Nepal Earthquake Victims Learn Masonry Skills to Build Back Better

Datheputhe learning how to build earthquake–resilient walls for buildings in his village. All photos by author.
Datheputhe learning how to build earthquake–resilient walls for buildings in his village. All photos by author.

By Bimal Babu Khatri

The ADB-supported Skills Development Project in Nepal is conducting training courses for masons to learn how to build houses to make them more resilient to future hazards like the 2015 earthquake.

Sun Kumar Datheputhe had planned to migrate to a Gulf country as an unskilled construction worker to support his 11-member family and fund the rebuilding of his home in the village of Changunarayan in Bhaktapur, a heritage area about 20 kilometers north east from Kathmandu, after the 25 April earthquake flattened much of his village and many other parts of Nepal.

Today, however, he is eagerly honing his masonry skills so that he can rebuild not only his own home, but also find work rebuilding others. Moreover, he is learning to build them better than they were before. 

“I am acquiring knowledge and skills to build earthquake-resilient structures. I will be applying these while constructing buildings and houses in future,’’ said 37-year-old Datheputhe.

Datheputhe has been working as a mason for the last few years using traditional building techniques. Now, he is participating in 390 hours of training in earthquake-resilient building methods along with other 19 other earthquake-affected people from his village in Training Center Nepal, a Kathmandu based training institute, which has set up a temporary training center in a public school in his village. The training is financed by the ADB-supported Skills Development Project.

The training, based on the “building back better” principle is teaching them how to build foundations, raise columns, fix cross beams, and erect walls in a different way to before but in a way that will make them more resilient. The training includes both practical and theory sessions. 

Nearly 500,000 houses were destroyed and more than 250,000 houses were partially damaged by the April earthquake and aftershocks. The damage is widespread with 31 out of 75 districts affected and 14 declared as hard-hit. Datheputhe’s village, with about 90% of houses either destroyed or damaged, forcing people to live in temporary bamboo and tin-roofed huts that provided little protection against the recent heavy monsoon rains and with do little to keep out upcoming winter cold, is in one of the hard-hit districts in Bhaktapur. 

According to Post Disaster Needs Assessment estimates, the labor requirement will peak 700 thousand workers only for reconstruction assuming that the bulk of reconstruction will occur in the first three years and the main concern is with regard to the skilled workforce that constitutes around 46 percent of the required labor force. The housing component alone may need over 20,000 masons. 

The Nepali government is still in the process of forming a national reconstruction authority and formal reconstruction work has not started yet. Families are, however, already doing what they can. And those participating in the training hope they can get jobs as masons once the bulk of the reconstruction work starts. 

All the participants are in the sore need of additional income to build their collapsed houses as, like most Nepalis, they did not have any kind of insurance. For some, it is opening new options.

“I will be able to find a new job after acquiring these new skills, as there is going to be huge demand once people and the government start rebuilding collapsed buildings and homes,’’ said Sapana Karki, a 19-year-old woman also from Changunaryan.

Traditionally, mason work is done by men in Nepal and female masons are still rare. The ADB-run course is open to both men and women with 72 women out of a total 280 taking the masonry training in Kathmandu.

Over the course of the next year, the project aims to provide the same training to more 1,280 persons—including many women—throughout the country, ensuring not only jobs but that homes and other buildings are better prepared if Nepal gets struck again.