Building back better in Nepal

Civil construction engineer Martin O’Malley says his extensive experience working with many stakeholders on public works projects helped prepare him for international humanitarian work with RedR Australia.

“The stakeholders in an international emergency relief setting are many and diverse and the strategy you develop for dealing with them will determine how successful you are,” Martin said.

“Being service oriented is important too as, ultimately, that is what we do in a humanitarian context; deliver a service to people who need it.”

RedR Australia deployed Martin to work with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the principal intergovernmental organisation in the field of migration. During the Nepal earthquake response, the IOM provided leadership support on shelter construction to the international humanitarian community.

Martin has spent the past three months in the Sindhupalchok district of Nepal, one of region’s most severely affected by the earthquakes this year. More than 80% of Sindhupalchok’s buildings were fully or completely damaged and 3557 people including 949 children were killed.

Martin, who lived in a tent during his assignment, was responsible for coordinating between the various agencies involved in shelter relief distributions, winterisation planning and the recovery/reconstruction planning in the district. This involved collecting and mapping information on their activities and advocating for them to provide support to regions that were under serviced. In this way, he sought to ensure a more equitable distribution of aid and reduced duplication. His team was also responsible for monitoring and interviewing beneficiaries about the support they received from IOM’s contracted partners.

“My experience dealing with public meetings and councillors in my previous role was a fantastic preparation for being involved with the United Nations, INGO and NGO organisations that I worked with in Nepal,” Martin said.

“We work in a bureaucratic system and that will not change so having exposure to this is really useful in terms of reporting and stakeholder involvement. I think one of the key lessons that I brought from working with a council in New Zealand is that most people are willing and able to assist with the aim of a particular project. What we need to do, as technical representatives, is to put the descriptions in plain language so that people understand everything clearly and can be confident they know exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve. Once you can inform people effectively, you have gone a significant part of the way to getting their support and buy in,” he said.

Back in 2011, Martin spent a couple of weeks consulting on the Christchurch earthquake response and says when he compares Nepal’s survivors to those in New Zealand he is struck by the amazing resilience of people and how they can be very adaptable very quickly when the situation calls for it.

“However, there were stark differences between the responses. The local authorities and the private sector played a significant role in the aftermath of the Christchurch quake which was missing in Nepal. Obviously, the financial capacity of the population has a lot to do with how people recover, but also the mechanisms that are in place in a country like New Zealand such as mental health support, unemployment support and many other things that are just not available to the Nepalese.

According to Martin, a lot of the damage that occurred in his district of Nepal resulted from the traditional housing construction method.

“Most houses are constructed with two layers of stone on either side of a mud filling that’s used to bond the stones and the structure relies on its weight and that of the roof to keep things in place. However, during the earthquakes, the dried mud fell from between the stones, resulting in partial or total wall collapse,” he said.

Martin and his colleagues spent time advocating for communities to build back better and safer by using banding/ring beams and tie stones at corners and throughout the walls.

Martin returned from Nepal last month and is now in Afghanistan coordinating shelter needs for the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in the aftermath of the recent earthquake that affected Pakistan and parts of Afghanistan. 

Martin’s deployment in Nepal was possible thanks to the generous funding provided by public donations to our Nepal Appeal. Our work is funded by government grants, corporate partners and public donations.