A year after the earthquake, Nepal’s most needy are still rebuilding lives
Betty Tai says with Nepal recovering very slowly from the devastating earthquake and a subsequent fuel crisis, its poor are too easily forgotten
If you see Bina’s iron hut, it is hard to imagine the two-storey brick house where she and her family of six used to live in Nepal. The windowless space of the hut is now home. Even the goats’ pen looks big by comparison.
One year on from the devastating earthquake and Bina is still worried, but also thankful for the three months of temporary shelter and the ongoing medical care and sanitation supplies that have kept her children healthy. “Now life is back to normal,” she says. And though her “normality” is probably a far cry from what it should be, at least she and her family have a roof over their heads. “And now we wait for the government’s subsidy for reconstruction.”
It will be a long wait.
As we continue to care for those suffering from the repercussions of the quake, let us not forget the bigger problem that looms over the country. While the earthquake last April struck most severely in 14 districts, a subsequent fuel crisis has hit the entire country. The earthquake was bad enough, taking more than 550,000 people below the poverty line. Yet, the fuel blockade was worse; over 800,000 people have fallen into poverty because of the embargo.
The months-long blockade, triggered by protests over the country’s new constitution, was lifted in February. But gas on the black market is still selling at four times the normal price. The Nepalese are struggling with limited fuel supplies – even city dwellers have to pick wood to cook food. Needless to say, aid transport to the rural sites hit by the quake has also been hampered.
Over the years, most rural families like Bina’s have chosen to stay, yet some others ventured into the cities. According to the World Bank, the urban population has been rising at around 6 per cent a year.
In the city, other problems await. Many migrants end up living in one of the 40 squatter areas in Kathmandu. Despite being close to the capital, the inhabitants continue to face social segregation as they have no land rights and limited benefits.
The squatter areas provide not only a perfect environment for bacteria and disease proliferation, but also carry a higher risk of child abuse and the marginalisation of vulnerable families.
With the whole country still recovering very slowly from the earthquake and fuel shortages, the squatters are easily forgotten by the rest of society. This is why organisations like World Vision are working with them to help connect them again.
As you sit comfortably reading this, remember these forgotten people, and remember this – the energy you use today will be enough for a Nepalese for three days.
Betty Tai is international ministry officer at World Vision Hong Kong