Families living in old city quarters face fresh challenges

- Pratichya Dulal, Kathmandu
Families living in old city quarters face fresh challenges

May 17, 2015-

Like everyone around her, Shanta Bajracharya is waiting for the aftershocks to subside. At the moment, she says, she is praying for the continuous rattling to stop.

“I’ll deal with other problems once the shaking stops,” says Bajracharya, 65.

On the list of “other problems” is rebuilding the quake-damaged house she jointly owns with her two nephews. The house, which lies deep inside a meandering alley in Makhan, is built on a very small plot of land (roughly one anna in size). Shanta owns the ground floor and her nephews own the floors above.

“We have no option but to rebuild the house. But I have no idea how we are going to arrange the money,” says Shanta, whose only source of income used to be the money she earned by renting out a room in the house.

Many people like Shanta who live in the heart of the city are now grappling with similar problems after their houses were badly damaged or razed to the ground by the Great Earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.

Many in the old business hubs in the city such as Asan, Indrachowk, Makhan, New Road share a house built on a tiny piece of land with other relatives.  

“As land started getting dearer, people with modest income had no choice but to share whatever they had. And after a few generation many have reached a situation where less than an anna of land is jointly shared by as much as four to five people,” says Binod Tuladhar, who is also from Makhan.

In Makhan Bahal alone there are around 15 families living in tents surrounded by their multi-storied houses. Out of those 15 houses, they say, two houses are safe. But the owners of those relatively safe houses have also been living in tents because they are afraid the adjoining houses can go down anytime and seriously damage theirs too.

Mangal Shrestha, 48, jointly owns a five-storied house built on an anna of land with two of his brothers. Sadly, the April 25 quake has damaged their house beyond repair.

“I don’t know how we will be able to generate enough money for rebuilding the house,” said Shrestha. “But the bigger problem is what will happen to our property sharing dynamics if the government sets three storeys as limit for buildings to be constructed after the April 25 earthquake. “

Binod says this is the fear shared by many locals indeed.

“We did not build tall buildings to earn easy money by renting out rooms. Apart from a handful of people who have no other means of surviving other than doing exactly that, the people inside our Bahal have not rented out their house. Most of us here have built multistoried houses on small pieces of land because a single or two storied houses with two rooms in each storey cannot accommodate a family of three siblings with wives and children of their own,” explains Binod.

The April 25 quake and subsequent aftershocks have instilled the fear of tall buildings in the people here. They even say that now is the time to remodel the city with safe, well-built buildings and come up with a strict code to build smaller houses, especially inside the world heritage sites. But they have no idea how they will be able to accommodate their families in smaller houses.

“We live in houses adjoining the  (Basantapur) world heritage sites, and now we have to make sure tall, ugly buildings do not obstruct such important sites and cause visual pollution,” added Binod, who owns a spectacle shop.

But ask him how families already cramped in five storied houses will adjust in houses no taller than three-storey and the locals have no answer.

“For now we are happy all our family members are alive and safe. That’s something to be thankful. And as long as we are optimistic, solutions will definitely emerge,” Binod said with a smile.

Published: 18-05-2015 08:43

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