Approximately one year ago a small country (approx. the size of Arkansas) witnessed one of its worst natural disasters, possibly the worlds worst natural disaster in recent history. This was followed by numerous after shocks (more than 5600 and 4312 recorded landslides till date) and finally another major earthquake a month later. For weeks the whole world rallied to help, every eye was on this small country and its people, with ‘help’ pouring in from all corners, in the shape of food, shelter, medicine, clothes and donations.
That was a year ago. As is usually the case, the world soon found more interesting stuff to focus on, NGOs found new target areas and objectives and slowly everyone exited the place. While last year there were more than 200-300 NGOs in a district in Nepal, now only 20-30 remain, of which not even half are actually doing work.
I had the privilege or fortune of being in Nepal last year in January and February and had been pained to hear that the place I had spent almost a month in was almost completely annihilated. This year I got a chance to go back again, and see first hand how everything is even after a year.
When we reached Kathmandu, I was apprehensive and then as the day passed on, impressed and shamefuly a little let down. Looking at Kathmandu you couldn’t say it had suffered so much. All that was visible were a few broken walls. But otherwise life seemed to have gone back on track. How I regret my thoughts now. Despite the fact that one of the primary aims of my visit was to understand how the earthquake had impacted a specific district (as usual no names or locations can be disclosed), it almost felt like nothing major had happened. As if the earthquake was no more than a bad memory.
How I wish I could take those thoughts back, for it is the interiors of the country that you truly see the devastation of the quakes. A year on, people are still living in shelters, their families dead, houses destroyed, livestock and livelihoods lost. while some camps are located on government land, most of the camps are established on private land, which has been procured by the local community themselves on rent. Everyone recounts with saddening clarity those first few days, where due to the nature of the terrain in the country and time taken to mobilise enough relief, they spend days on top of the mountains, injured, hungry and scared for their lives. While most injured were eventually evacuated by choppers, the healthy had to find their own way down the mountains, where no one was sure of when the next aftershock or landslide would hit. Those who passed away in this were crudely buried only to get a proper funeral weeks later when their family dared come back.
A year on, people are still residing in the relief shelters made, dependent on charity for food and basic supplies. While earlier most had a sustenance livelihood of agriculture and livestock, now most are dependent on a few days of wage labour for running their houses.
The people are ready to move on with their life’s, but also express apprehension over what that means. They don’t own any land in the camp areas, the land they do own may not be safe and is full of horrific memories. The government wasn’t able to help most set up their camps and now doesn’t have a clear stand on where the people should go, how they will be resettled. The INGOs working with them are ending their projects and withdrawing, the NGOs are running out of money and sponsorship.
Furthermore, the agreements for the land for the camps were only for a year. Thus it is possible that come June, these camps may have to be dismantled and the people forced to move to another location or worse, back to their villages. Even if that doesn’t happen, they will have to pay a higher rent, along with continued costs of electricity, food and medical bills. Add on top of this, the fact that disease, rising cost of living, human trafficking (especially of children), threats to women safety and overall vulnerability are rising, the picture isn’t pretty. And the world seems to have forgotten.