Print Edition - 2015-10-31  |  On Saturday

Nowhere to go

  • It’s six months since the April 25 earthquake, and many victims are still living in camps
- Pratibha Tuladhar
The international organisations that had been providing drinking water said they could no longer do so, compelling the victims to walk for about 40 minutes to fetch the precious liquid

Oct 31, 2015-Aiti Tamang, 24, blinks as the smoke stings her eyes, while she blows at the fire with a piece of polythene pipe. The smoke clouds her tarpaulin tent as she bends down blowing some more, and then curses. “Moro, ago.” She points at the gas stove lying in one corner of the tent and explains there is no cooking gas.Ever since the fuel crisis set in a little more than a month ago, she has been cooking over firewood.

Aiti is among the hundreds of people from Sindupalchok district’s 12 VDCs who were displaced by the April 25 earthquake. Many left the camps once they were able to find an alternative shelter, but there are still 350 displaced people who remain in the temporary shelters in Thali, near Gokarna, unsure about their next move.

Bubbles sound as the rice comes to a boil. Aiti stirs it with a ladle before turning to me and says, “No one here really knows what we’re going to do next. You talk to anyone here and they will tell you that. We can’t go back home because there’s no home to go to and we can’t live here. That’s how it is.”

The families pay a total monthly rent of Rs 15,000 for the school playground they have been occupying and Rs 10 per family, every day, for the toilets. Sunshine or rain, the tarpaulin tent has been the only home Aiti and her family have known ever since their displacement six months ago. Every night, she huddles under it on a makeshift bed raised on bricks, with her husband, two children and her teenage sister.

“Of course, it’s uncomfortable sleeping like that, especially when you’re menstruating and it’s either too cold, or too warm. But is there a choice?” Aiti dusts off cinder that has landed on my head and I feel less like an intruder for a moment. Some of her friends have started crowding around. They want to know if I bring good news from relief organisations or the government. My introduction is received with a dismayed “aay.” Some women in the group tell me they never made it back to their village in Listi to collect the Rs 15,000 promised as initial relief by the government. The trip would have cost money and they have children to mind.

One of the women, Sunita Rana Magar, has just rented a room nearby for Rs 3,000 per month, because she’s pregnant and her husband now has a job as a microbus driver. But Aiti’s husband has been less lucky and often just makes the rounds of the city, looking for a job.

Next door, children crowd around 81-year-old Subu Tamang, as he pulls out some notes, from his senior citizen stipend, out of a cloth bag and asks his 12-year-old grandson if it is enough for a new pair of shoes, motioning at his worn out Goldstar shoes.

“Who wants to stay here? We’d rather go back to our district [Sindupalchok], if we had the means to set something up,” says Subu,who shares a tarpaulin tent with his children and grandchildren--eleven people under a tent.

A ten-minute walk away from the Thali camp is the Danchi camp, where 459 displaced people from different villages of Sindupalchok currently live. The space was converted into a camp from an abandoned chicken farm and initially sheltered over a thousand people.

“I had applied for a salesgirl’s job in Chabel, but once I started, I realised the job was completely different from what I had imagined. I quit and they never paid me,” says Deuti Shrestha, whose experience is shared by others at the Danchi camp. “We can’t file a case either, because who has the money to go through the process?”

With the prolonged fuel crisis, water has also become a major problem. The international organisations that had been providing drinking water said they could no longer do so, compelling the victims to walk for about 40 minutes to fetch the precious liquid.

For the survivors, there’s also a deep psychological impact to endure.

“I sometimes replay the images in my mind, of the people who were injured or killed on April 25. The thoughts make me really, really sad,” says Deuti, who was working in the Chinese town of Zhangmu as a salesgirl when the calamity struck. “Everything has changed for us since the earthquake. We were planning a dance party with friends that night. And living in the camp now, you realise how life is about completely different needs. I guess the earthquake has made us more empathetic.”

Deuti wishes to see that empathy in the authorities too, and she says it would be great to see it translate into action. “There are over 80 children in the camps here. It’s winter and it’s cold in Kathmandu and we don’t have enough.” And the children fall ill from time to time--they are easily afflicted with coughs, colds, fevers and diarrhoea.

Far away from the camps, at the Centre, though, the quest for positions has remained the priority: the politicians have spent months deliberating over changes in government and wrangling over the constitution. When the constitution debates took centre-stage, the bill on the existence of the reconstruction committee was forgotten, and the time to endorse it has already elapsed. With the new government in place, the bill will have to be revived, and as most things in Nepal’s bureaucracy, it will need time to get drawn up again.

The National Planning Commission said during the first phase for setting up of the reconstruction committee that “much had been done”. But besides the National Reconstruction Conference, which managed to invite a pledge of four billion dollars from the international development partners, the committee has achieved nothing concrete in terms of reconstruction.

Published: 31-10-2015 08:31

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