29 May - 5 June 2015 #760

The Uprooted

An increasing number of people from earthquake affected districts are seeking shelter on the outskirts of Kathmandu Valley
Om Astha Rai

Photo: Om Astha Rai

Pasang Sherpa, 42, (pic)did not want to leave his village – a tiny settlement in Tatopani VDC of Sindhupalchok district near the Chinese border.

Even after a powerful earthquake flattened his house on 25 April, Sherpa wanted to continue living there. He was determined to build a temporary shelter from materials he had salvaged from the ruins of his old house.

The 7.8 magnitude tremor tore down the hills surrounding Sherpa’s village, triggering massive landslides that buried many houses. Despite the devastation caused by the earthquake and the ensuing landslides, Sherpa spent the first night in a tent next to the ruins of his home. The next day, a powerful aftershock struck central Nepal and destroyed what was left of Tatopani.

Sherpa and his neighbours then moved to Bhumachaur, and spent two nights under a large makeshift tent. When Sherpa returned to rebuild his house, his village was once again hit by landslides. He gave up, and came to Kathmandu.

“I was born there and wanted to die there, be buried next to my ancestors. But it looks like I was destined to die somewhere else like a refugee,” says Sherpa.

Sherpa first stayed at a relative’s house but moved to a relief camp in Boudha a week ago. His wife and three children are also staying at the camp.

A month after the earthquake normalcy might be returning for those whose houses remain intact but for the hundreds of thousands displaced, life has changed forever.

Dawa Sherpa, a 32-year-old from Tatopani, is helping displaced people from his village to find shelters in Kathmandu. He says around 450 families have been displaced by the earthquake-induced landslides in Tatopani.

“The earthquake destroyed our houses and the landslides uprooted us,” he says. “The villages where we grew up will be buried under landslide debris in the coming monsoon.”

While some families displaced from Tatopani have found shelter in Boudha, others are in relief camps in Thali and Mulpani. Thousands of people displaced from other villages of Sindhupalchok, the worst-hit district where more than 3,429 people died and 63,885 houses were destroyed, have also moved to Kathmandu Valley.

Mohan Bahadur Basnet, a CA member from Sindhupalchok, says more than 5,000 people displaced from 25 VDCs of the district are now living in camps on the outskirts of the valley including in Sankhu, Bode, Sallaghari and Balkot.

After the earthquake, 1.2 million people left Kathmandu Valley amidst rumours that the city would be hit by a bigger earthquake and epidemics. Some, also, returned to their villages to help rebuild homes. But at the same time, thousands of people from quake-affected districts came to the valley.

While people who left are now gradually coming back, for those displaced there is nowhere else to go. And thousands of more people are still living in villages susceptible to landslides.

A parliamentary committee has instructed the government to relocate people living in landslide-prone areas. Department of Mines and Geology, with technical support from International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) and TU’s Geology Department, has mobilised 18 teams to map the landslide-prone areas and recommended relocations of settlements.

Relocation might take off, albeit slowly. But displaced people like Sherpa are worried about their future homes.

“I was born on a mountain, I feel comfortable in cold weather,” he says. “I cannot go to the Tarai even if the government sends me there. I am looking for a place that has the same geography and weather as Tatopani.”

Read Also:

Where are we, Ayesha Shakya

Sindhupalchok's sorrow, Bhrikuti Rai

Life after deaths, Om Astha Rai

Quake from space, Ayesha Shakya

A month that felt like a year, Kunda Dixit

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