Skip to main content

Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health After the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes: An Investigation of the Long-term Gendered Impacts of Disasters


Introduction Natural disasters in resource-poor countries have differential effects on socially disadvantaged groups such as women. In addition to the acute reproductive health needs of women during the immediate response phase of a disaster, research suggests that maternal, newborn, and child health (MNCH) may continue to be seriously impacted for numerous months, even years, after the event. Methods This ethnographic field research investigates the impacts of the 2015 Nepal earthquakes on mothers and children under five on the 6-month anniversary of the earthquakes. Results Though families were not channeling household funds away from health care expenses for pregnant and lactating women and children under five, the findings suggest that a delayed response by the Nepali government in administering funds for rebuilding combined with an ongoing fuel crisis were negatively impacting families’ abilities to provide adequate shelter, warmth, cooking gas, and transportation for mothers and young children. This study highlights the importance of understanding the impacts of specific social and political contexts on intra-household family finances as they relate to MNCH, not just variables related to the disaster itself. Discussion Future research and policies on MNCH during the long-term recovery period after a natural disaster such as the 2015 Nepal earthquakes therefore should take into account the social and political context as well as institute multiple periodic assessments of MNCH in the first few years following the disaster.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  • Adams, V. (Ed.). (2016). Metrics: What counts in global health. Durham: Duke University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Adams, V., Craig, S. R., & Samen, A. (2015). Alternative accounting in maternal and infant global health. Global Public Health, 11(3), 276–294.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. (2010). ACOG Committee Opinion 457: Preparing for disasters: Perspectives on women. Obstetric Gynecology, 115, 1339–1342.

  • Anttila-Hughes, J. K., & Hsiang, S. M. (2013). Destruction, disinvestment, and death: Economic and human losses following environmental disaster. Retrieved from Social Science Research Network:

  • Brunson, J. (2010). Confronting maternal mortality, controlling birth in Nepal: The gendered politics of receiving biomedical care at birth. Social Science and Medicine, 71(10), 1719–1727.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Brunson, J. (2017). Concealed pregnancies and protected postpartum periods: Defining critical periods of maternal health in Nepal. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  • Charmaz, K. (2006). Constructing grounded theory. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  • Crenshaw, K. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989, 139–167.

    Google Scholar 

  • Dancause, K. N., Laplante, D. P., Oremus, C., Fraser, S., Brunet, A., & King, S. (2011). Disaster-related prenatal maternal stress influences birth outcomes: Project Ice Storm. Early Human Development, 87(12), 813–820.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Datar, A., Liu, J., Linnemayr, S., & Stecher, C. (2013). The impact of natural disasters on child health and investments in rural India. Social Science & Medicine, 76, 83–91.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • DeYoung, S. (2016). When environmental justice meets social justice: The case of maternal and infant vulnerability after the Nepal earthquake. Global Journal of Community Psychology Practice, 7(3), 1–5.

    Google Scholar 

  • DeYoung, S., & Suji, M. (2017). Maternal perceptions of infant health and feeding in the context of the 2015 Nepal earthquake recovery and fuel crisis: A qualitative study. Manuscript submitted for publication.

  • Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (2011). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes (2nd edn.). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Farmer, P. (2011). Haiti after the earthquake. New York: PublicAffairs.

    Google Scholar 

  • Ghale, S. (2015). The heart of the matter. The Record. Retrieved September 10, 2015 from

  • Gittelsohn, J. (1991). Opening the box: Intrahousehold food allocation in rural Nepal. Social Science & Medicine, 33(10), 1141–1154.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Gittelsohn, J., Thapa, M., & Landman, L. T. (1997). Cultural factors, caloric intake and micronutrient sufficiency in rural Nepali households. Social Science & Medicine, 44(11), 1739–1749.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Hewitt, K. (1997). Regions of risk: A geographical introduction to disasters. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  • Holmberg, D. H., & March, K. S. (2015). Tamsaling and the Toll of the Gorkha Earthquake. Hot Spots, Cultural Anthropology website. Retrieved October 14, 2015 from

  • KC, S., & Neupane, S. (2016). Women’s autonomy and skilled attendance during pregnancy and delivery in Nepal. Maternal and Child Health Journal 20(6), 1222–1229.

  • King, S., Dancause, K., Turcotte-Tremblay, A.-M., Veru, F., & Laplante, D. P. (2012). Using natural disasters to study the effects of prenatal maternal stress on child health and development. Birth Defects Research Part C: Embryo Today: Reviews, 96(4), 273–288.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Kvale, S. (2009). Interview analyses focusing on meaning, on language interviews: Learning the craft of qualitative research interviewing (2nd edn., pp. 201–232). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  • Magar, S. G. (2015). The Tamang epicentre. Nepali Times. Retrieved July 10–16, 2015 from

  • Messer, E. (1997). Intra-household allocation of food and health care: Current findings and understandings—Introduction. Social Science & Medicine, 44(11), 1675–1684.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Michaels, L., Chingchit, S., & Barron, P. (2015). Independent impacts and recovery monitoring Nepal phase 1: June 2015. San Francisco: The Asia Foundation.

    Google Scholar 

  • Panter-Brick, C. (1989). Motherhood and subsistence work: The Tamang of rural Nepal. Human Ecology, 17(2), 205–228.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Pokhrel, S., & Sauerborn, R. (2004). Household decision-making on child health care in developing countries: The case of Nepal. Health Policy and Planning, 19(4), 218–233.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Spoon, J. (2017). Life after the Nepal quakes: Inequality, rapid change and slow progress. Exposure. Retrieved from

  • Thapa, D. (2015). The country is yours. The Kathmandu Post. Retrieved July 2, 2015 from

  • Thornton, W. E., & Voigt, L. (2007). Disaster rape: Vulnerability of women to sexual assaults during Hurricane Katrina. Journal of Public Management & Social Policy, 13, 23–49.

    Google Scholar 

  • United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (2003). Sexual and gender-based violence against refugees, returnees and internally displaced persons. Retrieved from

  • United Nations Population Fund. (2015a). At the heart of the earthquake epicenter: Addressing reproductive health needs in Gorkha. Retrieved from

  • United Nations Population Fund. (2015b). Nepal earthquake: 100 Days into the humanitarian response. Retrieved from

  • Wisner, B., Blaikie, P., Cannon, T., & Davis, I. (2004). At risk: Natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disaster (2nd edn.). New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

Download references


This research was funded by a grant from the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center through its Quick Response Grant Program, which is funded by the National Science Foundation grant number CMMI1030670. I am grateful to Manoj K. Shrestha and Meena Manandhar for their assistance with conducting this research.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Jan Brunson.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Brunson, J. Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health After the 2015 Nepal Earthquakes: An Investigation of the Long-term Gendered Impacts of Disasters. Matern Child Health J 21, 2267–2273 (2017).

Download citation

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Disaster
  • Gender
  • Qualitative methods
  • Maternal health
  • Intra-household resource allocation
  • Nepal