How Nepal is Surviving 1 Year after the Earthquake
One year ago on the 25th April 2015, a 7.8 scale earthquake hit Nepal, killing nearly 9,000 people, injuring 21,000 and leaving 3.5 million Nepali people homeless. The damage caused was estimated to be around $10 billion, roughly 40% of the country’s annual GDP. For a country that’s already the third poorest in Asia, where over the half the population live below the poverty line, Nepal simply isn’t in a position to rebuild, repair and recover.
The Nepalis I’ve spoken to are terrified of further earthquakes, even suspecting that a strong wind may hail the coming of another disaster (as there was a strong wind on the fateful day last year), so they all head outside whenever there’s strong wind. I asked my roommate and co-Team Leader Asha what she was doing last year on the 25th April:
“When the earthquake struck I was at home in Kathmandu. My mum was at work and my brothers and sisters were at college. I came out of my room where I was hiding under the bed, I went into the kitchen and I saw the water falling down the walls, and everything was on the floor. People were crying and gathering together. I called my sister and it rang once and then went off. I was so worried.
After that I was traumatized. If I sat down with someone and they started to shake their leg, I would feel uneasy and start shivering. I was recently on a bus and I fell asleep. When I woke up the bus was shaking, and I started screaming ‘Earthquake! Everyone get out!’ Of course everyone was confused – there was no earthquake.”
I’m currently living with a host family and volunteering in the small village of Bhalu Khola in the Aambhanjyang valley of Makwanpur district and over the last 2 months I’ve seen, heard and learned about how these brave people are struggling to survive despite the circumstances. Through my work here I’ve learned that 77% of the houses in this village were damaged by the earthquake and I’ve seen how limited government aid is finally being distributed – almost a year after the earthquake first hit, when many families had to evacuate and abandon their crumbling homes, moving into poorly-built temporary shelters that they constructed themselves out of whatever materials were nearby. Roads were destroyed, hindering access to emergency food and medical supplies; mobile networks and phone lines were down for days, so it was impossible to find out information or even check that others were still alive; electricity lines and water systems were damaged, not only impacting families but also disrupting the crop planting cycle and leaving millions without any income source at all.
We’ve spoken at length to our host families and the community we’re living in about how they’ve coped since the earthquake. For the first month there were daily aftershocks and smaller earthquakes, and for three months everyone lived outside in tents, away from possible falling debris. 1 million children were unable to return to school when the academic term resumed in late-May because of collapsed schools or absent teachers. One host mother miscarried her baby from the stress of the whole experience, others resorted to migrating abroad for work or taking children out of school to save money to afford essential repairs and reconstruction. Coming from the UK, it’s been really hard for me to comprehend the full impact of the earthquake. At home we have our safety nets of insurance policies, government welfare and savings for a rainy day. Here in Nepal they have had to survive without any of that.
While our project here with Raleigh International hasn’t focused specifically on earthquake relief, and we arrived well after the emergency relief period ended, we have been identifying priority households for imminent reconstruction and concentrating our efforts on the more marginalised groups in society, such as as single women and the fourth caste of so-called “untouchables” who are the most impoverished and therefore the most likely to resort to negative coping strategies that are harmful in the long term.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the earthquake in the Nepali calendar and to mark the day, Asha suggested lighting candles at dusk and holding 1-minute’s silence. Villagers keenly joined in, drawing in chalk the outline of Nepal on the road and lighting some 100 candles on the borders of, with 30 or 40 local children, parents and passers-by gathering around to pay their respects on the anniversary of the earthquake. The whole scene was so touching and it reminded me of just why it’s important to be here and working in sustainable development. While the Nepali people we’ve met are incredibly resilient and will always welcome you with beaming smile, just walk down any street in Nepal or past any house made of wood, stones and mud and you’ll observe the piles of rocks and timber, the crumbling walls, the leaning beams of wood and the general aspect of destruction. Yesterday’s minute of silence was a good reminder for me of why we volunteers and internationals NGOs are needed here in Nepal, and it reminded me that Nepal’s recovery is still far from over. A year on, Nepal may no longer appear in the newspaper headlines around the world, but the country is still in just as much need as they were one year ago.