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blog : blog0001 : the april 25 earthquake and how it shaped the hoste hainse strategy

krishna shah
june 20, 2015; saturday
11:56 nst (nepal standard time)

the morning of april 25, 2015, was just another saturday morning. the night before, i had broadcasted the 200th episode of my weekly electronic music radio show ( www.pralayasessions.com ), which is a fundraiser for hoste hainse, and i was getting ready to set up for the 4-year anniversary after-party on saturday, which was to be yet another fundraiser for hoste hainse. but by 12 noon on saturday, everything changed.

at 11:56 nst on april 25, 2015, saturday, an earthquake which measured a 7.8 on the richter scale rocked nepal. its epicenter was lamjung ( 28.147N 84.708E ), 77 kilometers (48 miles) northwest of kathmandu, the capital of nepal. the biggest seismic event that the region had seen in about 80 years, with the power of over 20 atom bombs, the earthquake lasted about 50 seconds, caused widespread destruction as well as loss of life, and was particularly devastating as it was a shallow earthquake, at just 10 kilometers below the surface, meaning that the shaking was felt more strongly and was more damaging than usual earthquakes that originate deeper in the ground.

at the time of this writing, over 8,800 people have been reported dead and more than 23,000 injured.

i was in sanepa, a suburb of kathmandu, picking my 8-year old daughter up from a sleepover, when the earthquake struck. we were about to enter our jeep when the shaking began. i had to hold the bumper grill of our jeep with one hand and my daughter's hand with the other. had i not, we would have both been flung to the ground. the shaking was that intense! during the shaking, my full attention was towards the buildings all around us, as well as the open spaces. where should we seek refuge if a building came crashing down? about a minute later the shaking finally subsided and thankfully none of the buildings around us collapsed. we were safe; "at least for now."

within 20 minutes, we felt the first aftershock. a 5.5. then it was one aftershock about every 10 minutes, as we lay huddled in the garden of my daughter's friend's house, where she had her sleepover. a 6.6 hit. then a 5.7. by midnight of april 25, we had experienced 37 aftershocks, all over 4.0 on the richter scale. today, on the 8-week anniversary of the earthquake, the aftershocks continue. we had a 4.2 this morning at 2:40am nst. according to the national seismological center, we've been served 326 aftershocks over 4.0 on the richter scale since the big one on april 25th, the biggest one being on may 12, measuring a 7.3 on the richter scale, which was initially registered as a 2nd major earthquake due to its intensity, as opposed to an aftershock.

we decided to walk home, as opposed to drive, as we did not know what road conditions would be like. and it was only a 30 minute walk back home. as we walked home, we witnessed the intensity of the devastation, and the more we saw, the more we hoped that it would not get any worse. when we finally reached home, we got the shock of our lives to see our house like this:


[click to enlarge]

although we lay reeling and helpless the first two days, by day 3, we were involved in earthquake relief operations. under the hoste hainse banner, we checked in with other organizations as well as like-minded individuals and loosely started networking on what could be done. our first stop was the international airport since reports had surfaced that foreign volunteers and relief workers were stranded there due to a lack of coordination from our government. we handed out our contact information to volunteers at the airport, from doctors to search and rescue workers, from all over the world -- germany, spain, israel, the united states, the united kingdom, to name a few. by the next day, we received phone calls asking for help.

day 4 through day 7 we were active from morning till evening with earthquake relief and rehabilitation operations. from taking a french search and rescue team to sankhu, to taking american doctors to sindhupalchowk, hoste hainse was active both on the field as well as in the office (see blog entry [x]). by the 2nd week, however, we realized that we can be more effective and useful by doing what we're actually good at. we have 25 years of experience in education under our belt and currently run six schools across three districts in rural nepal, proudly boasting an slc (school leaving certificate) pass rate of over 90% (the national average is less than 50%). thankfully the earthquake did not affect any of our schools as they are in the terai, the southern belt of the country. therefore, the time had come to do something for the schools that have been affected by the earthquake.

once the relief activities began to subside, the rebuilding activities started to pick up steam. we wasted no time in finding organizations involved in education rebuilding post earthquake, and have been part of the nepal "education cluster" since mid may. the united nations had set up an "education cluster", a group loosely put together by unicef as well as the ministry of education to invite the private sector, mainly ngo's to work together in coordination with the government as well as aid organizations. this entails access to information as well as coordination, well, at least in theory. for your information, the "education cluster" website is as follows:

https://www.humanitarianresponse.info/en/operations/nepal/education

according to the doe (department of education), about 20,000 schools have been affected with about 32,000 classrooms damaged, which puts an estimated 1 million children at risk. instead of me regurgitating all of these statistics, for your perusal here are three documents from our last education cluster meeting (the education cluster meeting that was supposed to happen last tuesday (06/16) was can cancelled, and the next one has been scheduled for 06/23):

from the meeting minutes, it becomes clear that a lot of work remains to be done. of the 15,000 tlc's (temporary learning centers) that are needed, about 3,600 have been targeted, and of these 3,600 only 235 have been established over the last couple of weeks (a recent email update from the cluster coordinator states that 700+ tlc's have now been established). this number is bound to go up, but progress has not been easy, which can also be seen in the meeting minutes, also due to the lack of coordination. for example, tlc construction process. the department of education is to send a circular to the district heads to allow for more flexibility in the type of tlc's to be constructed, as opposed to adhering to one type of construction, regardless of material sourcing and/or other factors, which has been slowing down some parties already out in the field.

from hoste hainse's initial relief work which started on april 27th (providing water, food, tents, medicine, and other relief materials as well as doctors and search/rescue teams to earthquake victims), we have learned that due to the lack of a coordinated effort, places with good road access get more relief than needed, while the remotest of remote areas get none. our government, unfortunately, does not have the capacity to orchestrate a coordinated effort. therefore, we need to do with whatever we have. but one thing is for sure -- we need to aim for the remotest of remote areas, as they always get overlooked.

so where do we go? there are 50 affected districts with 14 in a critical stage (see Damaged_Schools_2015-06-04.xlsx). this is where we feel hoste hainse's traditional approach will work -- go where we have local contacts; go where we will get local support. you may know that hoste hainse and formation carpets were started hand-in-hand 25 years ago (for the first 10 years hoste hainse ran with the proceeds from formation carpets). over the last 25 years, our employees have grown close to us, almost like family members. a lot of our employees come from the affected districts. we have made a list of districts where our employees hail from, and we have identified a couple where we can get engaged in. but as per our first point, we also want to go far since near places will get aid faster.


[click to enlarge]

this is a map of the sindhupalchowk district, one of the districts most affected by the earthquake. the areas in blue/purple are where the education cluster is already active. what will end of happening is that areas closer to kathmandu will get aid first/faster. the areas farther away will get it last. now, please see the villages of "attarpur" and "thulo dhading" which is are the south/east rim of sindhupalchowk. attarpur and thulo dhading are are about a half-day's drive from kathmandu, up in the mountains (motorable via unpaved roads) and we confirmed with the doe that no ngo has reached there with any sort of relief/reconstruction plan. but we also confirmed this via a local, prem lama, one of our employees of formation carpets, who hails from attarpur but his family attended school in thulo dhading, as his house is on the border of attarpur and thulo dhading. in parallel to all the other meetings we were having with other stakeholders on other projects, we started talking to prem about two weeks ago about rebuilding schools in attarpur and thulo dhading. about a week ago, going to attarpur and thulo dhading seemed to be the choice that made the most sense.

google maps - attarpur
google maps - thulo dhading

but what do we do there? build tlc's? or build permanent structures? at hoste hainse we've always been leaning towards building permanent structures as opposed to tlc's, although the education cluster directive has been pushing toward tlc's. but regardless of whether we build tlc's or permanent structures, how do we do it? that's a question that we have had endless meetings about over the last three weeks. bamboo? wood? metal? wire? cgi (corrugated galvanized iron) sheets? prefab? although there are directions from the doe, the options are countless. some tlc's cost $100, others cost $1,000, and some others up to $5,000. i went to an earthquake-resistant building fair at the pulchowk engineering campus about two weeks ago and have quite a few contacts. the same week i visited a hospital constructed out of prefab material and the structure looked more permanent than it looked temporary. but amidst all the confusion on how to build a tlc, not to mention battling government directives, we believe that listening to the locals is extremely important. what is available locally? because whatever is not, we will need to transport up into the mountains, which is going to be expensive. a lot of questions need to be answered thoroughly with local support for the longevity and sustainability of this endeavor.




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