Did the Earthquake and Earthquake Relief have a Differential Impact on Lower Caste Groups? A Case Study of Sindhupalchok District, Nepal
When the earthquakes of 2015 struck, Sindhupalchok was one of the harder hit districts of Nepal. The earthquake of April 25, 2015(7.8 magnitude) and particularly the aftershock of May 12, 2015 (7.3 magnitude) killed approximately 3500 people in the district (out of a national total of around 9,000) and caused injury, loss of livelihood and destruction of property to tens of thousands more.
This study focuses primarily on the medium-term relief and redevelopment efforts that followed the earthquake and on the socio-economic changes which accompanied those efforts. Disasters are not disasters for everyone, but rather create winners and losers, accentuating inequalities in some areas and (more rarely) opening up niches of activity for some who had been excluded. This study illuminates this process by looking in detail at who have been the winners and losers in Sindhupalchok District in the period to date. The study examines the quantity and quality of relief and development programs, changes in institutions concerned with rural development, and new economic opportunity structures since the Earthquake, all with respect to how these changes affected castes and classes differently.
For the study we conducted interviews with around 40 households (around 80 individuals in total) in the three constituencies of Sindhupalchok, including rural, urban and semi-urban areas. We tried to find representative samples of Dalits and other castes (with an emphasis on Dalit and Janajati respondents). We also interviewed elites in the district, including NGO/INGO managers, journalists, government officers and business people.
The study has two main findings, one short-term and the other concerning longer-term trends. In the immediate period we found that caste discrimination, where it occurred was mainly of an indirect nature, with Dalits and certain Janajati groups being excluded from the development resources (or at least occupationally appropriate resources) that were available after the earthquake due to lack of networking capacity with those in charge of relief (both in government and NGOs). The exception that proved the rule was in one VDC with a long history of caste-based activism, where networks enabled Dalits to access occupationally relevant livelihood training funds. The more enduring change is in the way the earthquake has accelerated class differentiation in the district – through the rapid growth of NGOs, construction work, the emptying out and impoverishment of remoter villages and a boom in the hotel and tourist industries (to accommodate middle-class and higher-caste NGO workers). This class differentiation has benefited some Dalits who have been able to take the opportunity to upgrade traditional skills and participate in construction, but others, dependent on patronage or living in remoter areas, are likely to be excluded.