UNDP Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Program
Location: Kathmandu, Nepal
Occupation: UNDP CDRMP
Occupation: UNDP CDRMP
Four years ago, on 25 April, life changed for Pragya Pradhan a 35-year-old architect from Kathmandu. That was the day a 7.8 magnitude earthquake – the strongest the country had experienced since 1934 – rocked the Himalayan nation killing close to 9,000 people, leaving thousands injured and destroying the homes and livelihoods of hundreds of thousands in Nepal.
Pragya was one of the fortunate ones, she did not lose family members nor her house in the earthquake. Nonetheless, the disaster changed her life. Because of the earthquake, she found her purpose: to contribute to society and fellow Nepalese who lost everything.
Recalling the fateful Saturday, Pragya shared, “the buildings were shaking and as my family members were running out of the house, I was going inside to fetch my five-month old son who was on the upper floor. The moment I came out of my house safely carrying my son, a wave of realization hit me strongly. It was the fact that anything could have happened to me and my family. Yet my happiness wasn’t stolen by this moment, it made me determined to do all I could to alleviate sufferings of the people around me who weren’t as fortunate as I was,” she added.
Pragya almost immediately resumed her work after the first earthquake, making the hard choice to leave her family, including her infant son, at home while she assisted the affected people. At that time, she was working for the Government of Nepal, Ministry of Urban Development to develop the National Urban Development Strategy.
The first site she visited after the earthquake was Bungamati, a traditional town in Kathmandu Valley that faced the full force of the 2015 earthquake, to distribute immediate relief and construct temporary toilets for the locals. When she reached Bungamati, she saw most part of the town was reduced to rubble. Seeing this she worked with the team to provide immediate support going beyond what was expected of her.
While she worked for the building construction industry early in her career, Pragya was always interested in the social aspect of architecture. She was fascinated at how people created spaces and how they metamorphosed from ancient to modern civilizations.
On 25 April 2016, exactly after one year of the mega earthquake, Pragya was offered an opportunity to follow her passion. She became a part of the United Nations Development Programme’s Comprehensive Disaster Risk Management Program (CDRMP). One of the CDRMP’s work was to provide Socio-Technical Facilitation Services to housing reconstruction activities in some of the most severely affected earthquake districts, namely Gorkha, Dolakha and Sindhupalchowk.
Pragya is also heavily involved in the Nepal Housing Reconstruction Project under the UNDP, which aims to construct close top 27, 000 houses damaged by the earthquake. Her role there is to help ensure effective implementation of the project, both technically and administratively, so that the processes ensures enabling house owners and decision makers undertake reconstruction. Besides reconstruction her focus is also on seismic safety, national building code implementation and the risk-sensitive land use planning.
In her role as Senior Project Officer, she frequently traveled to the severely affected districts. During her interactions with communities, she found that many local people whose homes were destroyed in the earthquake, did not have the capacity to rebuild them despite receiving government grants. This proved that social factors are equally important to money when reconstructing a house.
“And that’s exactly what I love about our programme”, claims Pragya. The programme creates a conducive environment for the communities and enables them to rebuild their houses. It also ensures that women, vulnerable people and those belonging to marginalized sections of the community are included in the field-based activities and in rebuilding.
In one community interaction in Gorkha, Pragya met Sita Shrestha an elderly visually impaired woman whose teenage son was her only family member. “When we met her, she was on the verge of returning the government grant she received to reconstruct the house, as the deadline was approaching and she hadn’t even properly demolished her house, let alone rebuild it,” shared Pragya.
Through the Nepal Housing Reconstruction Project, the team, provided the necessary technical support to Sita, ensured supervision and deployed trained local masons for reconstruction. Sita’s damaged house was demolished and the materials salvaged, while the team contributed labor support through social mobilization to reduce construction cost. Currently Pragya awaits to see Sita return to her soon-to-be-completed house which is a safer and sensitive to her needs.
Pragya is not only a passionate architect working on humanitarian assistance but also an advocate for gender equality.
“Being a humanitarian, I adhere the principals of impartiality, independence, having humanity and neutrality. I am fortunate being born as a girl child to my parents, who has also sown the seeds of equality and limitlessness on me. Now, as a career woman, I am happy to be associated with an organization that promotes gender quality and rests on the principle of leaving no one behind”,
said Pragya with pride.
said Pragya with pride.