SPECIAL REPORT

Living in Tents Nearly a Year After Quake, Nepalese Struggle to Endure Winter

 
 
Jupiter Rana Magar, 6, seen with his mother, helps keep the kitchen fire going, while his mother and grandmother cook dinner. Jupiter and his brother finish their homework as soon as they return home from school as there is no electricity after dark. Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal
Nepal

It’s been nearly a year since a major earthquake devastated huge portions of Nepal, but tens of thousands of people are still living in temporary tent settlements. Nepal’s government officials say it could be years before all the families are settled in permanent homes.

KATHMANDU, NEPAL  ̶  It’s been 10 months since the April 2015 earthquake that destroyed almost half a million houses and damaged more than a quarter-million more, and thousands of people are still living in tents and temporary shelters in this capital city.

According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment, a report published by the National Planning Commission, the earthquake impacted an estimated 8 million people, almost one-third of Nepal’s population. That report is considered the final tally on the earthquake’s damage. Earlier figures had numbers that varied from these final estimates.

More than 40,500 people were living in 100 temporary displacement sites over 12 districts in Nepal between Oct. 27 and Nov. 11, according to the International Organization for Migration, which tracks sites with 20 or more households.

An ongoing blockade at Nepal’s border with India, the result of political protests, exacerbated the situation, making food, fuel and other necessities scarce and expensive. (See GPJ story on blockade HERE.)

“Everyone can see that the people are suffering,” says Chandra Mani Adhikari, an economist and a former member of the National Planning Commission. “In addition, due to the blockade, all supplies were closed. The government mechanism could not work.”

People coped in temporary shelters during the summer months, Adhikari says, but now that harsh winter weather has arrived, government action is urgently needed.

“It is already late,” he says. “The government has to immediately start implementing their action plan and reconstruction plan. The institution, individuals and the community should work together.”

Many families still living in tents were renting rooms in Kathmandu homes that were destroyed. They did not receive government funds since they did not own property.

Ravi Shah, deputy director general for the housing division of the Department of Urban Development and Building Construction agrees that the temporary shelters built by the government are not adequate to cope with winter conditions.

“We designed temporary shelters which would upgrade to transitional shelters,” he says. “For temporary shelters, tarpaulin was used which we then upgraded with the use of steel sheets and semi-permanent walls.”

Shah says that the Ministry of Home Affairs is providing some relief assistance to earthquake affected families this winter, but adds that a housing solution won’t likely be determined until after the winter season ends.

Shah says the government estimates that it will take up to five years for families to shift to permanent homes. But he believes it may happen sooner than that.

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There are 448 tents in a temporary camp in the Chabahil area of Kathmandu. The camp was set up in April 2015, in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Upama Rana Magar helps her sons, Satyeshwor and Jupiter, get ready for school. They haven’t paid the school fees in six months, Upama Rana Magar says, because her husband, who works as a kitchen helper in Kuwait, hasn’t sent them any money.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Many of Nepal’s poorest people were made destitute by the earthquake. Here, Upama Rana Mager gives leftover food to a woman begging in the tent camp.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Upama Rana Magar, 29, works at a factory that makes sweaters. She earns 4,500 Nepalese rupees ($43.17) per month.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Frost covers the ground outside the tents.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Meena Magar, in back, Upama Rana Magar’s mother-in-law, learns how to fashion stoves out of mud to use in her home from a woman from a local organization.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Satyeshwor Rana Magar, 11, and his brother Jupiter, 6, wash dishes before leaving for school.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Meena Magar often visits her earthquake-destroyed home in Kathmandu to collect pieces of wood or other material that she can use as firewood. The blockade of essential goods from India has resulted in the shortage of cooking gas.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Back in the camp, Meena Magar chops the wood collected from her destroyed house. Her grandson, Jupiter, 6, watches. One kilo (2.20 pounds) of firewood costs between 25 rupees (24 cents) to 30 rupees (29 cents) and Magar says she can’t afford that price.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

From left, Nisha Gautam, 19, stands with her parents, Yashoda Gautam and Hari Prasad Gautam. Her younger siblings received sponsorships to continue their secondary studies, and her brother attends a local school. A younger sister is in a boarding school in Kathmandu.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Water for drinking and cooking is carried in empty plastic bottles that are found all over the campsite.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

The Gautam family lived in this rented room before the earthquake, but they moved to a tent because they feared the room was no longer safe. They still pay the monthly rent of 2,000 rupees ($19.18), and Nikesh Gautam, 16, sleeps there at night as its closer to his school. There is no electricity in the tent, so the family uses the room to charge their mobile phones every day.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Yashoda Gautam wakes at 4:30 every morning and makes the 15 minute walk to the Chandra Binayak Ganesh Temple in Chabahil area, where she has been begging for several years.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Yashoda Gautam sits outside the Chandra Binayak Ganesh Temple in Chabahil, begging for rice and money.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

Nisha Gautam starts a fire to cook the mid-day meal for her family. She dropped out of school after completing sixth grade.

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ Nepal

 

Shilu Manandhar, GPJ, translated interviews from Nepali.