Nepal quake survivors see little hope after six months

2015-10-26 18:01
(Niranjan Shrestha, AP)

(Niranjan Shrestha, AP)

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Sindupalchowk - Saili Lati Karki, a 72-year-old woman with a speech impairment, shivers in the cold air and points to the makeshift shelter she occupied for six months after her home crumbled during a devastating earthquake.

The temporary structure is just a couple rusty sheets of corrugated tin propped up with a stick. Karki uses her hands to signal that she could barely get any sleep there, and her back ached.

Karki has just moved her few pots and some donated rice and lentils to a new hut, erected on the slope above by an international aid organisation.

It will be the first time that she sleeps within walls since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake April 25th that killed nearly 9 000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of houses.

As winter sets in and the mountain air drops to freezing, thousands of others struggle to keep the cold out of their tarpaulin shelters and donated tents.

Karki received help because her case was considered a priority, but her neighbours still live in shacks built from whatever they could pull out of their collapsed homes. Many say they did not receive the roughly $1 100 promised by the government because they were unable to produce documents.

No home

"We don't know what to do next," says Aitee Tamang, a 24-year-old woman in the Thali camp on the outskirts of Kathmandu, with hundreds of others from Sindupalchowk district, the epicentre of the April 25 earthquake.

She lives with her children, husband and sister in a small tent, under which she cooks and huddles with the rest, at night.

"We can't go back home because there is no home now. And here, we pay rent for the land we are occupying. We have told ourselves we'll stay until the Tihar festival. After that, no one in the camp really knows where we will go," she says, blinking as the smoke from the wood-fire stings her eyes.

She curses at the fire.

Nearly 300 people currently share the Thali camp, and the others echo her despondency.

"Our kids fall ill from time to time. They have fever, cough, colds and diarrhea. We share one toilet for which we pay. And most of us don't even have jobs," says Sunita Tamang.

The men in the camps have mostly been working as drivers or helpers on buses or running odd errands, while women watch over the children and cook and clean.

"It's hard to find a job as people in Kathmandu don't trust us. They consider us people from the village," says Deuti Shrestha, who lives in the Danchi camp, which was an abandoned chicken farm before the displaced came to occupy it.

Reconstruction in limbo

A prolonged fuel crisis in Nepal has worsened living conditions for the earthquake victims. They are forced to cook over firewood and walk for nearly an hour to fetch water, as the aid organizations supporting them no longer ferry water due to the petrol shortage.

There has been a change of government, and reconstruction work appears to be in limbo.

The previous administration formed a reconstruction committee, but it "fell through the cracks" because of a failure to enact the necessary enabling legislation, according to Swarmin Wagle, an outgoing member of the National Planning Commission.

"You can't even say that the government reconstruction is behind schedule," says Mohana Ansari, spokeswoman of the National Human Rights Commission. "They have not even begun the process yet."

While stretches of villages have turned into ruins along the highway in Sindupalchowk connecting Nepal and China, some houses in the capital Kathmandu depend on struts propping up their walls.

"Should there be another big one [earthquake], these houses will surely fall," says Bhim Shakya, a resident of Lalitpur district in Kathmandu.

"And our streets are narrow, so there's little space for the people to run. People might come even under the walls that are already cracked by the quakes, as you can see."

Read more on:    nepal  |  earthquakes

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