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Why We Work in Far West Nepal

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Like many villagers in Nepal’s middle hills, Chet travels by foot on narrow trails. On a good day, going to school takes two hours each way, even for a fleet 12-year-old. GeoHazards International has been helping local leaders to take action that will make his world and school a whole lot safer, so that a disaster won’t derail his education.

Chet taking a breather on his way home from school.

Scientists expect a big earthquake to strike far west Nepal, including Chet’s district. A big earthquake (>M8) has not occurred here in more than 500 years. Strain has been steadily accumulating on the main fault and will one day rupture powerfully again.We know that actions taken before the next earthquake could protect hundreds of thousands of lives.

Rough stone with mud mortar, like Chet’s classroom here, is the most lethal building type in an earthquake.

People are largely unaware of how their lives could drastically change. For example, Chet’s home and school, built of typical rough stone and mud mortar, may collapse in even a moderate earthquake. If they are lucky, students would be outside when their schools collapse—but many would no longer have a school to attend.

We know that violent shaking would destroy nearly 50% of buildings and leave another 30% unsafe, killing thousands. Doctors would struggle to treat the injured in damaged hospitals.

The paved highway is a lifeline used by pedestrians, vehicles, and livestock alike.

An earthquake could isolate Chet’s village for a long time and cut off access to school, health care, and the marketplace. The one paved road—a narrow highway serving 700,000 people in four large districts—would be blocked by landslides on a massive scale, impeding life-saving emergency response and relief.

Those who live near even a simple dirt road are usually better off, which is why there is high demand to add more. But deadly and damaging landslides are increasing as roads are often not engineered and roughly cut with bulldozers. It's worse during the monsoon when rain-soaked slopes are already primed to fail.

GHI's Hari Kumar and Upama Ohja (left) with the local mayor and deputy mayor discussing how to reduce disaster risk in their community.

We used stories to promote proactive steps that could protect people in a future earthquake. Our team of international experts and local decision-makers made sure the anticipated impacts were realistic, relatable, and based on science and engineering.

Neighbors and inquisitive buffalo greet Chet in his village. An evening of study lies ahead. Photo: Jeevan Ale

It’s a stark picture, but not inevitable. Our team defined and prioritized actions that will lead to safer buildings, roads, health facilities and schools; efficient emergency response; and disaster-resilient communications, water and power systems. Our technical findings guide scientists, engineers, government agencies, and officials in their efforts.

Worldwide, natural disasters thrust 26 million people into poverty each year,* mostly in poor nations. Our work empowers local leaders to reverse this trend.

Chet and classmates. Photo: Jeevan Ale

What’s next? With your continued support, GeoHazards International can bring together local thinkers, planners, and doers to choose the safest path forward. Municipalities like Chet’s are deciding how and where to grow, now that Nepal’s new federal system guarantees local funds. We intend to assist as they implement changes. What does that mean for Chet? Hopefully with these efforts, a safer tomorrow.

Warm regards,

Veronica Cedillos, President

Our initial effort to increase earthquake resilience in far west Nepal was part of Promoting Agriculture, Health and Alternative Livelihoods (PAHAL), a multi-sector, food security program overseen by Mercy Corps and made possible by the generous support of the American people and USAID. Photos by GeoHazards International unless otherwise noted.

*Source: Hallgate, S., et al., 2016, Unbreakable: Building the Resilience of the Poor in the Face of Natural Disasters, World Bank Group


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