Om Kala Khanal: “Risk mitigation cannot be achieved without the participation of women”
“We can help communities become earthquake safe by developing and implementing a procedure to manage and minimize risk,” Om says.
She has been working towards earthquake risk reduction since 2009. She says the focus of the program is building community resilience. Om started her career as a teacher in a remote part of Nepal but she knew early on that she wanted to work in the field of disaster risk reduction.
“We can help communities become earthquake safe by developing and implementing a procedure to manage and minimize risk.”
“I have been working in earthquake preparedness and mitigation activities at grassroots level,” she says. “Through our programs we’ve reached more than 50 communities to support them with awareness on DRR at the community level. We facilitate the community to prepare and implement DRR plans based on existing hazard, risk and capacity within the community.”
The objective is to build public awareness on DRR with special focus on earthquake safety by supporting the provincial and local governments to produce audio visual materials like public service announcement, posters. stickers or flyers. Before the worst of the pandemic lockdowns, they did door-to-door campaigns about earthquake safety.
Om says the main goal is to make the communities safer from earthquakes. She says they do that in a number of ways: “Awareness, capacity-building and implementation of safer construction including mitigation of non-structural vulnerabilities that we find in many houses in Nepal.”
The program trains women how to formally assess earthquake risks in buildings. It also trains and supports a network of women-owned businesses who are certified to bring the buildings up to spec. “We work with community women's groups,” she says, “We provide training on vulnerability and capacity assessment.”
“We work with community women's groups. We provide training on vulnerability and capacity assessment.”
The initiative has created employment for women as inspectors and small business owners. But Om says that not every woman has the time for this level of engagement so they created other roles for women to be involved.
Women in the communities are trained in emergency response techniques like basic medical response and community engagement during disasters.
“For the housewives, it may not be acceptable to become a full inspector,” she says, but through the training they have acquired knowledge that can be shared “They support their family members and the neighbors and help calm people with practical and useful information.”
She says the discussions with women-led businesses and community leaders about earthquake safety has helped bring the talk about preparedness into nearly every home.
An important part of the program is collaborating with skilled builders in the community and bringing them together with the local authorities. Women are trained to reduce non-structural vulnerabilities in community building like schools and health-posts. Nonstructural mitigation interventions like installing anchor hooks, straps, steel reinforcement angles to fix the non-structural components of a building are part of services the women provide.
“The women assessed the non-structural vulnerability of their own houses during the training,” she says. “They are now capable of assessing existing non-structural hazards of school and health posts in their communities. They have already implemented non risk assessment and mitigation works in more than 100 buildings.”
Om says her organization showcases women’s work on national and international platforms and creates more support for their risk reduction actions. She says the long-term collaboration has led to conversations with women about their experience during disasters.
“I got to learn from the perspective of the community members, local people and governmental bodies.”
“While working in the communities I got to hear the experiences of people during times of distress,” she says. “That helped me in solving their problems. I got to learn from the perspective of the community members, local people and governmental bodies.”
Om says this gave them insight into what people needed. She says the impact of the project is still limited to just some communities and she hopes it can be extended to more parts of the country.
“Education and awareness saves lives and will reduce the amount of damage during earthquakes or other disasters,” Om says. “Communities can benefit: this model allows women to increase involvement in economic activities and even open up other professions.”
“Education and awareness saves lives and will reduce the amount of damage during earthquakes or other disasters.”
Om says it is heartening to see women empowered by earthquake safety, but she knows that patriarchal views continue to hold Nepalese women back. “There is still a societal perspective that limits women’s potential,” she says. “In a male-dominated society like Nepal, women are not considered eligible for leadership roles; only good for supporting roles.” Om says women are starting to realize their own importance and see how their work in communities has increased everyone’s understanding about disasters.
“Non-structural mitigation cannot be achieved without the participation of women,” Om says. “Governing agencies are taking more detailed steps towards the inclusion of women.”
Om says the project can empower women and shift unhelpful gender dynamics for the better.
“The most important aspect of all is activities and training to enhance the understanding of women in society.”
“The most important aspect of all is activities and training to enhance the understanding of women in society,” Om says. “We do this by linking their learning and their livelihood. It’s about giving women confidence and economic independence.”
The Women's International Network on Disaster Risk Reduction (WIN DRR) is a professional network to support women working in disaster risk reduction, in all their diversity. WIN DRR promotes and supports women's leadership in disaster risk reduction across the Asia Pacific region, and aims to reduce the barriers faced by women and empower them to attain leadership and enhance their decision-making in disaster risk reduction. WIN DRR is supported by UNDRR and the Government of Australia.
Ms. Om Kala Khanal is a Social Development Officer working with the National Society for Earthquake Technology in Nepal. She trains women on disaster preparedness through community-based disaster risk management, community-level search and rescue and basic emergency medical response. Om and her colleagues support women-owned social businesses that deliver life-saving solutions like non-structural mitigation and earthquake ‘go bags’. She is motivated by a vision of making earthquake-safe communities across Nepal.