A year after the earthquake, thousands of survivors still in tents or under tree branches
by Christopher Sharma

Reconstruction operations are taking place too slowly. Survivors are hungry and cold. Those who can take out loans at high interests to build houses. Political divisions and party privileges prevail. NGO are being stopped and closely monitored to avoid “proselytising”.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) – Exactly a year after Nepal’s earthquake, the entire nation stopped to remember the 8,961 victims. However, few are paying attention to the thousands of displaced people who still do not have a home or a place to live.

Last year’s powerful 7.9 earthquake destroyed the homes of millions of people, and damaged those of least another eight million people. Since then, thousands of people struggle and endure hardships to get some food and shelter.

Right after the quake, the Nepali government called on the international community to help in rescue operations and the distribution of basic necessities, but now it is allowing no one to provide a voluntary contribution without its consent. Most victims are still living with the food and items provided by charitable organisations.

For its part, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), which was set up by the government to deal with the aftermath of the quake, has not yet done much to help people, or gather data on their situation and needs.

Rajani Gurung lost her husband to the quake. She survives with her three children in Barpak, Gorkha district (the quake’s epicentre). Her current "home" is a tree.

"My three children and I live under a tree as a temporary shelter,” she said. “Before I used to live outdoor, in the fields, but the government banned it. I have no land, so I have to live here."

"I heard that the government offers soft loans for reconstruction, but how can one believe them. We have had a wretched time during the winter and the rainy season. "

"Last winter there was a lot of rain and snow,” she said, crying. “The roof on our temporary shelter blew off because of the wind. We survived staying under this tree and these branches. For days, we had no food; my children were crying . . . I don’t have any no money to build a new house, so I have to wait for the government's response, but I have not much hope."

Salina Tamang, 26, is a mother of two, in Sindhupalchowk district. "My husband is in Saudi Arabia as a migrant worker,” she said. “For a year, my smallest child, almost newly born, and I lived in a tent.”

“The government has now provided 25,000 rupees: 15,000 for temporary housing, and 10,000 for winter clothing. But this money is nothing. My oldest child has stopped going to school because I do not have the money to pay the monthly fee. My husband works very hard, but he has a very low pay and is not able to save money."

"I received food and clothes from some charities. This is how we are surviving. Caritas Nepal has given me food and even a tent." Conversely, she has little good to say about politicians.

"Political leaders only give us false assurances,” she laments. “When there is something to hand out, they start with their own kind. After local party and government officials get enough, our turns come.”

“We have lived this way for a whole year. Let us hope that the government will help us build houses before the next monsoon."

"The government was unprepared for the disaster,” said Rameshwor dangal, head of the Disaster Management Division at the Home Affairs Ministry. “I am afraid it is not capable of dealing with future disasters. This could be because of politicisation and divisions.”

Since last year’s quake, the National Seismological Centre has recorded 30,000 aftershocks, including 448 above magnitude 4.

Around a million houses and structures were fully or partially damaged. The government estimates the damage to property to be around US$ 7 billion. However, those who can get loans are not waiting for government support.

One survivor, Krishna Prasad Pandey, from Bidur-1, Nuwakot district, said he applied for a loan at Nepal Bank Limited. "We spent a whole year in a hut. We can’t wait any longer!"

The NRA has an office in the district, but its work is slow due to lack of staff. For Radhika Ghale, of Bidhur-3, the NRA is not very effective.

Sabita Thapa, another survivor, has taken out a loan to build her house, at a high rate, 10 per cent. "Although the government announced easy loans, we have been compelled to pay high interests”.

For NRA Chief Executive Officer Sushil Gyanwali, “political divisions and delays in forming the NRA didn’t allow us to speed up our works. But we are now moving quickly and soon will reach all victims with our support”.

As for any ban on charities, Gyanwali dismissed the notion. “We have not banned [them], but rather sought commitments from all NGOs, INGOs and charity organisations for what they want to do.”

“They are not free to go into affected area and do things [as they please]. We ask them to seek our approval, providing clear objectives and do things under our monitoring and supervision.”

“We took this decision as many Hindus criticised Christian charity organisations for luring and converting people in the name of aid.”

“So far six I/NGOs have been given approval for work.”