22-28 May 2015 #759

Path to recovery

Outside help is much appreciated, but earthquake survivors are not holding their breath
Anurag Acharya
Damay Sherpa has made dozens of trips from his hard-to-reach village to the town, on roads ravaged by landslides bringing in vital supplies.

No, he is not an elected village council member, or a relief worker. Sherpa is a truck driver who used to ferry cement and bricks for building houses in Kathmandu, but now hauls emergency supplies including zinc sheets to rebuild not just his own house, but for those of his neighbours as well.



Photo: Anurag Acharya

More than 50 people were killed last month when buildings collapsed in Gaunkharka, the villagers buried them together on a slope outside the village.

“There is no time to mourn because the survivors have to live,” says Sherpa, “we have to salvage what is left and rebuild to survive the rain and the coming winter.”

The landslides from the 12 May aftershock brought down huge boulders cutting off Gaunkharka and leaving ambulances and lorries with relief stranded. But Damay takes his 4WD down to the Tadi River and drives his truck through the roaring torrent to the other side, carrying a few people who need medical attention.

The truck also carries 30 bundles of zinc roofing and tarpaulin sheets with money collected by people from Gaunkharka living and working in Kathmandu, Korea, Israel, and the US.

“We have enough to eat, we just need some help building houses,” he says, skillfully negotiating the boulders by the river to drop me off. “I am not charging for this. There will be a time to make money later.”

Across the river in Samundratar, Ram Chandra Thapa and Bhimsen Timilsena are busy helping Bishnumaya Pandit clear the debris of her home and salvage her roof. She is single and doesn’t have family, so the community is helping her.

In village after village, we meet people struggling to rebuild their lives and move on. “Unlike in cities, we build our own houses, and we help each other,” said Timilsena, who says their immediate need is for zinc sheets, hammers and nails.

It was late in the afternoon when three trucks full of relief materials including tents, food and medical supplies, each brought by Maiti Nepal volunteers, a team of Malaysian medical doctors and a group of self motivated students reached Rautbesi. Villagers had been waiting since morning and they lined up.

The Malaysian team set up its medical camp and immediately started treating patients with broken bones, deep cuts and bruises. A nine-year-old boy had walked hours to get medicines for his mother, who was injured and could not walk. The doctors quickly trained him how to apply a dressing and gave him some painkillers.

It’s not just earthquake injuries being treated. Man Bahadur Tamang, 68, had been bitten by a leech last year and the wound was infected and the gangrene was spreading up his leg. After basic dressing, the Malaysian doctors advised the man to get to a hospital immediately otherwise he may lose his leg.

Nearby, the district CA member Man Bahadur, who the villagers had voted for, was busy taking pictures of himself distributing relief supplies. He had no time for the patients. Luckily, a group of volunteers including Aadhar Rana and his brothers drove Man Bahadur to the Chhatrapati Clinic in Kathmandu, which is treating him free of cost.

“Let my legs heal, I am going back to rebuild not just my house but my neighbours’ as well,” he said with a wide smile.

Sermendo Tamang from Gaunkharka lost her husband and had walked for hours to get supplies and medicines for her injured father-in-law. Some big men muscled in to get a larger share and Tamang looked worried she would have to go back empty-handed. A few policemen with sticks were hardly a match for the goons. Things started getting ugly so the supplies were locked up in a school till the next morning. It was getting dark, and Tamang decided to spend the night here.

In the past weeks, everyone I met in remote villages of Sindhupalchok and Nuwakot said the same thing: we want temporary houses that will withstand the monsoon and winter, we are doing mostly okay with food.

Indeed, their priority is not to rebuild their traditional mud, stone and slate houses for the moment. They will do that after the rains, but for now they urgently need zinc and plastic sheets, nails and basic carpentry tools.

There are villages in Rasuwa, Sindhupalchok and Dolakha that will have to be relocated and rebuilt. A villager from Ghyangphedi told me his entire village has been wiped out by a landslide, there are many more settlements like that in Dolakha.

Carrying out rapid rebuilding will have to be backed by equally swift mobilisation of resources. And waiting endlessly for the donors to fill the coffers is not exactly the best way to go about it. In any case, there is donor fatigue, the amounts pledged never really materialise, or even if they do, they tend to be spent on their own nationals.

The government doesn’t need donors to do the basics: make sure farmers get their seeds and fertilisers on time, encourage job creation at home to attract overseas workers back, and prepare for the autumn trekking season. There is no harm in holding a donor’s conference to raise immediate money in aid, but the only way to ensure a sustained flow of resources is to get the national economy back on track at the earliest.

Rebuilding a ravaged country is a long-term national project,which requires committed mobilisation from within. If people in the worst hit areas have come together putting aside personal differences, there is no reason why the polarised politicos of Nepal cannot do the same in this hour of need. If a national government helps to resolve impending distractions, so be it. 

@AnuragAcharya

Read also:

Living off the land, Editorial

Tourism is down, but not out, Om Astha Rai

Growing back, Sonia Awale

A concrete future, Sonia Awale

Jiri bounces back, Mark Zimmerman

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