agreement allowed for a smoother process of receiving approval from the government body that oversaw earthquake response work in Nepal, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). More significant, however, were the existing government relationships that our partners had with local-level government stakeholders. A key part of the enactment of Nepal’s 2015 constitution was a decentralization of power from the federal level to the local level, where our partners relate daily with local government officials and through these relationships receive approval and buy-in from local government bodies for their projects.
As we think about the lessons learned from our earthquake recovery program, we would summarize our learnings in this way: in an unpredictable context like a disaster response scenario, it is helpful to remove as many barriers as possible for participants to successfully recover from the disaster. Some things, like the implementation of a new federal structure and local elections, cannot be controlled. Yet we can control whether we decide to engage in recovery work that is dependent on successful and timely action of governmental and other actors. Going forward, we would minimize this type of recovery programming because there were simply too many delays and risks introduced into the implementation of the projects. Instead, we would build on the success our partners experienced in this recovery effort through the utilization of existing community groups and networks to carry out recovery projects. Mothers groups, water user groups and community-based organizations seemed to be great fits for our partners in the planning, implementation and ongoing management of their projects.
While aspects of these learnings are unique to the context of Nepal, it is an overall reminder that partnership continues to be the best way for us to respond to local disasters. We view our partner organizations as the primary vehicles for MCC Nepal’s work, and we are discovering that these partnerships are bolstered even further through engagement and relationship building with local government stakeholders and community groups.