Recovering from Rubble: EWB-USA Responds to the Nepal Earthquake

On April 25, 2015, the world’s attention turned toward Nepal. A powerful 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country, with the epicenter in Lamjung District, northwest of Kathmandu. Devastatingly, more than 8,000 lives were lost. Schools crumbled. Homes were destroyed. The country needed help.

DSC04974 (Small)Fortunately, aid agencies around the world jumped to respond to the immediate needs in the area: food, water and temporary shelter. Although many of these organizations are well positioned to meet critical short-term needs, an earthquake of this magnitude left Nepal with engineering needs that must to be addressed to sustain long-term recovery.

Disaster recovery is a transition phase between disaster relief and community development. Recovery involves a series of activities that happen concurrently and move communities toward successful rebuilding. There is growing recognition in international development that, even during the stress of disaster recovery, there is a need to focus on community-driven approaches such as the ones EWB-USA uses.

Disaster Recovery Spectrum

Source: http://emilms.fema.gov/IS2900/NDRF01summary.htm

EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps, which launched in early 2014, is uniquely poised to fill the need for experienced engineers with community-driven development experience during disaster recovery. Our most experienced members are equipped with both valuable engineering skills and knowledge of appropriate solutions in a developing world context. This combination of skills positions EWB-USA to bridge the gap between organizations in Nepal and the engineering expertise they needed to sustainably recover from the earthquake.

Immediately following the earthquake, EWB-USA reached out to our professional membership to gauge interest in volunteering for Nepal’s recovery effort through the Engineering Service Corps. More than 250 members responded with interest in helping with the recovery effort. The earthquake caused widespread building damage, so our initial goal was the identification of qualified structural engineers. We then reached out to existing agency contacts in Nepal and disaster response agencies to offer our assistance.

By June 1, we had a two-person team on the ground working with Namlo, an NGO in Nepal that was already partnering with EWB-USA on a community-driven development project. The team worked with communities on temporary shelters, building assessment, water testing and long-term reconstruction planning. They also inspected headquarters buildings for Namlo and iDE to allow for their continued safe operations.

DSC04722 (Small)In June we also sent a three-person team to work with the international NGO All Hands Volunteers. All Hands Volunteers responds to disasters with demolition and reconstruction services. The EWB-USA team provided engineering guidance on the demolition of several buildings and, more importantly, prepared a Demolition Training Manual that will allow All Hands and others to work safely in the coming months and years.

Laura Welland was one of the five Engineering Service Corps volunteers who worked with communities devastated by the earthquake. With more than 10 years of experience working with Nepalese communities, Laura was determined to help restore the communities back to full strength.

“We are responding for the long-term, addressing what has to be done in the next one-to-five years to get the country back to where they were before the disaster occurred,” said Laura.

In addition to the teams on the ground, there are volunteers working hard stateside to assist in the effort. We have a four-person team compiling a standards and guidelines document for our volunteers in the field to use during the recovery effort.

Over the coming months and years, we anticipate continued work by EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps volunteers with these organizations and several others. As the needs in Nepal evolve, so will EWB-USA’s response. Our hope is that our volunteers’ expertise can help the local people and organizations rebuild a better, stronger Nepal.

Are you a seasoned professional engineer and EWB-USA member? Sign up to receive volunteer opportunity updates here.

Are you a government or NGO needing engineering consulting services? Contact service.corps@ewb-usa.org to learn more about the EWB-USA Engineering Service Corps or to request its services.

About the Author
Kevin Hagen
Kevin Hagen is EWB-USA’s Engineering Service Corps Director. He has been a member of the EWB-USA Madison Area Professional Chapter and the EWB-USA Wisconsin Professional Chapter for eight years and has worked on projects in Ghana, Guatemala, Nepal and Rwanda.