Rising from ruins: the making of a resilient mountain village

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Nuwakot (PR) – When the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Dhungentar (formerly Charghare VDC) in Nuwakot District suffered a major blow. Out of the 96 homes, only one remained standing. It was a miracle that no lives were lost, but there were significant losses in terms of livestock, agriculture, and livelihoods. After two and half years of hard work and dedication, Dhungentar boasts a total of 90 new disaster resilient homes, a community hall, a health post, over 1.5 km of road (complete with solar-powered with street lights), as well as a couple of workshops where some residents have found work. What was once a desolate site of destruction, is now truly a model ‘Resilient Mountain Village’.  

At the heart of this transformation is a story of partnership. In April 2016, The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), Government of Nepal, and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Government of Canada, came together to embark on what they envisioned as – ‘Resilient Mountain Village: A Pilot Demonstration Project on Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation’. Upon its realisation, the project was officially handed over to the Dhungentar community and the local authorities on 17 December 2018.

Speaking on the occasion of the official handover, Sushil Gyewali, CEO of NRA, said, “The transformation in the village beyond reconstruction has been remarkable, and the project’s accomplishments go in line with the NRA’s aim of establishing secure and prosperous communities in Nepal.” 

With socioeconomically marginalized communities comprising the majority of the project beneficiaries, the aim was to support a particularly vulnerable village through a difficult transition period. The project intended to address infrastructural frailties, reduce socioeconomic vulnerabilities, and elevate the living standards of Dhungentar locals in the long term.

“We wanted this project to extend beyond post-disaster reconstruction towards strengthening the village in a holistic manner. I am happy to see that the community has taken huge strides towards greater security and improved livelihoods,” remarked David Molden, Director General of ICIMOD.
Since its inception, the project was implemented in collaboration with local institutions, government agencies, private sector partners, and, most importantly, the community itself. This encouraged community ownership to ensure impactful development. Shanta Man Tamang, Chair of the District Development Committee, stated, 
“The development we have seen in Dhungentar is an exceptional example of what we can achieve through collaborative will and action. To see people who had to live in makeshift shelters after the earthquake now living in secure houses and thriving as a community is very heart warming. Aspects of this project should certainly be considered for other areas in Nepal as well.” 

The handover ceremony witnessed a large community participation to celebrate the culmination of a long road to recovery. Mamata Sunar, a member of the Dhungentar Aama-Samuha (Mothers’ Group), one of the local community organizations established by the project, said, “We have been regularly cleaning the village. We have helped out in construction activities. We even contribute 100 rupees to a community savings fund every month. We have come together in a way we haven’t done before. That really makes me happy. I hope it continues.” 

The disaster-resilient infrastructure was built using interlocking compressed stabilized soil blocks (CSSBs), a cost-effective and eco-friendly technology promoted by the project. Around 60% of houses in Dhungentar used these blocks, which were locally produced by trained locals, whereas the rest used reinforced concrete cement (RCC) technology. There are now plans to expand the CSSB production site into an enterprise. 

The roads, trails, and a bridge which were also constructed has significantly improved intra-village connectivity and access to markets. The new health clinic and a multipurpose community centre has further boosted the community’s social bonds and ability to withstand future shocks. 

Through the course of the project, extra emphasis was placed on livelihood development to help the village become self-reliant. Professions integral to Dhungentar’s functioning received focus: existing blacksmith workshops, carpentry sheds, and water mills were improved, and a model for resilient agricultural farming was also set up to showcase innovative, proven, and low-cost technologies that could be replicated in the community. 

Hira Lal Sunar, one of the residents who chose to adopt the new agriculture model and practices, said, “The project said I would receive help in creating a model farm on my land. I worked very hard with the project, and now we have something the whole village can learn from. They come to me for advice now.” 
Similarly, numerous livelihood training programmes were conducted to encourage entrepreneurship, and utilization of innovative household technologies. Programmes were implemented to introduce environment-friendly practices and e-commerce services for all of the residents in Dhungentar. 

It was only apt that the handover ceremony was done at the new multipurpose community centre. Other than the official hand-over to the community representatives, a photobook, a multi-media video and a website documenting the project’s journey were also launched. During the ceremony, Basanta Shrestha, Director of ICIMOD’s Director of Strategic Cooperation, who conceptualized and spearheaded the project, said, 
“Being a part of this project has been a rewarding experience, especially winning the hearts and minds of the marginalized community and making a small difference in their lives. The project went beyond reconstruction to focus on other key components of Dhungentar’s sustained development and long-term resilience. This project can serve as a model for post-disaster reconstruction tailored to the socioeconomic and geographic needs of mountain regions

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