Almost one year after the devastating Nepal earthquakes, which killed over 9,000 people and destroyed a million homes, Ecuador and Japan were shaken and earlier in the year, Taiwan. The Ecuadorian quakes this month provided the all too familiar stories of heartbreak, survival, a rising death toll and the desperate struggle for food, water and shelter.
Though as we know, the world quickly moves on. The Queen celebrates her 90th birthday, an Australian television crew are arrested in Lebanon and Prince is dead. Tales of heartache from a small South American country are difficult to relate to, hard to imagine and soon dissipate. The spotlight, which was so intense, swings to the next human catastrophe and the survivors are left to do just that.
However, what the Ecuadorian disaster also presented us with was a timely reminder, of the ongoing struggle of the Nepalese.
One year after the Nepal earthquakes, the recovery for those most affected has been painfully slow. Only because of the magnitude and destruction of the quake, coupled with the enormous death toll, is Nepal receiving any significant international attention 12 months later. The sensational footage of the quakes, from Kathmandu and Everest Base Camp tell only a fraction of the story, with most destruction taking place in far away and hard to reach mountainous villages.
In the immediate aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes the emotion and enthusiasm was high, donations flooded for a country many had travelled to, trekked in and whose people were universally loved. As is the norm though, the world’s attention turned, when another royal baby was born, UK elections were held, marriage equality was introduced in Ireland and Johnny Depp’s dogs illegally entered Australia. Once again, the stories of survivors in a far away country, though heartbreaking, dwindled from global attention and the plight of the Nepalese people moved from headline news to footnotes.
For the survivors of the earthquakes, Mother Nature, coupled with human folly exacerbated the recovery. Soon after the quakes, monsoon season moved in, hampering initial relief efforts to already hard to reach rural villages. In September protests against a hastily introduced constitution saw the beginning of a 135 day blockade, supported by India and resulting in fuel shortages across the country. As the blockade ended winter set in and many rural populations, living in ruined houses, had only sheet of tins or tarpaulins to protect them from the freezing conditions. The culmination of these events and the all too familiar mismanagement of donor funds by government and district bureaucracy resulted in Nepal’s recovery moving at a glacial pace.
One year on, around three million people are still living in temporary accommodation, either tarpaulin shelters or bit-part remains of their home, with sheet of tin acting as makeshift walls or roofs. In some areas of the country reconstruction work is only just beginning. As a strict patriarchal society, Nepalese women are most vulnerable and their voices often go unheard. According to CARE International, ‘Landless women and girls… unmarried, widowed and divorced women have only had limited access to relief measures,’ while the UN has reported an increase in domestic violence against women since the earthquakes. Elsewhere, school reconstruction is progressing, however many children have been learning in tarpaulin classrooms, far from ideal in a country which was considered one of the world’s poorest and underdeveloped even before the earthquakes.
In Kathmandu the one year anniversary is being solemnly marked, with ceremonies and events to remember the more than 9,000 men, women and children who perished. Yet the sadness is mixed with frustration. More than $4 billion has been pledged by the international community, yet most if sits idle, because of internal political squabbling. Aid groups have voiced their concerns about the ongoing health risks to survivors, who have already spent a year without adequate housing and on the eve of the anniversary, around 100 protestors marched on the Prime Minister’s office demanding the release of donor funds.
It is critical that the recovery of Nepal is not forgotten. Estimates of the physical reconstruction are currently measured in years, perhaps even decades, while the mental and psychological recovery could take much longer. Nepal’s tourism sector, which makes up close to 10% of the economy is unsurprisingly down since the quakes. In 2015 nobody reached the summit of Everest, the first time since 1974. A standard ‘Everest season’ earns about US$11 million for the Nepalese economy, while the trekking industry is worth around US$120 million. More than ever Nepal needs people to visit.
Your writer spent two months in Nepal last year, assisting with reconstruction in Kavre district. When it came time to leave, community members urged not to be forgotten. Impossible, they were assured. And while those who have been post-quake will always remember their experiences it is essential to maintain the conversation. Nepal has not recovered, has not rebuilt and the need for support is as great as it was this time one year ago.
10 organisations to donate to:
- World Youth International
- Asia Pacific Alliance
- Global Action Nepal
- Action Aid Nepal
- Save the Children
- Red Cross
- Plan International
- CARE International
- MSF Nepal