Nepal marked the third anniversary of magnitude-7.6 Gorkha earthquake this week, but there are complaints galore about insufficient funding and resources to drive the reconstruction campaign forward. One of the problems the survivors frequently raise is the unavailability of skilled human resources to work in the field ensuring that every new construction is earthquake resistant.
But, perhaps there are few communities who have already taken initiatives to resolve the issue at the local level. The number of donor agencies who support such indirect approaches for sustainability and effectiveness of their funding is also relatively low. A small community of 47 households in Bojini, Thulosirubari of Sindhupalchok district can be an unusual case where both the community and the donor are jointly combatting the issue together with an innovation called ‘mobile masons’.
Elections and excitement
Whereas the slow pace marred reconstruction process throughout the country, Bojini was no exception till last year. Having spent two years in uncertainties already, the villagers were not even excited with the local level elections held around this time last year. They did not expect much from elected representatives in the status quo.
“There was no sufficient water, no money to buy materials, no people to mobilise. Further, there was no one who could visit our reconstruction site regularly and guide us through the process and meet government standards,” says local Dhan Bahadur Shrestha, adding he could not begin reconstructing his house till December last year.
However, the polls held in May last year became a catalyst for donor agencies like Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to launch the new component in their earthquake recovery support. In consultation and cooperation with new village officials, JICA trained villagers who were already working as masons so as to make them aware about earthquake-resistant technologies and equipment so that they could guide other local masons and house owners to build back better.
“Owing to locals’ complaints and requests, we studied how could we better support them for speedy and quality reconstruction,” the agency’s National Staff Leader for TPIS-ERP, Sugandha Subedi, says, “Then, we found that organisations like Save the Children and UNDP had already launched mason training and mobilisation programmes. The programmes could have better results, but their scope was really narrow.”
“Therefore we decided to implement it in all areas that we had earthquake recovered support programmes in,” he says, informing his agency is focused on 31 former village development committees of Sindhupalchok and 16 of Gorkha.
Too much on the plate
JICA has trained and mobilised total 548 mobile masons including 381 in Sindhupalchok. Bhakta Bahadur Giri, one of such masons, informs that his major job is to check if the materials locals are using and the structures they have created meet earthquake resistance status. He is currently looking after the construction of 89 houses in Bojini, Patanarsingh Danda, Gorakhtol and Ratamate of Chautara Sangachokgadhi Municipality.
Likewise, they teach earthquake-resistant technologies and methods to other unskilled workers. So far, 548 masons have transferred their skills to more than 3,000 unskilled workers, according to JICA.
Engagement of people like Giri is evident in the increased pace of reconstruction works in former Thulosirubari Village Development Committee, which Bojini is a part of. In October 2017, only 13 per cent survivors had begun reconstruction works whereas only 7.6 per cent had their houses already rebuilt. But, as of now, 46 per cent construction has been over and 94.5 per cent people have started working on it, according to Madhu Sudan Baral, JICA’s District Project Manager for Emergency Housing Reconstruction Project.
Therefore, the Reconstruction Authority is planning to replicate the mobile mason model into their activities very soon, Subedi informs, adding JICA on its part will continue mobilising them till January 2019.
One of the major jobs of mobile masons besides primary supervision is motivating and counselling locals about building back better on time. As the grant of Rs 300,000 is apparently insufficient to build even a two-room RCC house and receiving it involves a lot of red tape, locals are reluctant to build their houses and live in temporary settlements. When people outside the village go to talk to them, they do not easily get convinced.
“Therefore, our mobile masons are selected from the same locality as much as possible and they can motivate and convince people to get back to their normal life at the earliest,” says Subedi.
Convinced by mobile masons like Giri for an early completion of works, Shrestha finally has begun the construction of his house and plans to finish it within one month.
“It has already been three years, but we will be back to normalcy from this limbo soon,” he hopes.