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A year of temporary living

- John Narayan Parajuli, Charghare, Nuwakot
In the last one-year, villagers have received support from many organisations. But the most tangible ones came from government in the form of cash assistance to the temporary shelter, food and winter clothes, they say.

Apr 25, 2016- The road that leads to the village is a dirt track that continuously climbs steep uphill for the better part of the hour-long drive from Battar in the PashungLamhu Highway.

As we get off our vehicle on the top of a mountain dotted with zinc sheets, there is no mistaking that these are earthquake survivors. As far as the eye can see, none of the private houses seem intact.

We see four men and one woman neatly piling stones on top of each other collected from the debris, while an excavator levels the slopes to prepare the foundation for the village’s new health post.

The old health post crumbled and collapsed as the Gorkha earthquake struck on April 25. But villagers and health workers quickly salvaged medicine and equipment to relocate the health facility to another building of the local government. Most homes in this village of 1471 families have been rendered uninhabitable. Even as uncertainty hangs over rebuilding of their own homes, the villagers came together to generously donate 4 ropanis of land for the health post to be rebuilt to satisfy the new government regulations on rebuilding of public facilities.

The constant fear of another powerful tremor may have subsided as frequency of aftershocks become less, but questions about how they will rebuild their homes weigh heavy on their mind.

“We don’t think the money given by the government is adequate,” said Badri Prasad Bhatta, who was among the seven people who donated land for rebuilding the health facility even as his own house is far from rebuilt. “We don’t need cash, let the government build it for us within the money they have allocated.”

We don’t need cash, let the government build it for us within the money they have allocated - Badri Prasad Bhatta

 

Badri has heard of the subsidised loan that affected households are eligible to receive; but he doubts that any collateral they have will satisfy the banks. Nepal Rastra Bank has announced a subsidised loan at two percent interest rates for earthquake victims. These loans will be disbursed by commercial banks and have a ceiling of Rs2.5 million for Kathmandu Valley and Rs1.5 million in rest of the country.

“Each household can receive upto Rs300, 000 without collateral if all the villagers sign in as collective guarantor,” said Sudarshan Risal, Local Development Officer (LDO) of Nuwakot district. “Out of the 17 approved house models, few of them can be built within Rs50,000.”

Sudarshan Risal, Local Development Officer (LDO) of Nuwakot district

 

But according to Nepal Rastra Bank, so far banks in the entire affected districts have issued only six subsidised loans. That puts the prospect of villagers getting subsidised loans in literally few in a million.

In Nuwakot alone, there were 1,109 deaths and 77,000 houses were destroyed or rendered uninhabitable.

LDO Risal admits that guidelines on the subsidised loans are not clear and getting it in reality might be difficult.

Villagers are also worried about their ability to meet the conditions attached to the housing grant. In order to receive all three installments of the grant, each household will have to meet engineering criteria to make it earthquake-resistant.

Most families in this village of people with primarily Bhatta last name rely on their farms and animals for income, but after the earthquake, working on the farm hasn’t been easy.

Huge cracks have developed on farms and water sources have dried up, villagers say. Women complain that they have to walk over an hour to fetch drinking water. Besides rebuilding of homes, restoring water sources appear to be number one priority to the villagers. They want the water supply to be restored at the earliest; but they can do very little own their own.

In the last one-year, villagers have received support from many organisations, including Red Cross, UNDP, UNICEF, Save the Children, among others. But the most tangible ones came from government in the form of cash assistance to the temporary shelter, food and winter clothes, they say.

As the government instructed, the cash for temporary shelter was spent on procuring zinc sheets. But these very zinc sheets meant to provide little comfort keep them awake at night and alert and outside during the day as gusts of wind frequently blow them away—creating risk of injury or even death.

Two days ago, a flying zinc sheet struck Buddhi Man BK. He feels lucky to have survived with a deep cut in his arm.

“It was scary the way that thing came flying towards me,” said BK.

Buddhi Man BK, who got injured from flying zinc sheet, receives treatment at local health post.

 

Even when there are no strong winds, it is intolerably hot to live inside the temporary shelters during the day.

“It feels like you have been baked,” said Devki Bhatta, whose home, like everyone else, wasn’t able to withstand the powerful temblor. “During the day all the drinking water we have inside shelter becomes boiling hot.”

In many ways, Charghare village is representative of challenges faced by all earthquake-affected villages. Perhaps the only exception would be the road connectivity. Even though these roads may be just dirt tracks, they are in better shape than other remote villages, thanks to nearly half a dozen powerful politicians, including  former five-time finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat, who call the district their home.In the aftermath of the earthquake Nuwakot has courted controversy for having highest number of fraudulent claims (comprising of politically connected individuals) and disproportionately huge amount of assistance compared to other worst affected districts—perhaps an indication of risk of politicisation of reconstruction efforts.

But as monsoon approaches, driving up distance in the mountainous villages would become almost impossible. Even as district officials say that the first installment of the housing grant will be distributed in all districts in next three months, villagers don’t think that they would begin reconstruction before autumn. Many blame the government of raising expectations and not living up to it.

“We would have done whatever needed to be done had the government told us that it couldn’t provide assistance,” said Ram Chandra Bhatta, another villager.

Ram Chandra Bhatta says the government housing grant is inadequate.

Engineer Sudarshan Ghimire supervises debris removal

 

As monsoon approaches, villagers are resigned to fact that their living will be still be temporary for another six months even in best of circumstances.

A health worker measures weight of a child at a local health post. Health workers say cases of malnutrition has risen among children after the earthquake.

 

Januka Bhatta, who lost her husband in a bus accident, has no  source of income. She works as a day labourer to provide for herself and her four-year-old son. Currently she is working to help remove debris of the old health post. She receives Rs460 each day in a cash-for-work programme run by UNDP and funded by KOICA.

 

It feels like you have been baked. During the day all the drinking water we have inside shelter becomes boiling hot - Devki Bhatta.

Published: 25-04-2016 19:36

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