What does recovery and development even look like?

The entire town of Bhaktapur is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site because of its well-preserved 17th century architecture and its temples and historical sites.

Historical buildings typically have bricks made from local soil and intricate woodwork, especially around windows and doors, although some have some a few non-traditional adornments to bring in customers.

Now, imagine that you live in Bhaktapur. Most of the economy depends on money coming from tourism because of the historical architecture. There is also papermaking and ceramics (from the local soil) in town, but that tends to depend on tourism too, or at least a market for paper and ceramic souvenirs.

Most people get their water by carrying it from this well.

Bhaktapur was very heavily damaged by the 2015 earthquake. Many homes were damaged or destroyed. The area is earthquake prone and can expect a catastrophic earthquake of magnitude 8.0 or higher every 80 years.

Here you can see the gap between a home that has been rebuilt and one that is still damaged.

Lots of corrugated metal rooves covering the remaining structures until they can fully rebuild (adding stories and a tile roof).

Bamboo scaffolding as work is being done.

Stonework that fell during the earthquake.

But as you think about rebuilding, remember that your entire economy depends on maintaining World Heritage status. So you really can’t update your building techniques to make them more seismically stable if it means sacrificing that status and upending your tourism-dependent economy.

The government of Nepal tried to subsidize the rebuilding of homes by offering homeowners money to help them rebuild in the historical style. This was great for folks who held the title to their homes. But in a lot of cases, the homes were still legally owned by an ancestor who had died long ago. Everybody knew who lived there anyway, and families often couldn’t pay the tax to transfer the title.

So you cobble together the money to change the title, made more complicated because the documents you need were also likely destroyed in the quake, and you rebuild as best you can. You know that another earthquake may flatten your home again in 80 years or so, but that’s just how it is. Rebuilding is still your best option.

I don’t know what the best solution would be, but at least my visit is helping me understand the complexity of the problem.

One thing I do know is that cash is very scarce here, and there is a lot of infrastructure needed. People are spending a lot of time and energy gathering and carrying water, and it’s not even safe drinking water.

If you’re so inclined, you can donate to recovery or development initiatives here or through another charity that you prefer. I know that even small amounts would help.

Now here are some more photos of cool stuff from Bhaktapur.


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