A Snapshot of Post-Earthquake Community-Driven Environmentally-Sensitive Recovery and Development
Introduction. Since the devastating earthquakes of April and May 2015 completely destroyed the village of Piple in Nepali, a handful of generous outside individuals and organizations have assisted the 23 farming households there to rebuild their lives. This report serves as a status update for various projects completed or ongoing in the village, and is broken into the categories of housing, improved cook stoves, disaster mitigation and environmental restoration, and livelihood development.
As is the case with most earthquake affected rural communities in Nepal, work in Piple has moved beyond response and relief and into the recovery and rebuilding phase. Immediate material, medical, temporary housing and other basic infrastructural needs have been met, and the community is now focused on permanent housing, environmental restoration, livelihood development, and income generation. In Piple, the primary sources of income are derived from tomato and maize farming, with side income from other agricultural sources such as fruit and dairy products. Some families have one or more members working outside of the village as wage earners. Most families lost livestock in the earthquakes, but three years into the recovery most families now have at least one buffalo, cow, and a collection of goats and chickens.
Housing. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, NGOs and the government provided each household with temporary shelter in the form of sheet metal "tunnels." These tunnels are now mostly employed as shelter for livestock such as goats and cows. Many families also built temporary shelter out of scrap wood and stone, which have mostly been deconstructed and utilized as firewood.
Over the course of 2016, 15 earthbag (super-adobe) houses were built in Piple by the local villagers working in cooperative volunteer groups, funded by Loving Arms Mission with support from Woven Earth. In preparation for the building, Loving Arms Mission funded a new drinking water pipe to the village to replace what had been damaged in the earthquake.
The earthbag houses were essential to providing safe and warm housing for families while they waited for assistance with permanent housing from the Nepali government. Though all the earthbag houses remain in good structural condition, roughly 5 of these houses need additional exterior earthen plaster work, plaster repair, and / or additional exterior drainage to protect foundations from long term water degradation.
Beginning in late 2017, funding of up to 3,50,000 rupees (roughly $3,500) per family for permanent housing began to be dispersed by the Nepal government to pay for cement, iron rod, stones and lumber. New permanent houses are being constructed according to the government's adopted construction guidelines (earthbag housing was approved in March 2017 by the Ministry of Urban Development, but the earthbag houses in Piple were already complete by the time the Nepal government began dispersing funding)ii.
As of May 2018, the majority of families have completed reinforced stone houses with cement tie beams and bond beams, with cement floor and wall plaster, mostly built by local labor. The families who have completed these houses are using them to sleep, while continuing to use their earthbag houses for cooking, dining, storage, and extra sleeping space. The locals reported that they prefer sleeping in the earthbag houses when it is cold, windy or rainy, since they are warmer (a feature of the high thermal mass of earthen walls). Though the completion target for permanent housing is the onset of monsoon (June 2018), the permanent housing should actually be completed by the end of 2018. In the future, as the next generation begins to marry and have more children, these families will be well served by their additional earthbag houses.
Improved Cook Stoves (ICS). Most rural Nepali households used traditional cookstoves constructed from stone and earth, with design dependent upon the availability of materials, cultural considerations and local climactic conditions. In Piple, the earthquakes reduced these traditional stoves to rubble along with the houses in which they were located. Over the winter of 2017-18, with the support
of an anonymous donor, Woven Earth funded the construction of 22 improved earthen cook stoves with stainless steel hoods including flap doors and chimneys. The project was contracted out to a Nepal- based metal fabrication company. As of May 2018, 15 stoves had been installed in the earthbag houses, while the materials for the 7 additional stoves have been delivered to Piple and are waiting for the completion of permanent housing to be installed.
Though not as effective as rocket stove technology, the theoretical benefits of ICS are well established, though actual results are heavily dependent upon design and usage behavior. Before the implementation of the ICS distribution, the families in Piple were cooking on open fires, some inside wooden temporary shelters (an obvious fire hazard).
In general, all community members in Piple reported being satisfied with their stoves. They reported that they use less than 1/3 of the wood as needed on an open fire to cook, and that they are superior to the stoves they had before the earthquake, which had no hood or chimney. The stoves have three burner openings ("tin mukhiya chulo"), which allow them to cook daal, rice and a curry simultaneously, greatly reducing cooking times.
Environmental benefits of the improved earthen cook stoves include reducing pressure on timber resources for firewood, and reducing CO2 and particulate air pollution via more efficient combustion. Social benefits include reducing time spent cooking and collecting firewood, a task primarily performed by women and girls, freeing time for other tasks or study. Health benefits include the elimination of inhaled indoor air pollution (the primary cause of morbidity in the rural Himalayas), eye irritation, and the buildup of soot inside the home and on clothes. ICS stoves insulated with earth are very unlikely to cause burns or catch other materials or the house on fire. By contracting a Nepali company to do the stove installation, local persons may contact the builder at any point in the future to purchase additional units or for maintenance and repairs.
Two stove recipients reported slight leaks during heavy rains at the penetration point of the stove in the roof, which can be fixed with metal flashing. Some also reported that small amounts of smoke remain in the house at the beginning of lighting the fire, but once the stove is hot the updraft causes all smoke to enter the hood and exit the chimney. The community members reported preferring this hooded stove design over a stove design with a chimney pipe exiting the back of the stove burner unit, even though it can allow some smoke inside the home when the stove is cold. They prefer the hood with flap door design since when the flap is closed it creates a smoking chamber suitable for drying meats (sukuti), a traditional food prepared primarily during the Dasain season in the autumn.
Two traditional barriers to adoption of ICS in Nepal has been that people smoke their houses while cooking in order to cure wood to prevent against insect and water damage, and use the smoke to preserve dried meats. An advantage of the metal truss roofing system used in the earthbag houses is that they do not need to be smoked in order to protect them against water or insects, so the first reason to smoke the house is eliminated. The smoke chamber in the chimney hood may be used to smoke meats, eliminating the second barrier for ICS adoption.
Disaster Mitigation and Environmental Restoration.
During the 2017 monsoon, a 30 foot long landslide occurred behind the house of Gopi and Goma Ghale. The Kaspar family provided funds for gabion wire to build a retaining wall to prevent further land loss. Though the stone and wire are prepped at the site for construction, and foundational stonework has been completed, due to a lack of skilled labor the gabion wall has not yet been built. Gopi Ghale reports they will begin work once the labor becomes available.
Labor shortages in Nepal due to an overload of construction projects combined with excessive out migration of labor to foreign countries has delayed much of the earthquake recovery. For this reason, utilizing labor through international volunteer programming is essential to move forward small but important projects in Nepal.
Piple faces the typical issues associated with being a ridge-top village: water scarcity, fuel scarcity, landslides, and strong winds. All of these issues are exacerbated by deforestation, and may be mitigated through fodder and fruit tree plantation projects.
During the spring of 2018, the new Siddhalek Gaon Palika (Village Municipality) government has implemented a road widening project in anticipation of eventually building a pitched road through Piple from the Pokhara - Kathmandu Highway north into Dhading. Massive quantities of excess stone and earth have been discarded below the road, covering hundreds of square meters of terrace previously used for tomato and maize farming, and creating additional landslide dangers. Though these fields have now been rendered unsuitable for annual agriculture, causing a great deal of distress to the local farmers, these fields are still able to be utilized for planting fruit and fodder trees, which will help prevent erosion and further landslides and arable land loss. This situation also provides a potential opportunity for a mass tree plantation project that could participate in new CO2 sequestration schemes being offered by organizations such as the Ithaka Institute in Nepal[i].
Livelihood Development. In May 2016, Woven Earth hosted 8 international volunteers for 2 weeks to study and train in earthbag building technology. During the training program, the volunteers stayed in tents and ate with homestay families, which proved to be a health challenge for some of the international guests due to the poor post disaster water and sanitation situation. Now that facilities have improved, and the local people have some experience hosting international guests, there is a viable opportunity to accommodate groups for homestay programs[ii]. Piple could be marketed as an "eco village." Volunteer or student groups could stay in earthbag houses and assist with plantation projects in the area.
Over the course of 2017, discussions were held with members of the community about initiating a fruit tree distribution project. An initial investment for 460 fruit tree saplings of six varieties that are suitable for monsoon planting (tropical and citrus varieties) has been provided by Woven Earth, ordered through the Dhading Agricultural Development Office (Krishi Vikas Kendra). Decisions about which trees to purchase were made in consultation with the people of Piple based on advice from the ADO, what has historically grown well in Piple, and what fruits fetch high market prices. Each of the 23 participating families will receive a mix of 20 trees during the early monsoon in 2018: 3 mango trees (aap), 4 litchi trees (lichi), 4 guava trees (ambaa), 4 green lime trees (kaagati), 2 jackfruit trees (rukh katar), and 2 yellow lemon trees (nibuwa).
In May 2018, meetings were held with the community members to discuss best practices in fruit tree planting and care, including composting, mulching, and protection from animals. The community members intend to both eat and sell excess fruits once mature. An additional order for tree saplings that are suitable for cold season planting (deciduous varieties) will be made in the autumn 2018. These include popular fruit trees such as asian pear (naspati) and hog plum (lapsi).
Next Steps. Tentative plans have been made to return to Piple in the autumn and winter of 2018 to check the status of the stoves and trees. If the trees are prospering (due to the diligence and care of the local farmers), further mixed fruit and fodder tree plantations are recommended for this area. There are roughly 1500 households in Siddhalek Gao Palika, many of which are also located on ridge tops. Neighboring villages have noticed the work happening in Piple and are interested to participate in stove and tree distribution projects as well. If funding become available, we recommend expanding these projects.
Thank you to our donors and team for all of your ongoing support for these important projects which improve both the quality of life for the residents of Nepal, as well as contribute to the restoration of the natural environment. They have made a real impact, and the people of Piple have requested us to express their ongoing gratitude to their friends near and far.[i]
[i] Status update report prepared by Karma Dondrup Lama and Michael D Smith, MSW MPH, on behalf of the Woven Earth Board of Directors.
[ii] The platform to market and host villages for homestays is currently being developed by http://www.communityhomestay.com.