Rush to build shelters in Nepal as monsoon looms

Rush to build shelters in Nepal as monsoon looms
Mercy Relief is using $220,000 of Singapore public donations to build shelters (above) to withstand rain until October, when it can start work on permanent homes. For now, many quake survivors are housed in tents.

The first rain of Nepal's monsoon season fell on Friday, signalling to relief workers that they need to hurry up with building temporary shelters for those left homeless by the April 25 earthquake.

About 500,000 homes are estimated to have been destroyed across Nepal, according to Mr Masahiro Ishizeki, senior manager of Singapore's humanitarian organisation Mercy Relief.

It is a race against time to erect transitional shelters for the monsoon season, which is expected to last until August or September.

Mercy Relief is working with six Nepalese organisations and relying on their local knowledge to put up 510 temporary shelters in areas identified as needing them most.

More than half have been erected during the past two weeks by six organisations - Heartbeat, the Association of Students of Architecture, The Rotary Club of Kathmandu West, Lumanti, Lakasa Nepal and the Community Development and Relief Agency.

Organisations spent the first month dealing with distributing relief items and arranging healthcare.

Only after that did they have time to think about how to house people before the monsoon season, which typically starts in early June but arrived slightly late this year.

Mercy Relief is in its second stage of aid work in Nepal. The team had arrived two days after the quake to distribute food, medicine and other emergency relief items for about two weeks.

Now, it is pumping $220,000 worth of Singapore public donations into local partners which are putting up shelters. Mr Ishizeki, 51, believes all 510 should be complete in a fortnight.

Made of galvanised iron sheets, they will be able to withstand the rain until October, when better weather will allow Mercy Relief to build permanent homes.

Each shelter occupies roughly 4m by 4m and can house four to five people. They cost $200 to $500.

Organisations were given leeway to propose plans to Mercy Relief regarding who and where they wanted to help, the design of their shelters, where they source materials and whether they use staff or volunteers.

Some partners, such as the Rotary Club, are also putting up temporary classrooms for schools levelled by the quake. Yesterday, eight made using galvanised iron sheets were opened in Makwanpur district, a three-hour drive south-west of Kathmandu.

The 700 students there have had to study under plastic sheets propped up by branches since the earthquake rendered three out of their four school buildings unsafe.

Mr Rajesh Kayastha, secretary of the Rotary Club of Kathmandu West, said the shelters' simple design of bent metal sheets secured to the ground with wires and rods was "developed quickly during crisis period".

"We have to deliver them in a short time," he added.

Before it began building shelters, Mercy Relief conducted more than 27 relief distribution operations and eight medical missions in remote villages.

It estimates that it had helped more than 20,000 beneficiaries, treated 700 patients, and raised $822,000 as of May 22.

This is just part of what aid organisations in Singapore have sent to Nepal.

The Singapore Red Cross has deployed 10 staff and 23 volunteers since April 28 - three days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed more than 8,000 people, injured close to 18,000.

It has shipped 300kg of medical supplies to Nepal, helped to distribute 500 water filtration kits that can produce clean water within minutes and collected $6.7 million in public donations.

Religious organisations too are working hard. The 68 mosques in Singapore collected $240,000 from the Muslim community here over just six days last month and a council member from the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore also donated $100,000.

The Airline Pilot Association of Singapore organised donation drives to collect 30,000kg worth of aid items and tarpaulins.

Nepalese restaurateur Niranjan Kumar Shrestha also received raincoats, sleeping bags and medicine from his regulars, and Bartley Secondary School raised $30,000 for the Singapore Red Cross.

Bartley Secondary School has alumni in Kathmandu looking for a school it can help to rebuild and the Singapore Red Cross is in discussions with the Nepal Red Cross on recovery projects such as psycho-social support for the survivors.

This article was first published on June 22, 2015.
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