Challenging environments

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Challenging environments

Global Opportunity 2015  | WYG

The remote location of mountain villages in Nepal proved a real challenge for organisations working on rebuild projects after 2015’s devastating earthquakes, so a solution was found close to home, says Glyn Utting, International Project Manager at WYG

Following the devastating earthquakes in Nepal in April and May 2015, global project management and technical consultancy WYG pledged £20,000 to support Community Action Nepal (CAN) in its reconstruction effort. By lending its skills, expertise and capability to deploy resources within challenging environments, WYG is helping CAN rebuild key projects in rural Nepal to anti-seismic standards.

CAN is a UK-based organisation whose aim is to help the mountain people of Nepal. It works in partnership with rural villages and communities to provide local healthcare, education, income generation, cultural and mountain porter welfare facilities. All 40 of CAN’s community asset projects suffered structural damage from the earthquakes and subsequent landslides, with more than half needing total rebuilding or significant reconstruction.

So WYG sent International Project Manager Glyn Utting to Nepal in July 2015 to assess the damage to the affected areas. Having visited Nepal several times before the earthquakes, Glyn was shocked at the devastation they had brought to the communities there.

“Visiting the country now you see that people have lost absolutely everything, and the government is unable to help in a capacity that you would imagine in this country. We live in a society where the government would be able to react very quickly, but in Nepal and other parts of the world that’s not the case, and people are left on their own to get on with things.”

Devastated communities
During this initial visit Glyn and his colleague Simon Eden, Senior Geo-Environmental Consultant at WYG, spent two weeks visiting rural communities alongside representatives from CAN and Article 25, another UK-based disaster relief charity.

The team travelled to remote villages by helicopter and on foot to assess the structural and geological damage and meet village representatives. It was an emotional experience for everybody involved to see the devastated communities and hear moving stories from those who survived.

Particularly in Langtang, where village leader Temba spoke in detail about watching the landslide hit his village following the earthquake. Glyn was later told Temba had lost 22 members of his family in the tragedy.

Following the site visits, the team identified three key project rebuild opportunities, including rebuilding homes in Langtang village where 116 houses, a school and health post were destroyed by the landslide.

Also on the list are the Milamchiguan School and Health Post, one of the most successful rural schools in Nepal teaching 400 pupils, and the Bharabesi School for the Deaf, the only deaf school in the country.

Remote area
Glyn acknowledges there are huge challenges facing any rebuilding project in such a remote area. “Most of the time we are looking at what building materials are available and what skillsets are present within the local villagers that drive solutions,” he says.

“For example, I spoke to various people who were experts in seismology and engineering and they talk about this ‘fancy’ solution of concrete. But in Nepal that’s not an option, most of the places we’ve been to have no roads and equipment has to be carried by hand, and that defines what we can work with.

“We’ve gone around in circles because we’ve found you cannot build an earthquake-proof building – it’s impossible. In these regions in Nepal the abundant material is stone, which is not an ideal material to be building earthquake-proof housing with, but what we can do is put designs together that ensure the stones fall out and not in, and this is what’s saving lives. You can’t save the building but you can save the lives of those living inside the building and that’s the priority.”

In addition to its UK and International Projects, WYG has more than two decades’ experience working in fragile and conflict affected states (FCAS). Glyn has previously worked in Afghanistan on a NATO-funded military academy project, and in Libya where WYG was involved in the DFID project to help the country rebuild its security force, justice and defence ministries after the Gadaffi regime.

“Most of WYG’s work in these territories is in “International Development” work, so we’re rarely involved in infrastructure and construction management, but instead working on donor funded projects,” explains Glyn.

“That is generally in Socio Economic Consultancy, but increasingly HM Government’s target is in supporting primary and social infrastructure development in many of these countries.”

Helping hand
Glyn believes the best fit for WYG services in Nepal is to help local architects and engineers deliver the work themselves. “There is design and rebuild expertise in the country, and I was a big advocate that the architects and engineers should be Nepal-based and not UK-based – it should be driven by local people,” says Glyn. “The value we can add is actually to help them project manage the work.

They have a rough idea of what they need to do, but need help with the order they need to accomplish it with the resources available. In other words we can help them to create the programme that makes the work realistic and feasible.”

Glyn also believes the scale of what needs to be achieved in environments like Nepal gives UK companies an advantage in aid efforts. “In the UK I think we have the expertise of managing infrastructure for several projects in one go.

The Nepalese have the skill sets and it’s just about them taking ownership. It’s giving them a helping hand and as such giving them the confidence that they’re doing the right thing and in the right order. I will stay involved in Nepal for two years but CAN has employed Nepalese engineers and Nepalese assistants and the work will be led through them.

It’s almost like I’ll be holding their hand to start with and pushing them in the right direction, but they will gain confidence from that and eventually take the lead themselves.”

With the monsoon season coming to an end in Nepal, reconstruction can finally begin on the CAN nominated projects. During Glyn’s most recent visit in December, seven months on from the earthquakes, he spent time assessing potential rebuild projects and analysing further damage following the monsoon season.

The WYG team also took the opportunity to revisit some of the sites and looked at plans to start major reconstruction works over the coming months. This is where local businesses and people can play their part.

“In Nepal there are lots of local engineering businesses that have taken advice from other countries on seismic design, and there’s a lot of sharing of ideas, information and knowledge,” says Glyn.

“If NGOs develop something good that’s working in terms of design, then they freely share these designs around. For example in terms of village design, they might print off laminated picture diagrams of the printable designs to give to the villagers because they’ve got to rebuild their own houses.

One of the things we’re currently looking into is building workshops where the villagers are invited to learn skills and simple design practices to make their houses safer.”

It is clear there is still much to be done, and a huge amount of work lies ahead for the people of Nepal and the organisations supporting them. However with companies like WYG sharing their skills and capabilities with local businesses, Nepalese communities will have a better chance of surviving should disaster strike again.

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