‘I have lost the hope I will ever get to return to that house’

‘Before the earthquake, I would have targeted an A+. But now…’

“If we could at least have light, electricity and drinking water I could prepare well for the School Leaving Certificate exam. It is the most important one. But it is difficult to concentrate and study in a tent. Before the earthquake, I would have targeted an A+. But now I can only hope to get at least an A.”

Photo: Pratik Rana

‘Prince Harry’s visit does not make a difference at all’

“Prince Harry’s visit does not make a difference at all. He only came here because of Beckham. At least Beckham played football with my nephew when he was here a few months ago. But nothing change even then. I have heard much about donations provided from around the world, but it has not reached us.

Photo: Pratik Rana

‘Today I’m not hungry. My stomach is filled with happiness’

“Durbar Square is on my daily route for picking waste. I feel numb seeing these destroyed temples every day. The place where I used to sleep also collapsed during the earthquake. But today I am not fearful and not even hungry. My stomach is filled with happiness, fun and celebration.”

Photo: Sven Wolters

9 months after the quake, a UNESCO heritage site awaits reconstruction in Nepal

The ancient city of Bhaktapur, a former capital of Nepal, is home to one of the country’s most famous historic attractions: the Bhaktapur Durbar Square. Nine months after the earthquake, tourism is slowly recovering, but in the historic centre, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the crumbling remains of half-destroyed temples and damaged houses can still be seen. As with all of Nepal’s damaged heritage sites, reconstruction is in a state of limbo, pending funds from the National Reconstruction Authority, the body responsible for distributing earthquake relief funds.

Locals relax in Bhaktapur Durbar Square

‘Durbar Square’ is the name given to plazas and community gathering spaces outside the old royal palaces of Nepal. They were built by the inhabitants of Kathmandu, the Newaris. The Bhaktapur Durbar Square is well known throughout the valley for its impressive temples and is frequented by tourists and devotees alike. It also acts as a casual meeting place for those who have been living in this historic town for generations. Photo: Namita Rao

Ruins of people's homes

Bhaktapur was one of the most badly affected districts by the earthquakes, with nearly 28,000 homes damaged and more than 300 deaths. Across the entire district, more than 2,000 people are still living in displacement sites and in the old city centre, the scattered remains of homes are a reminder that the earthquake did a lot more than just physical damage here. Photo: Ritu Panchal

A man sits in the damaged entrance to a temple.

It is a very common site to see a grid of bamboo poles supporting old, historic monuments in the narrow winding streets of Bhaktapur. However, serious reconstruction work is yet to take place, and the Department of Archaeology says it has not received any budget from the government for this purpose. According to the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report, the rebuilding of 750 damaged cultural, historical and religious monuments across Nepal will cost an estimated Rs 20.55 billion [£131 million]. Photo: Ritu Panchal

The National Art Museum

Wooden beams, such as those lining the walls of the National Art Museum, support many of the buildings in Bhaktapur Durbar Square. The museum, which contains ancient paintings and artefacts from Hindu and Buddhist traditions, is scheduled to undergo renovation, like a lot of the other damaged government buildings in the city. Photo: Ritu Panchal

A set of two stone lions stand on their own in Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square. It is thought that the temple they used to guard was destroyed by the 1934 earthquake, the worst in Nepal’s history. Nearly a third of the city’s temples and buildings were destroyed in that earthquake, which measured 8.0 in magnitude.

A set of stone lions stand on their own in Bhaktapur’s Durbar Square. It is thought that the temple they used to guard was destroyed by the 1934 earthquake, the worst in Nepal’s history. Nearly a third of the city’s temples and buildings were destroyed in that earthquake, which measured 8.0 in magnitude. Photo: Naomi Mihara

Children play on the stone animals guarding the entrance to the Siddhi Laxmi temple, a 17th-century temple which escaped relatively unscathed from the earthquake.

Children play on the stone animals guarding the entrance to the Siddhi Laxmi temple, a 17th-century structure that escaped the earthquake relatively unscathed. Photo: Naomi Mihara

Bhaktapur is famous for its traditional pottery industry, and is home to two “pottery squares” where rows of clay pots can be seen drying in the sun. The potters are particularly busy during the Tihar festival of lights - one of the biggest festivals in Nepal - making diyekos (earthen lamps) which are then filled with oil and lit outside each household. In Hinduism, fire is an important symbol of cleansing and purification and its light dispels gloom and darkness.

Bhaktapur is famous for its traditional pottery industry, and is home to two ‘pottery squares’ where rows of clay pots can be seen drying in the sun. The potters are particularly busy during the Tihar festival of lights, one of the biggest festivals in Nepal, making diyekos [earthen lamps] which are then filled with oil and lit outside each household. In Hinduism, fire is an important symbol of cleansing and purification and its light dispels gloom and darkness. Photo: Ritu Panchal

Nyatapola temple

Several of Bhaktapur’s main temples, including the five-storey Nyatapola, Nepal’s tallest temple, suffered remarkably little damage. The Nyatapola temple has now survived four major earthquakes because of the traditional earthquake-resistant design elements that went into building it. Photo: Ritu Panchal

The Fasidega temple

The remains of the Fasidega temple. This temple was built as a homage to Lord Shiva, but the monument at the top of the steps was destroyed by the 1934 earthquake. The replacement, built in white using modern motifs, stood out conspicuously amid the traditional design of the other temples of Bhaktapur before its destruction in the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Naomi Mihara

Right at the centre of Bhaktapur Durbar square lies a 15th-century palace, sections of which collapsed in the recent quake. The interior has remained closed since the 1934 earthquake. The courtyard surrounding it still lies in ruins and the uncleared debris from the broken down buildings have now become a part of the temple complex.

Right at the centre of Bhaktapur Durbar Square lies a 15th-century palace, sections of which collapsed in the recent quake. The interior has remained closed since the 1934 earthquake. The courtyard surrounding it still lies in ruins and the uncleared debris from the broken down buildings has now become a part of the temple complex. Photo: Namita Rao

A side-street with stalls and shops for tourists

After the quake, Nepal’s tourism industry was deeply affected. As soon as travellers and tourists started to regain their confidence to backpack through this Himalayan region, the fuel crisis caused by the border blockade infiltrated all aspects of life in Nepal. However, according to recent figures released by the Bhaktapur Municipality Tourism Service Centre, tourism is on the rise again, with more than 10,000 visitors from mid-October to mid-November 2015. Photo: Namita Rao

‘The media and politicians pose the idea to the villagers that they should have concrete buildings. But how?’

“If you go to my village now, Gerkhu, in Nuwakot district, people act as if it is somehow a normal situation. They have managed to live in congested temporary shelters, by reusing material taken out from collapsed buildings. They have started playing cards and going to the tea-shops to discuss politics. This is why I say Nepali society is different from other societies in the world.

“I could say that my society is a society of resilience. They can, and have to, cope with any difficult situation they face. Since there is an absence of government in rural areas, people have to manage their day-to-day life on their own even during and after every crisis. While doing so, they generally rely on their own limited resources and skills.

“Villagers were able to cope on their own with the post-earthquake rebuilding because most of the houses were made with locally available materials and skills. Villagers just took the zinc sheet roofs from the collapsed houses, and reused them as temporary shelters. Even if the zinc was not reusable, and they had to buy it, this was not very difficult or costly, as villagers could go to the market and spend just 12,000 to 15,000 rupees. Most of the wood used in the old house could be reused. That would not be the case if they had modern houses. If it was a concrete house, it would be very difficult for villagers to cope with the situation.

“However, the media and politicians pose the idea to the villagers that they need to have concrete buildings. But how, if you are building a house on top of a hill with no road access? You have to carry sand, cement, steel, glass and what not. This sort of house costs at least a couple of million Nepalese rupees. But the villagers are getting a government grant of NPR 200,000 [approximately £1,265]. That is why the only option remaining for villagers is to go for modified traditional houses, which allow them to mobilise most of the money at the village level, to hire local labourers, masons and carpenters, and to buy local construction material like clay, uncooked bricks, stones, raw timber. This will not only ensure sustainable reconstruction but also revive the rural economy of Nepal by creating more jobs at a local level.”

Photo: Patrick Ward

‘I can’t sit in one place for long. I am still in pain’

“I was the only person to be injured in my neighbourhood. I was trying to save my elderly aunt when the wall fell on me. Thankfully, she was not hurt. But I spent three months in bed. I could not even move for the first 13 days. I thought my life was over. I am diabetic, so the doctor could not operate on my leg and back quickly.  Months have passed now, but I am still in pain. I can’t sit in one place for long. My leg is still swollen. I have to go to the hospital for monthly check-ups and I have to bear all the medical expenses myself. I have started going back to work now. I have to have an operation soon on my leg, and another one on my back. After that, I am hopeful things will get better.”

‘This disaster has brought a new challenge to the lives of single women’

The Nepal earthquake has led to a crisis that disproportionally affects women. Some 55 per cent of those affected by the disaster are women, more than a quarter of whom are heads of their households. One organisation that quickly threw itself into supporting them was the Women for Human Rights (WHR). The group was founded by Lily Thapa, a fellow of Ashoka, an international body of leaders who use innovative techniques to bring about social change. WHR has members across 73 districts, and supports widows—or single women, as they are termed—who have suffered years of hardship during the 1996-2006 civil war between the Maoists and the monarchy, and now, the natural disaster.

In the days immediately following the earthquake, WHR mobilised more than a hundred volunteers to raise funds, collect and distribute much-needed relief materials, and provide support and counselling to numerous victims. That is a major achievement for a group operating out of a small office in Kathmandu. Patrick Ward met with Thapa to discuss her work and the challenges facing women in post-earthquake Nepal. Excerpts from that conversation:

This disaster brought a new challenge to the lives of single women. They had been living on their own in small houses, surviving on their own, but because of the earthquake their houses have been destroyed. They are saying that the conflict has taken our husbands and now the earthquake has taken our housing. Nearly 70,000 of our members’ houses have been damaged, many single women themselves died, many of them lost their children. I can’t even explain how much they’ve been facing. They were trying to survive on their own, but this disaster has brought another disaster to their lives.

Households with male family members immediately took action to clear debris. But the women who don’t have men, nobody was there to help them. All of their neighbours’ houses have been damaged, so they were all busy with their own houses. That was the first challenge all the single women faced.
lily-computer
The second one was that the relief was given in such a way that people just went and grabbed things. The government tried to have a system, but it was not happening on the ground. Many organisations went with small things. One organisation with rice, one with chow-chows, some others with clothes. Everybody was giving small, small things for the village people, and whoever had the power just grabbed it and got it. So many of these women were unable to get relief properly. Some people got many things, some people got nothing.

Just this morning we had a case where a father came to report his girl has been molested. The girl is just 16. There are lots of cases like that.

Most of the families live in a joint family system [sharing a house], but now the house is damaged. So the in-laws, the brother-in-laws, the father-in-laws, they are also in the tent. We saw more than 40 people sleeping in one tent. We have recorded more than 200 cases of sexual violence in the camps and the tents. Just this morning we had a case where a father came to report his girl has been molested by her neighbour. The girl is just 16. It’s traumatising. She is not able to even come out of the tent. There are lots of cases like that.

In our society, when you are menstruating, you are not allowed to touch anyone. So, many families did not allow menstruating women to sleep in the same tent. These women slept outside. They do not realise they are being discriminated against. When we spoke to the survivors, especially to teenage girls, they found it very difficult. They don’t have a place to change their dress, no proper place to take a bath. In some camps they made a tent for bathing. But people burnt holes in the tent with cigarettes to peep in on them. So these teenagers could hardly take baths.

lily-looking

Most families are in the joint family system and the government has the policy to give one compensation per house. But the problem is that the house is damaged, so they are living separately. And the government is providing money for one family, and the money is being taken by the father-in-law or by the brother-in-law or head of the house.  The single women get nothing.

Besides that, most of the single women have lost their legal documents in the damaged houses. Some of them have lost their citizenship card. Most have lost their relationship card. Based on the relationship card they get property, and other ID cards, like death certificates for their husbands. We started mobilising support staff and councillors in every camp in many districts immediately after the disaster. Besides distributing the relief, we trained them: how to get the ID card, how to get the legal documents, how to write an application. Our support staff help them to have access to all these government facilities.

We’ve also been collecting data on the single women affected. We have collected almost 8,000 survivors’ data from six districts, and we’ve been analysing what their needs are. We’re making a holistic report on the survivors’ needs and aspirations—how do they feel, what are the challenges—and providing this information to the government, the district offices, the UN clusters.

Besides that, we have been providing the shelters. We’ve been running chhari [shade under the tree] centres and provide psychosexual counselling and legal advice. We are doing a partnership with Oxfam, making women’s centres in villages in Gorkha, Dhading, Nuwakot and Kathmandu. They’re small places, for those people whose houses are all damaged.