Water crisis spells cold comfort for Nepal earthquake survivors
Water shortages, a bitterly cold winter, the aftermath of a border blockade with India and tardy reconstruction efforts are compounding the desperate plight of people who survived last year’s earthquakes in Nepal
It is an hour before dawn, and on the slopes below Barkobot village in Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district, a small crowd of women are already waiting to fill up their water pots from a single plastic hose. It will be a lengthy interlude.
After the massive earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April last year, the main water source in the village dried up. Since then, people have had to rely on a slender pipe as their chief source of drinking water, but all that comes out is a thin trickle. It takes almost an hour to fill a 20-litre pot.
While they wait, the women joke about their predicament. “We’ll soon have to walk all the way down to the river in the valley to get water. It’s so far we might as well have a picnic while we’re there,” says one. The others laugh, but after a pause the conversation takes a sobering turn. “It would have been better if I had died in the earthquake,” says Maiya Giri, 30, a mother of three. “I hope another one comes and kills me so I won’t have to face these problems.”
Nine months after the earthquake, which claimed almost 9,000 lives, not a single home has been rebuilt in Barkobot. Almost everyone is living in tin shacks, just as they are across all the districts struck by the earthquake, which destroyed an estimated 500,000 homes.
For the past four months their plight has been compounded by a blockade of Nepal’s border posts with India by groups opposed to the country’s new constitution, which caused severe shortages of fuel, gas and other essential supplies. The blockade was called off last weekend, but it will be weeks before supply levels return to normal.
Survivors now face a perfect storm of a bitterly cold winter, the aftermath of the blockade and a long-delayed effort to begin reconstruction.
After months of political wrangling, Nepal’s National Reconstruction Authority(NRA), the body charged with distributing $4.1bn (£2.8bn) of donor funds for earthquake reconstruction, has finally been established. Despite a grand launch event for a “reconstruction mega campaign” on 16 January, rebuilding on a large scale is unlikely to begin for months.
“The NRA understands how serious the concerns of people are,” says Sushil Gyewali, the body’s CEO. “We are seriously working to expedite the process in creating an environment so that people could receive government aid to reconstruct their houses as our first priority.”
Gyewali’s words will come as little comfort to Sita Giri. Like everyone else, Sita, 25, is struggling with the water shortage, but she has other problems too. When the earthquake struck, Sita, who was four months pregnant, was resting indoors with her husband, Ram Krishna. They both made a dash for the door, but the house fell on them before they could get outside. Their neighbours managed to pull them out of the rubble, but Ram Krishna immediately knew something was wrong.
“When they rescued me I couldn’t feel anything,” he says. “Now nothing works below my waist. It’s completely paralysed.”
Ram Krishna now spends most of his time lying in bed in their tiny tin hut. He can reach out to rock his baby son’s cot, but do little else. A wheelchair stands in the corner, but the path from his hut to the nearby road is steep and rocky.
“For me it’s difficult. I have a small child and a sick person to look after,” says Sita, cradling her four-month-old son, Avash. “Our only concern now is how to survive. The cold season is unbearable. It’s really tough with a small child.”
Soon after the earthquake, the government promised 200,000 rupees (£1,290) for each family who had lost their home, but like most survivors, Sita and her husband have only received 25,000 rupees so far.
The promise of government funds has dissuaded many people from starting the rebuilding work themselves, but even those who want to begin have been deterred by the lack of water (vital for building) and the rise in the cost of building materials and other essential supplies due to the blockade, which lasted more than four months.
“They are selling cooking gas for 7,000 rupees because of the blockade [more than four and a half times the usual price]. The government gets everything – gas, petrol – but we are left with nothing,” says another Barkobot resident, Hare Bahadur Bharati. “No one has come to ask us what we need. Any rice that comes into the district is divided up by the political parties among themselves.”
The World Food Programme said its emergency food and cash distributions were 30% behind schedule because of the blockade, with a substantial quantity of supplies stranded in India for months. “For people whose homes have been destroyed by the earthquake and are living in temporary shelters, life has been extremely difficult as they have to brave the cold,” said a WFP spokesperson.
The prospect of rebuilding all of Nepal’s shattered homes seems a long way off. The NRA estimates Nepal will need at least an additional $3bn to complete the task. In the meantime, Sita and the residents of Barkobot have little choice but to struggle on. “Instead of planning for the future,” she says, “we are only thinking about how to survive today.”
Source: The Guardian. Date: February 11, 2016