Sindhupalchok is one of the worst earthquake-affected districts. Around 75000 houses had been flattened to the rubbles by devastating quakes of April and May of 2015. Reconstruction work is at snail’s pace. According to the recent data, only 4.68 percent houses have been reconstructed in the district. This means only a tiny fraction of the victims have got to live in new houses.
Vast majority of the victims are still struggling to overcome experience of ‘homelessness.’ How they have been protecting their children and elderly from biting cold and heavy rain is anyone’s guess. The situation is worse in the remote parts of the district at higher altitudes. Snowfall makes living hard for the women, children and the elderly.
I interacted with a few victims recently.
Buddiman Tamang, 90, resident of Bahrabise Municipality is visually impaired. He lost sight of his right eye 14 years ago. On that ominous day, his wife barely survived. She was inside the house when the earthquake shook the earth. The house fell upon her and lower abdomen of her body has become paralyzed ever since, rendering her disabled for life.
Buddiman and his wife want to rebuild their house for they are not strong enough to endure extreme cold and rainfall next year. But there is no one to support him. He is yet to receive the reconstruction grants the government had promised two years ago.
“I don’t know when they will give me the money, or whether they will give it at all,” said Buddiman. “Even those of my neighbors who completed construction of their houses months back have not got it.” Buddiman’s house lies on the higher elevation. In lack of road access, transporting construction materials from the nearest market has become difficult. “There is no one to support me. Villagers are busy in making their own houses,” he said.
People in remote parts of the district do not have easy access to engineers deployed by National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) to oversee the works on the ground. They have to wait for as long as six months to see them in person. And when, at all, NRA officials come they tend to complicate the construction process instead of making it easy.
An old victim had to destroy his house half way and reconstruct it all over again after the NRA engineer declined to certify it citing ‘not abiding by construction code.’ But the real reason why this happened, said the old man, is that he could not ‘please’ the engineer during the monitoring.
“This brought additional cost burden. I wasted money for nothing,” he lamented. If the engineer had come for monitoring on time, I would not have to bear the loss, he said.
Promise to keep
Many houses would have been rebuilt by now if the government had not promised reconstruction grants. Or if the government had provided the promised grants on time. In the immediate wake of earthquakes, people had not expected any such grants. Those who survived were thankful for survival. “To survive is like heaven in this tragedy. Life is important. We will rebuild the house anyway,” most victims used to say then. Nepalis are resilient.
When the government promised grants, the victims started to look up to it and postponed reconstruction. Even those who were rich enough to rebuild their houses themselves halted the process. Those who could not also waited for government support.
Even those who have completed rebuilding are yet to receive final installment of reconstruction grants. In Bahrabise Municipality, for example, none of the victims have received third installment though they have already rebuilt their houses.
With this type of slow response to basic needs of shelter, persons with disability, elderly and single women will have to suffer in the days to come even more.
The federal parliament and provincial assembly election candidates all had promised to expedite quick distribution of reconstruction grants during the campaign trails. Every party leader promised this. For once the people believed them. With elections over and results out, no one seems to be talking about this at the moment.
Winter will pass just like this. Storms will follow in April blowing away the roofs from the structures. How long should victims like Buddiman Tamang wait? When will his house be made?
The author is a program manager at Gramin Mahila Srijanshil Pariwar, a Sindhupalchok based NGO.