One year on, the UK can take the lead in supporting Nepal’s reconstruction efforts

Many of those affected by Nepal's devastating earthquake are still living in tents

Image: DFID

At midday on Saturday 25 April last year, an earthquake registering a 7.6 magnitude struck Barpak in the historic district of Gorkha, about 76 kilometres north-west of Kathmandu. More than 300 aftershocks – four of them registering over 6.0 on the Richter Scale including one measuring 6.8 – followed.

With many of those affected still living in temporary shelters, urgent action is required to accelerate the reconstruction effort.

Given our historical ties, the UK is uniquely placed to form a UN Friends of Nepal Group to support the reconstruction effort, and ensure that international donors deliver on their aid pledges.

Nepal is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with profound and long-established links to the United Kingdom. The Himalayas, Everest and the continuing story of the sacrifice and courage of the Gurkhas hides a deeper truth about the fragility of life for many Nepalese people.

Life for many Nepalese is very hard despite the continuing efforts by our Department for International Development and other international partners. Seven to eight million people out of Nepal’s population of 19 million live in absolute poverty.

Malnutrition rates in Nepal are among the highest in the world. Forty-one percent of children under five are stunted, 29 percent are underweight and 11 percent are wasted. More than two million people in Nepal do not have access to a safe water supply, and more than half the population do not have access to a proper toilet.

Many families see their menfolk, largely but not exclusively forced to migrate, usually but not always to India, to earn a living for their families as incomes are too low in Nepal.

When the earthquake struck, almost 9,000 people were killed and 23,000 injured. One million homes were destroyed and an estimated one-third of the population of Nepal have been impacted by the earthquake. 31 of the country’s 75 districts have been affected with 14 declared crisis-hit, and another 17 partially affected.

Residential and government buildings were destroyed, schools, health centres, roads, bridges, water supplies, hydropower were all affected in many areas.

In the worst hit areas, entire settlements, including popular tourist destinations like Langtang were swept away by landslides and avalanches triggered by the earthquakes.

Twelve months on, the consequences of the earthquake are becoming clearer, and the pace of reconstruction needs a fresh injection of urgency.

The initial response to the earthquake within Nepal and across the international community appears to have been very strong.

Nepal’s National Disaster Response Framework was activated and a huge search and rescue operation, including many British search and rescue experts, Nepalese and Indian military and a large number of international NGOs. Within Nepal, over 22,500 civil servants, 65,000 troops and 42,000 police staff were mobilised to aid rescue and relief efforts.

The humanitarian challenge was considerable as thousands of people had to camp out in the open. Indeed, the vast majority of those whose homes were damaged or destroyed have had to remain camping or in traditional shelters over the winter and monsoon period.

The remoteness of many villages, the rugged terrain, the threat of landslides and logistical difficulties have all exacerbated the relief challenges the earthquake posed.

If a major earthquake was not tough enough on its own for a country to negotiate, there has been a major cross-party effort to agree a new federal constitution for Nepal.

This was finally agreed in January this year, but led to a 135 day unofficial blockade of food and fuel across the India-Nepal border which made the reconstruction effort even more difficult.

These tensions appear to have ceased recently and crucially a Nepal Reconstruction Authority has been established and began work on the 16 January.

But the need to start building permanent, earthquake resistant housing is becoming increasingly urgent. International NGOs have raised concerns that many people are still living in temporary shelters, and having already survived a very cold winter, they are bracing themselves for their second monsoon season since the earthquake hit.

Given our historical ties, the UK can and should play an important role in helping the Nepalese people rebuild their lives.

That is why I am calling in Parliament for the UK to set up a UN Friends of Nepal group to support the Nepal Reconstruction Authority, and ensure that international donors deliver on their aid pledges.

Gareth Thomas MP is leading a debate in the House of Commons today to mark the first anniversary of the Nepal earthquake


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