Visiting Plan International’s programmes in November 2015 – 6 months after the earthquake – was my first time in Nepal for 25 years. I spent nearly 3 years living in Kathmandu in the 1980s. While the vibrancy still remains, a lot has changed in the city I once called home.
Kathmandu has expanded dramatically, with the same urban sprawl you see in many cities worldwide as people have flooded into urban centres looking for work and opportunity. There are other signs of development – more roads, cars and mobile phones.
Yet, visiting the rural district of Sindhupalchowk, which was badly affected by the earthquake, I was struck by how little had changed.
Nepal will need sustained support, not only as the country recovers from the earthquake, but also to help it progress more fundamentally and sustainably
Challenges in rural communities
The same grinding poverty and underdevelopment still exists: families can be seen earning a small income and living from subsistence farming. While it makes you understand why people have left the countryside for the cities, or choosing to work outside of Nepal, the lack of progress in rural Nepal raises other issues.
While progress has been made, years of civil conflict in Nepal setback its own development and organisations like Plan International have had to learn why interventions in rural Nepal have not had the impact intended.
In Sindhupalchowk, we met women from Plan International’s cash-for-work programme. Receiving 30 days of short-term employment, people work on community projects – like repairing roads and clearing debris at schools – in order to earn an income to meet their basic needs.
In particular, I met a young mother named Binita who was left to raise her children alone as her husband was working overseas after joining the Nepali army.
I imagine it has been difficult to raise a child alone and care for family and farmland, but the impact of the earthquake has only made situations harder. Binita told me she was proud to join the cash-for-work programme, as it was the first time she was able to earn the same income as men. She felt equal, she said. While this was a small example of a changing Nepal, I continued to see glimpses of life that reminded me of my experience 25 years ago.
Her story of the female-headed household became the norm during my visit to Sindhupalchowk. With 3 million Nepalis living and working abroad, I was left to wonder: what progress can be made if people continue to leave? How can we rebuild Nepal when we’ve lost an entire generation of young, capable individuals?
World’s support required
And then the earthquake struck! Over 600,000 homes, 35,000 classrooms and many other facilities were destroyed. Yet despite all this, the incredible resilience and hope of Nepali people like Binita deserves more of the world’s support.
Winter is approaching and aid agencies, such as Plan International, are rushing to deliver warm clothes, blankets and materials to insulate buildings and help families cope with what will be a difficult winter.
It has been 6 months since the earthquake. A lot has been accomplished in the relief effort, with the most affected receiving help with temporary shelter, food and water, health care, and education. We’ve also done a lot more for families and, so far, Plan International has provided support to more than 255,000 individuals, including 106,000 children.
But there’s a lot more to do and it’s important we don’t forget Nepal, even if the immediate crisis is over.
Nepal will need sustained support, not only as the country recovers from the earthquake, but also to help it progress more fundamentally and sustainably, building on the opportunities of its recent peace and new constitution.
Leaving Nepal through the same airport as 25 years ago, I reflected on how we must work with the people of Nepal to make sure the country is finally able to turn the corner. By doing so, we can help ensure that the children of Nepal will grow up with a much brighter future.