Sunday, April 24, 2016

Nepal Earthquake | One Year After

Kaule village,  Nuwakot district,  May 2015
On 25th April 2015 at around 11- 56 am, I was standing inside a “tankha” painter’s studio in Lo Manthang, the capital of Mustang district in the rain shadow of the Himalayas.  All of a sudden, I noticed that the bowls of paint in little cups were vibrating and this began to increase rapidly.  As I watched in amazement the colours began to spill onto the floor which was also shaking and we then realized it was an earthquake. We ran out onto the street and looking up I found the walls of a nearby building shaking dangerously. Each time I thought it was going to collapse it miraculously straightened up again. At that time I had no idea of the enormity of the disaster which was unfolding in Nepal.

We cut short our trek and started our long journey back to Pokhara. The story of that journey has been told in 

The earthquake of 25th April 2015 was followed by a second major earthquake on 12th May 2015 which further crippled Nepal. 

Since the two earthquakes and the numerous aftershocks which have rocked this mountain kingdom, Nepal has been on the world map for the last one year.

 The images  and videos are by  now all too familiar – rubble and shattered homes and buildings, cars smashed by rocks, large chunks of the hillside falling away into dust and ashes  in a video, avalanches the size of large tidal waves sweeping up a camp, those familiar orange and blue shelters adorning the hillside shot by cameramen in  helicopters,  women trying to find their  belongings in the rocks and bricks which were once their homes, and police and  soldiers on their constant patrol trying to keep order in the world heritage monuments many of which are now lying in ruins.

Durbar Square Kathmandu soon after the earthquake
It is now the first anniversary of this calamity. What has happened in Nepal since then?

Very little really.

The earthquake in Nepal was followed an agitation by the Madhesi parties against the new constitution which resulted in a border blockade with India for six months and brought the country to its feet.

Fuel and cooking gas were being black marketed, costs of all essential commodities spiralled out of control, flights were not refuelled at Kathmandu airport, long lines of buses, cars and motor bikes stood daily outside fuel pumps which were dry and foreign countries like USA, UK, Australia issued advisory warnings against travelling to Nepal.

Haze and pollution over Kathmandu as seen from Swayambhunath, April 2016
 Further, Kathmandu the capital is in a shambles. Very high pollution levels accompanied by a haze which sits over the valley has affected the health of many. Wearing a face mask while walking on the street is now the norm rather than the exception.  The Nepal capital has been rated as the third most polluted city in the world. Along with this, electricity shortages to the tune of 12 to 14 hours per day have brought the city to its feet. And it does not look like the situation will improve in a hurry and neither does the Government have a plan in place to tackle these issues.

Roland Hunter of The Mountain Company at Everest Base Camp, September 2015 on a recce visit to assess the earthquake damage on the trekking trails to Everest
Tourists and trekkers who had planned to come for the autumn 2015 season put their plans on hold and Nepal tourism received another setback with virtually no business for two consecutive seasons.
The blockade was lifted in early 2016 but by then the damage was already done. However the trek agencies and hoteliers are optimistic that autumn 2016 will bring back the tourists if there is stability on the political front and not further agitation by the Madhesis.

But what of the reconstruction process?

One year later the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (NRA) is sitting with $4 billion dollars of aid to distribute to the people but due to the lack of proper infrastructure and systems for distribution these funds remain locked. In fact, after the Government announced relief schemes,  the number of those claiming to have lost their homes shot up from about 5.70 lac houses to around 7.70 lac houses and the NRA was called upon to  verify the data once more, further setting back the recovery timeline.

The villagers had also been promised Rs 2 lacs each to rebuild their homes in earthquake proof designs – none of this money has reached them either as no design has been approved by the Government. But in actual fact the cost of an earthquake proof house would be to the tune of Rs 5 lac at least so where will the rest of the money come from?

The prototype at Kaule almost completed
Various aid agencies have been rebuilding earthquake proof prototypes in different villages and have been applying to the DUDBC (Department of Urban Development and Building) for approval of the designs.

Building the roof of the prototype at Kaule
 As a part of South Col Nepal Earthquake Support we have supported the building of one such prototype ( with indigenous materials in Kaule village, Nuwakot district and have also submitted the design for approval.

Detailed drawings submitted to DUDBC for approval
As typical for most of the people in Nepal, the villagers wait in hope for their Rs 2 lacs each for re-building their homes. 

Until then as they say in Nepal, ke garne?

Butter lamps, Bodhnath, March 2016


  1. Sujoy,
    I hear that the economic hardship brought on by the quake has also resulted in human trafficking, that children are being sold to flesh traders. Is this true?

    1. There have been these stories circulating in the newspapers and social media. I am not sure if they are true and to what extent.

  2. I'm so glad that your project is well under way, Sujoy, but I despair at the government's inaction. I have seen several programs highlighting just how little they have done so far.

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