Nepali engineers reach new heights

Using their skills to make a difference around the world

Seetashma Thapa
May 11, 2018 · 5 min read

From the top of the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal and the deserts of Sub-Saharan Africa, Nepali engineers from the World Food Programme have left their families behind to save lives during emergencies.

For many Nepli engineers, the country’s devastating earthquakes in 2015 left a powerful mark and a desire to help others across the globe. Meet some of the country’s talented engineers and read how they are helping thousands of families in some of the world’s most challenging places.

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Inspired to help others — WFP Engineer Rohit Pokharel. Photo: WFP/Rohit Pokharel

Monsoon rains are on their way to the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh, where more than 900,000 Rohingya refugees face a dangerous and uncertain future.

With little more than tarpaulins to keep them dry, heavy rains are predicted to place vulnerable families at even greater risk. The 2017 monsoon in South Asia created havoc, leaving more than 100 dead and a further 6 million affected in Bangladesh alone.

WFP engineers are working around the clock to prevent a repeat of 2017 by building bridges, improving drainage and are helping to relocate the families who are most at-risk. Praneet Shrestha from WFP Nepal has flown in to help and he has been a member of the Cox’s Bazar engineering team for the past two months.

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Praneet Shrestha working at camp site in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh. WFP/ Rohit Pokharel

“After the earthquakes in Nepal, the WFP Engineering Unit constructed health camps. A lot of injured people needed help. From that experience I have learnt to work under pressure and with many responsibilities,” he says. “It will be a great relief to see the Rohingya living in safer areas before the rain comes and threatens everything.”

“After working in the private sector, it was totally different to work for the United Nations, especially in an emergency,” says Rohit Pokharel. “When I saw the catastrophe caused by the earthquake, I knew deep inside that I was working for the right cause.”

After having built trails in the Himalayas, Rohit has been recognized for his work and has been selected to work as an engineer for WFP in Cox Bazaar. Nepali engineers are in great demand, and he already has his next assignment lined up — in South Sudan.

“It will be exciting to work in a completely different terrain after having worked in the mountains. I am looking forward towards working in a new country with new challenges,” says Rohit.

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More than 3,000 people work against time to provide safe living conditions to the largest refugee population, Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh. WFP/ Rohit Pokharel
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Rohit with his colleagues and refugees at the camp site in Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh. Photos: WFP/Praneet Shrestha

In Nepal, WFP’s engineering team is made up of 16 people, and they spend most of their days working at high altitudes, assessing earthquake affected trails and overseeing their rehabilitation.

Like Praneet and Rohit, Suraj Kandel also started his career as a humanitarian engineer post-earthquake. Furthermore, Suraj is an asset to the team as he is one out of only 13 licensed trail auditors in the country.

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Suraj takes a break after at Singla Pass (3,200 mt) above sea level in Nuwakot District after supervising trail reconstruction project. Photo: WFP/ Engineering
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Left to Right: Suraj on the left with his colleagues Rabindra and Hridesh, waiting for the sun so that they can charge phone via solar panels. Suraj receiving his trail auditor licence. Photos: WFP/Engineering

Even as a newlywed, Suraj has sacrificed his family life to work. “Reaching the affected villages and setting up a team on-site is always challenging. Winning the confidence of the local community is hard, but when we succeed it gives me huge satisfaction to know that we are making a difference in these places and improving the lives of those most in need.”

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WFP engineers live in tents in extremely remote parts of Nepal when there is no accommodation available. Sometimes they even spot leopard paw prints. Photo: WFP/ Suraj Kandel

Suraj’s unit have already repaired 128 km of trails since 2015. These trails provide vital links between remote communities and markets, food, employment and medical facilities. Without the trails, all supplies must be carried in by foot — causing the prices of essentials to sky rocket.

For nine percent of Nepalis, trails are their only connection with the outside world. In a country with harsh geographic terrain, Nepal has provided engineers with an opportunity to build a range of skills that can make a huge difference to communities and support the distribution of life-saving food.

WFP is working closely with the UK Department for International Development (DFID) to re-build trails and support the development of rural economies. Local contractors employ local people, half of them women, who develop new skills and earn an income — a much-needed boost to rural economies.

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WFP Engineers supervise trail reconstruction and conduct surveys. WFP/ Sharan Pokharel
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Before and after photographs of trail rehabilitation in Ruby Valley, Dhading. Photo: WFP/ Suraj Kandel
  • Rehabilitate a minimum of 128 km trails
  • Complete engineering assessments on a further 161 km of trails in remote areas

The rehabilitation and (re)construction of access infrastructure will serve as a catalyst for livelihood diversification, improved food security, enhanced community and household resilience to economic shocks.

Learn WFP’s report on the vital role that trails have in supporting Nepali families.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

Seetashma Thapa

Written by

Communications and Partnerships with UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Bangladesh. Loves adventures, art & architecture. BIG time foodie & enjoys travelling.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

Seetashma Thapa

Written by

Communications and Partnerships with UN World Food Programme (WFP) in Bangladesh. Loves adventures, art & architecture. BIG time foodie & enjoys travelling.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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