From rubble to revival: Nune’s experience

Nune Movsisyan was 21 years old when her life changed forever. She was at home alone on the morning of December 7th, 1988, when a 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck, levelling Nune’s house with her inside. Seven hours passed before she was pulled from the rubble and taken to hospital with severe injuries. She was one of the luckier ones – the earthquake killed an estimated 40,000 across Armenia’s northern region of Lori.

Nune’s town, Spitak, was the worst affected. Of a population of around 25,000, 4300 were killed (one in every six) and another 1550 were left with life-changing injuries (including 670 women and 375 children). 95 percent of the town’s buildings were destroyed.

The local authorities tasked with rebuilding the town were faced with a myriad of challenges. The community’s main source of income, agriculture, was seriously compromised because the local farmlands remained covered with building debris, hastily dumped there during the clean-up. Further still, this same debris had blocked the local rivers and irrigation systems, causing floods which further eroded the soil and degraded the remaining arable land.

But rebuilding the town wasn’t the only challenge. The improvement of local livelihoods also had to be ensured. Over 10 percent of the remaining population were left disabled, and besides all the physiological and psychological complications that the catastrophe brought, these people were unable to take part in the few types of work available to earn a living: crop cultivation and livestock breeding.

Nune was among these. Suffering severe muscular-skeletal trauma, she was confined to a wheelchair.

My family has strived to overcome the pain caused by the earthquake, but it’s difficult, we rely on agriculture to survive. It’s not common in our country for people with disabilities to be part of the work force. After the earthquake, I couldn’t find a job and couldn’t help my family.

28 years on, there is still a lot to recover from. Among the rest of the country, the region is referred to as “the Earthquake Zone”, symbolizing the perception that many still have of a region which has yet to recover. Until today, there is a problem integrating the large numbers of people with disabilities back into the workforce – many of whom have fallen in to deep poverty. Much of the debris still blocks vacant farmland, and over 2000 people live in temporary shelters (called Domiks) which are deprived of even basic necessities.

But despite the challenges, progress is also being made. Nune, for example, found a job at a greenhouse built jointly by UNDP/GEF Small Grants Programme, the Spitak municipality, Save the Children Fund, UNICEF and a local NGO, ‘Kamrjak’. Nune, along with 48 people with disabilities (over half of whom were women) received specialized trainings and access to other work opportunities adapted specifically for her. “Because the greenhouse was adapted for people in the community with disabilities, like myself, finally, I can work again and help support my family. We were also helped by the new drainage system and waterway that were built, which helped us cultivate more from our private farmlands”.

Others in the town have also benefited from the project. Land was cleared of debris and an orchard was planted, complete with over 2000 trees and a 500-metre long irrigation system to support the local families. Her son, Artyom, who is also disabled, took part in specialized classes on how to install and operate the new drip irrigation systems. Slowly, the family have been able to find a level of socio-economic security not seen since before the earthquake.

According to Nune, the whole town has seen a change from the project: “The post-earthquake debris was dumped disorderly all over, we only have bad memories from that time. After the cleaning and reconstruction, the atmosphere in the town has changed, and the mood of the people has also transformed. Instead of making our way through post-earthquake garbage every day, we can now follow a much more prosperous path.”

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