26 June - 2 July 2015 #764

Landless before, landless after

Much of the assistance is going to earthquake survivors in the mountains, and Kathmandu’s already-poor urban homeless have fallen between the cracks
Karma Gurung

Sita Tamang, 35, used to make a living from a small snack shop. But business is down since the quake. Photos: Karma Dolma Gurung

Unlike hundreds of thousands made homeless by the earthquake, Sita Tamang (pic, right) didn’t have a home even before 25 April. Her family has been living in a riverside shanty settlement in Sinamangal for the past ten years struggling to survive from day-to-day. The earthquake just added another layer of hardship. Tamang, 35, used to make a living from a small shop where children from a neighbourhood school used to stop by to buy snacks and sweets. But business is down because the school was closed.

“The shop did well because of the school, but now no one seems to have money to buy anything anymore,” she said, with her grandchild in her lap. Her daughter is out in the city looking for a job.

Much of the assistance is going to earthquake survivors in the mountains, and Kathmandu’s already-poor urban homeless have fallen between the cracks. Some help has come from Actionaid Nepal and Lumanti but it isn’t enough for the 2,000 households in the capital’s 22 shanty settlements.

Although they were not directly affected by the earthquake, Kathmandu’s slum-dwellers who are mainly daily wage earners have been hit hard by the lack of employment. Most of the women here in Sinamangal, like Tamang’s daughter, were domestic helpers in apartments and homes around the city. Tamang lost her job, and despite going out every day hasn’t found a new one.

“Many of the big houses that we used to work in are either damaged or the residents don’t live there anymore,” said Devika Dhungel, who also worked as a domestic help. But despite that, amidst the squalid surroundings there is a mood of surprising optimism.

Many families here hope that once reconstruction starts when the government’s ban on new buildings is lifted in mid-July, there will be a lot more jobs coming up.

DOUBLE TROUBLE: A shanty settlement near Boudha.

An immediate worry for residents here is of flooding as the rivers swell with monsoon rains. Because the families do not own the property they occupy, they are not eligible for municipality services.

“They just ignore us, and the only time they acknowledge our presence is when they give us an eviction threat,” says Dharmavir, who lives in a shanty near Boudha. Now, the women in Kathmandu’s shantytowns have decided to get organised and help each other. The Nepal Mahila Ekta Samaj women's group started running savings and loans cooperatives so they could help women with microcredit. The women contribute to their savings scheme, and have meetings to give out loans to women who need the cash most urgently.

The society’s Bimala Lama, a slum dweller herself said: “Because we do not own any land and don’t have proper documents, we have to help our community and ourselves with what we have.” Most women who borrow, repay their loans on time.

Like Hira Lama, who lives in a shanty in Kapan. She is lucky that she has found a job for several days in a row and has managed to deposit Rs 500 in her neighbourhood cooperative, which is almost like an insurance premium for a loan that she may need in a future emergency. Her husband is a wood carver, but the family has to cut back on expenses to send money home to her family in Gorkha.

Like the women, the young people living in the shanties have also set up their own organisation to distribute food to those who don’t have enough, and are also organising camps for children and paying their tuition.

Read also:

Kathmandu’s most vulnerable, Bhrikuti Rai

Kathmandu’s malignant urban tumour, Maarten Post

Slum millionaires, Rubeena Mahato

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