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The Jeevan Jyoti Lower Secondary School’s concrete floors and corrugated iron walls bounce sound from one classroom to another. Beside the school lies a pile of rubble; on either side of the valley where it sits, landslides cut jagged lines across the dark hillsides. Still, the students, parents, and teachers of Jeevan Jyoti are happy to have a building at all.
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. Two weeks later, a second one hit. Almost 9,000 people were killed and over 20,000 injured. More than 80% of Nepal’s population lives in rural areas—most in homes made of stone, mud, and thatch. After the earthquake, many homes collapsed and millions of people were displaced. Livestock was killed. Landslides destroyed farmland and forests. Local economies were disrupted and personal finances battered.
In rural areas like Simjung, a Hariyo Ban community near the epicenter of the earthquake, the effects were stark.
On the side of the road that leads to Simjung clusters a settlement of tiny shelters made of tarps and corrugated iron; water comes from a rubber tube poking from the ground. The pump nearby stopped working after the earthquake, and has yet to be repaired.
“My house was damaged by the earthquake...and I didn’t even have a temporary shelter. I just moved in with my daughter,” says 81-year-old Suka Maya Tamang. In the year following the earthquake, she says, no one in the makeshift village received any support.
“I’m fed by my daughter. I have nothing myself,” she continues. “Before, my daughter had goats, but they were all killed in the earthquake. Now, she works as a laborer. From that the whole family is supported.”
Their situation is hardly unique. Across the earthquake-affected area, pockets untouched by aid organizations have struggled to get by. Though the government promised roughly $2,000 to each household for rebuilding, one year later, millions of families had yet to receive even a fraction of the funds.
Which makes the lively school, and the Simjung community members who live in villages clinging to the surrounding hills, an important example. Simjung has had access to international aid, and life has moved forward.
“It’s totally different here,” says Budhi Bahadur Tamang, a community leader in Simjung and chairman of the Mausulipakha Community Forest Users Group. “We’re recovering much faster than the others,” he says.
In his village of 900 houses, only a few remained standing after the earthquake. Today, however, the community is the picture of healthy recovery. The houses boast solar lights and are attached to a grid powered by micro-hydro—in essence, water piped from the nearby stream into a shed where it powers a generator. After the earthquake, Hariyo Ban helped the community rebuild it so that schoolchildren could again study in the evenings and adults could go about their work. Livestock and cash-for-work programs have allowed people to start generating income again, and irrigation canals and trail repairs have allowed agriculture to resume. In all instances, Hariyo Ban has guided the community toward eco-friendly rebuilding, to increase resilience and reduce the risk of future disasters.
Immediately after the earthquake hit, Hariyo Ban partners focused on urgent needs, bringing people tarpaulins, blankets, food, and other emergency supplies. They worked with the government to identify recovery needs for the forest and environment sector, and to develop a more detailed rapid environmental assessment that identified potential environmental risks from disaster recovery and reconstruction efforts—and offered ways to mitigate them. Hariyo Ban also helped communities, as well as the housing, water supply, and education sectors, adopt environmentally sound practices.
“Sometimes, the natural rush to build back what was there before is not always best for the community that we’re trying to support,” says Anita van Breda, senior director of environment and disaster management at WWF. “If we’re rebuilding homes, you need timber, sand, gravel, and mortar. All of that has to come from someplace. If we rush in and extract it all at once, we’re probably setting up a different kind of risk to nearby communities and the biodiversity that supports them. If we want to rebuild healthy and productive communities, the environment has to be a part of that.”
Jugbahadar Gurung, a young man from Simjung, couldn’t agree more. Students are going to school again; farmers are beginning to plant. Gurung has replaced his livestock, joined an antipoaching unit, and begun to take an active role in protecting the environment.
“We’re rebuilding,” says Gurung, “through the support of Hariyo Ban.”