Friday, August 19, 2016

Postcard from Gorkha

By Maricar Garde

I recently visited Gorkha district in the west of Nepal. With its hills and paddy fields, the place is serene and picturesque. This belies the loss of lives and destruction that the community saw only a year ago. Gorkha was the epicentre of the devastating earthquake which struck Nepal in April 2015. More than 8,000 people died across the country with children making up a quarter of the fatalities. Thousands lost their houses and livelihoods.

Mothers with their young children who received UNICEF-provided cash grant in Gorkha District. 
The Government of Nepal and UNICEF launched an emergency cash transfer programme to respond to the disaster. We are currently implementing the second round of the programme which involves giving a universal cash grant to under-five children in 11 extremely affected districts including Gorkha. As people rebuild their lives, we want to help make sure that children’s needs are protected during this crucial time in their lives.
A mother shows the registration card of her  young daughter who received UNICEF-provided cash grant in Gorkha District.
When large scale shocks happen—natural disasters, famines or economic crises—households are often forced to cope with the situation by reducing everyday consumption. In many cases, parents take their children out of school with older kids going out to work to help the family. Young girls are also at risk of early marriage or bceoming pregnant. For example, there is evidence of teenage pregnancies increasing as a result of the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone.

While negative coping mechanisms are seen as temporary, their effects may bring a lifetime of consequences for children. Poor nutrition in the early years—the first 1,000 days of lives—can lead to stunted growth which doesn’t only affect physical growth. Stunting also affects cognitive development which can lead to poor schooling outcomes and lower earning potential later on in life. This has huge impacts on the economy. World Bank estimates show that under-nutrition, in terms of lost national productivity and economic growth, range from 2 to 3 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in some countries and up to 11 per cent of GDP in Africa and Asia each year.

The evidence from the first round of the emergency cash transfer programme show very high coverage rates. The independent assessment also indicates that the cash grant was mostly used to purchase basic needs such as food, clothing, medicine and household essentials. The cash grant was a much needed lifeline to vulnerable people affected by the earthquake.

Back in Gorkha, the commercial centre is buzzing with activity. I saw students in the village walking to school despite the difficult terrain made more challenging by the monsoon rains. The Government’s housing reconstruction grant is finally underway with 70,000 programme beneficiaries receiving the first tranche of the payment.

Adolescent girls walking to school in Gorkha District. 
The story doesn’t end here however. We know that households will continue to face challenging situations in the next two years as they rebuild their houses and livelihoods. With limited resources, parents will be forced to prioritise household expenses. It is important that children’s needs are not neglected during this period. Nepal has to build back better, and that includes better health, nutrition and education. Building back better hopefully also means building a brighter future for Nepal’s children.

Ms. Garde is Chief of Social Policy and Economic Analysis at UNICEF Nepal. 
Follow her on Twitter at @ricagarde