Below zero at Ground ZeroTwo months after the Jajarkot earthquake, survivors try to survive the cold
Shanta Bahadur Budha takes a step out of his tarp. The sun is still not out yet, and his hands are quivering from the cold.
Ever since his house in Barekot was destroyed by the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck at 11.23pm on the night of 3 November, he like many others has been living in a tent.
Barekot is near the epicentre of the quake, and although there were no casualties the earthquake damaged nearly every house in the village.
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"That night it felt like the entire village would collapse,” Budha recalls. “After that, every night in the tent it has been getting colder and colder. It will soon start snowing, how will we survive?"
Asked what is their main concern, everyone here says surviving the winter is the biggest challenge as the temperature drops below zero at night 2,400m in the mountains of western Nepal.
From a distance, the houses clinging to the flanks of the picturesque rolling hills look fine. But on closer inspection, the impact of the earthquake is starkly visible — houses that have not collapsed all have cracks on walls or missing roofs.
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Municipality data shows that most houses in the nine wards have been affected, and there are 5,586 applications for temporary housing.
"All the houses are affected, no house is habitable," says Dinayat Gharti of the Municipality "Every family has been living in tents for two months now.”
Barekot lies about 30km from the Jajarkot district capital of Khalanga, but construction of temporary housing has not even started. Because of the area’s remoteness, assistance has not reached the locals on time and the lack of workers has delayed construction.
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Slow disbursement of the first instalment of compensation from the government has also affected progress. According to Gharti, only 583 families have received the first instalment of Rs25,000, and 5,300 families are yet to receive even that.
All this means that Barekot’s 22,000 people are forced to live in courtyards, fields and open spaces in freezing temperatures. The most common sound here is of children and the elderly coughing.
Health care workers report that most children suffer from exposure-related diseases, while the elderly are experiencing respiratory problems and fever.
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Charities organisations have distributed tarps and blankets which has made things a bit easier for the residents. Dhan Bahadur Budha, principal of the Himalaya Devi Basic School says problems are bound to get worse once the temperature starts dropping further.
All 53 schools in Barekot Rural Municipality collapsed on 3 November, which is also a stark reminder of what would have happened if the earthquake had struck during school hours when classrooms would have been full.
Schools would have been ideal shelters for survivors, but even those are in no condition to be used. Himalaya Devi Basic School has been conducting classes from under a tent since the earthquake.
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"All school buildings have been damaged, it is impossible to run classes inside the building," laments Budha.
Although classes have resumed, things are yet to go back to normal. Most students have not been able to attend school. "Initially students did not show up at all," says Budha, "then the teachers went house-to-house and parents started sending their kids back."
But conducting classes regularly is a challenge. Classes are held in the open when the sun is out, otherwise, it is too cold.
Now that most families have warm clothes, blankets and tents, the most urgent need is for the temporary shelter construction to be expedited.
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