Tunnel houses

Tunnel Homes

Chiran Magar, a 29-year-old motorcycle mechanic living in Chalnakhel village on the southern outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, lost his home when the earthquake on April 25 struck central Nepal. The two-storey house, built by Chiran’s father nearly 15 years ago, crumbled like a sandcastle.

Chiran spent two weeks in a tent with his wife and children, braving the rain that lashed at central Nepal long before monsoon’s arrival this year. His little children were beginning to fall sick but he was helpless. His house was irreparably damaged, and he did not have money to build a new one.

But Chiran’s problem was solved when Karuna Foundation Nepal (KFN) built a safer shelter for his family. Two weeks after the earthquake, he moved to a tunnel home built by KFN. “Life was hard under the tent,” he says. “It used to be more difficult when it rained, my little children would fall sick. But we’re less worried about the rain. It’s much better and safer here.”

Chiran’s is not the only family which received KFN’s support to build safer and stronger shelters. KFN built tunnel houses for 10 families, including Chiran’s, in Chalnakhel where more than 80 per cent houses collapsed. Not only did KFN provide galvanized sheets, iron rods and iron wires but also necessary skills for the locals to build arch-shaped tunnel houses.

One month later, the earthquake-affected people of Chalnakhel are living happily in the KFN-built tunnel houses. They say they feel safe here, and can plan for reconstruction of their damaged houses. “We will be living here through monsoon season, probably until Dashain festival,” says Chiran. “We will have managed resources to build new houses by winter.”

The Nepalis are masters of improvisation. Even in Chalnakhel, the earthquake-affected locals have improvised their tunnel houses by adding wooden doors and windows. They have laid bricks on the floor and applied clay mixed with dung all over it. And these tunnel shelters are now much safer, stronger and more livable. The earthquake-affected people living in these tunnel houses express their deep gratitude for KFN’s support.

“Without KFN’s support, I can’t imagine how difficult our lives would have been,” says Chiran. “The support was timely and just what we needed.”

Chet Kumar Khatri, an engineer specialized in earthquake-resistant construction, also volunteered at KFN to build these tunnel houses. He says construction of tunnel houses for the earthquake victims was a great idea because these housed were cost-effective and easy-to-build.

“If we have all the materials ready, we can build a tunnel house in less than one hour,” he says. “Improvisation might take a little more time, though.”

KFN was inspired by Pakistan’s success story to build tunnel houses. In Pakistan, the locals had built similar arch-shaped shelters after the devastating earthquake in 2013. It was KFN’s Country Director Deepak Raj Sapkota who came up with the idea of building safer shelters for the earthquake-affected families. When he reached the quake-ravaged villages and saw people without shelters and worried about the fast-approaching monsoon, Sapkota consulted senior government authorities, weighed several options and finally zeroed in on these tunnel houses.

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