BMS World Mission

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ROAD TRIP TO RHOLPA – A NEW POST FROM TOBY VOKUHL

OCTOBER 2018

In my last post in June, I highlighted the many ways in which the Nepali Non Governmental Officer we are linked with serves the needy of Nepal, based on the various needs identified. As part of my role as Technical Advisor to the Disaster Response and Resilience Department, I was recently asked to accompany several Nepali and expat colleagues on a road trip into Rholpa, where the International Nepal Fellowship have worked alongside local Government and Community self-help groups, identifying development needs, and helping to find solutions.

Rholpa District is located in Nepal’s Mid-Western Region. It is an underdeveloped area and most of its approximately 220,000 people live in poverty with, a low life expectancy of 52 years. Over 50% of children, under five have stunted growth

It can be a difficult place to live, with its rocky, unproductive land leading to insufficient food resources to last the year. With harsh terrain and little road access, getting food supplies from other areas is also difficult. This drives many people to seek a living and an income elsewhere, with up to 11% of the district’s population absent abroad at any one time.  With such an emphasis on mere survival, education becomes secondary for many families resulting in 50% illiteracy amongst women.

International Nepal Fellowship began working in the Rholpa District in 2013 to try to address some of these issues. A Community Health and Development programme was set up in the district headquarter of Libang with the aim of social empowerment, economic growth, and improvement of the general health of the communities there.

Already, 70 Self-Help Groups have been formed, 11 drinking water schemes provided and three health posts created to help families in the community. We continue to find ways to make a difference in the lives of the poor and marginalised in the Rolpa District.

Having driven from Pokhara to Surkhet and witnessed the opening of the new Obstetric Fistula Hospital in Surkhet, we returned down into the Terai and the only East-West road axis. There we briefly stopped at a mason training camp, which was set up by International Nepal Fellowship to help teach earthquake and flood resistant house construction, and had been successfully used to prepare builders for the reconstruction of flood damaged housing in 2017. We also, after spending the night in the Terai got ready for a long drive in a 4x4 vehicle on gravel roads into the hills of Rholpa to attend a meeting between the local International Nepal Fellowship team, a project funder, and local government representatives. Before long, it became evident that the monsoon had caused significant damage to the road, in the form of rain-induced landslides. Every couple hundred of yards mud and stones had slid onto the road and in places across the road further down the mountain. It was evident that the road had been closed for some time, and only recently reopened for 4x4 vehicles. Some landslides were caused by new road construction and the dumping of spoil down the hill whilst often they are just the result of a combination of terrain and weather. It would cost billions of Pounds to secure the hillsides and roads in a fashion that would be deemed safe for traffic and acceptable in the UK topped at a full size model house)

Soon enough we reached a point where road damage and repair work prevented us from continuing. After a short walk across damaged roads and negotiations with a local Jeep driver we were however able to continue our journey. I was unable to take photographs of this part of the journey, which was the most challenging in terms of road conditions, as by this point I had relocated myself to the pickup loading area and was clinging on to the metal roll-bar, having previous struggled to find any comfort in the Pickup cabin, with my head having become very well acquainted with the roof structure (the downside of being 6 ft 4 inches tall).

Eventually we arrived at the village where the meeting was to take place and, on arrival of the main local officer, and the associated greetings, we discussed the International Nepal Fellowship involvement locally over the last year and inquired about any changing needs. The International Nepal Fellowship village Self-Help-Group facilitator was much appreciated, as well as the health education efforts, and it was agreed that funding for this role would be continued for a year. More help was requested regarding landslide prevention, and lightning strikes. It transpired that often shepherds are struck when tending livestock on the hills, or when sheltering in hillside temporary structures. We also observed that a good percentage of newly constructed buildings did not comply with the new Nepali Building Code, and concluded that mason training will be of benefit here. Rholpa did not sustain substantial damage from earthquakes in 2015, but it is expected that future earthquakes will have their epicentre further west than previously, so this is the time to improve the building stock in Rholpa, and to invest in resilience.

Having concluded the meeting (and picked up local hitchhikers for the downhill journey) we continued to discuss possible actions on the bumpy return journey:

"Yes, let us explore mason training here." "Maybe we can secure funding for thirty masons."

"What training, or technological solution, could be offered to pastoralists suffering from these lightning strikes?" Is there an option to construct lightning protection for shepherd huts out of locally available inexpensive materials?”

Lots of food for thought, points for research, and plans for further action.

Toby and Pippa Vokuhl