Nepal's second 'great quake' leaves survivors hopeless

A survivor from Nepal's first quake, in which 8 000 people were killed. (Reuters)

A survivor from Nepal's first quake, in which 8 000 people were killed. (Reuters)

Just how much more bad news can one country take?

Shyam Balami cannot even contemplate the question when I find him sitting in a wheelchair outside Kathmandu’s teaching hospital.

His house, in a village in Nuwakot, in the foothills of the Himalayas outside Nepal’s capital, was destroyed in the last earthquake – or the “Great Quake” as Nepalese media has started calling it. He thought he had nothing left to lose. Only, it turns out, he was wrong.
When the 7.3-magnitude earthquake struck, he was in the temporary shack he had painstakingly built out of salvaged materials to provide some sort of basic shelter for his wife and two children. It collapsed around him leaving his right leg shattered.

He’s not so much resigned as numb. “I don’t feel scared any more,” he says. “I have nothing left to lose.”

There are so many cruelties to the latest disaster: that the districts hit so badly last time have been hit again. That it’s the poorest, in remote rural areas, who can least afford it, who will suffer most. That circumstances that were already dire and desperate for so many people, have just got that little bit worse.

Or a lot worse, for some. Just off Durbar Square in Kathmandu, where another large chunk fell off the already half-collapsed Rana Palace, Sita Basnyet (43) had been cooking when the quake struck. She ran out of the four-storey building, in which she lives, to see a house collapsing across the street and when I find her she’s sitting outside with her two children. “I have no idea where I will sleep tonight,” she says. “None.” She runs a street stall and rents a room, but it was badly damaged in the last quake and it’s too dangerous to sleep in now.

Like many people who live in Kathmandu, her relatives live in the countryside in a village where she grew up. In her case Dolaka, the area that looks to have been worst affected and where both her parents and her parents-in-law still live. Both their houses are gone, she says. “My parents’ house was destroyed in the last quake. They were sleeping in the animal shed but now that’s gone too.”

There were about 300 houses in the village and 100 had been left standing – damaged, but standing – “and now they’ve gone too. Everything’s gone”.

Worse, her parents have told her there are “many, many people” injured in the next village.

The situation for so many people is beyond hopeless.

Nobody has any money to rebuild. Nobody has even the faintest sort of plan. How can you, without money, says Sita Basnyet.

What do you think you will do, in terms of the future, I ask her, and the crowd that has gathered around us erupts into laughter.

Sita throws her hands in the air and guffaws at the sheer stupidity of the question. “In terms of the future, I have no idea. I hope that God will take care of us. But to be honest, if there’s another earthquake we would rather be taken by God than left with this. Really, if it happens again, I pray God will take me.”

It’s taken so long for even the most rudimentary relief supplies to reach most areas that most people despair of there ever being any real aid. “Will this bring help for us?” she asks motioning at my notepad and I tell her that the British public – not the government - has sent more than £50-million to help Nepal.

“It will never come to us. The politicians will get fat. They will repair their homes and send their children to private schools and none of it will come down to us. That is how it is. We all know that,” she says. I try to say that I don’t think it will be the case with this, but she interrupts me. “No. This is how it is,” she says.

In Dhunche on Tuesday, the gateway to the devastated Langtang region, tarpaulins bearing union jacks and UKAid had only just arrived more than two weeks after the quake. Most people have realised that the only help they’re likely to get is if they help themselves. 

It’s family and friends and kind-hearted strangers who have been mobilising for the last two weeks, fundraising, and gathering information and trying to get help to where it’s needed most. Last Sunday, I wrote about how one of the groups , based at a B&B called the Yellow House, had taken supplies out to the village of a man, Nakul Khadka, who I met working in the laundry of my Kathmandu hotel.

I went with him to see his parents’ and brothers’ devastated homes in Sindhupalchok and when I look at the map, I see that their village is terrifyingly close to the epicentre. I find Nakul pacing the hotel garden unable to get a call through.

Later he comes and finds me: “Family safe. All remaining houses gone. Nothing left.” – © Guardian News & Media 2015

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