Geo Staffer Helps Resettle Nepalese Earthquake Survivors

Staff Geologist Eliya Ganger is harnessing her professional skills to help families displaced by the April and May 2015 Nepal earthquakes to safely rebuild their communities and their lives.

During a recent volunteer trip to Nepal through Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA), Eliya and a small team identified potential geohazards, unstable slopes and other dangers, as part of an effort to resettle a group of more than 1,000 displaced Nepalese. GeoEngineers financed the trip as part of a close decade-long relationship with EWB-USA.

The seeds for the three-week trip were planted when Eliya heard an EWB-USA representative speak about the need for geologists in Nepal to evaluate and map unstable ground during the country’s recovery process. Eliya was intrigued.

“That kind of work has always interested me, but you hardly ever hear the need for geologists,” Eliya said. “It was exciting to think about being able to use my degree in geology to help places without the resources of developed countries.”

Eliya began communicating with other, more experienced, geologists who might be interested in participating in a trip to Nepal, and the details quickly came together. Eliya coordinated with the EWB’s Engineering Service Corp and on November 21 she left for Nepal with Bob Burk, a retired geologist acting as the project’s lead, and Leyla Safari, a master’s candidate at the University of Colorado Boulder in geotechnical engineering.

The team’s priority was to identify safe relocation sites for a group of 1,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from 14 villages destroyed in the second of Nepal’s earthquakes in the spring of 2015. The IDPs are living in a temporary camp in Kathmandu, but the weather is turning colder, and local humanitarian organizations asked EWB-USA to find a permanent resettlement solution as quickly as possible.

Upon arrival, Eliya’s team met with three Nepali geologists and a group of four Portuguese volunteers, including two architects who will be assisting with the resettlement when a safe site is selected. Despite a degree of geohazard risk at all the sites they visited, the team identified at least five potential locations to re-establish communities. The group will make a final report and recommendation once data is collected from slope stability monitors installed at the sites.

“It’s really exciting,” Eliya said. “Generally engineering in situations like this is more of a temporary solution in response to an emergency. This approach takes more time but it’s going to last longer, ideally. We’re looking for a long-term, sustainable solution.”

Nepal is a fresh challenge for EWB-USA. The organization just established an office in Kathmandu earlier this year, and this type of geologic-risk analysis is an important component of working effectively in the region. Eliya’s team provided a test-case of how geohazard identification can improve the long-term outcomes for rural villages, in Nepal and throughout the developing world.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in this area, and I would love to see GeoEngineers continue to not only support EWB-USA, but also keep a leading role in sending teams to do geohazard analyses in communities like these. This is something no one else is really doing,” Eliya said. “There’s much more that needs to be done.”

GeoEngineers has a long history of financial support for and participation in EWB volunteer trips. Principal Geologist Dave Cook is the incoming president of EWB-USA and has been involved with the organization since 2004 in a number of roles, including serving on the board of directors.

“Through my time with EWB-USA, I’ve learned that the need is great, the capacity and energy is there for change, and there are a lot of smart caring people trying to help people,” Dave said. “I’m so proud of Eliya and the many other volunteers who make the work possible. By giving their time and skills, they are tackling the real problems facing developing communities, and giving them the opportunity to live better, safer lives.”

Eliya says the trip has inspired her to continue to promote EWB’s work among her professional peers, and to look for more volunteer opportunities to come.

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