by Alex Gray
A smile, a pair of clasped hands, and a greeting of “Namaste"—that was how every person I met greeted me during a recent weeklong visit to Nepal. I was there to meet with our staff and partners working on relief and recovery efforts in Kathmandu, Charikot, and the Dolakha district. I also made it out to some of the worst affected villages high up in the Nepali mountains, where I was welcomed with the traditional warm hospitality of the Nepali people.
That I experienced such peace and hospitality in the midst of such heart rending physical destruction was inspiring—and troubling. Inspiring because it says so much about the human capacity to survive and remain positive in the face of adversity. And troubling because those of us with the resources to help are not doing enough to help Nepalis translate their will into real and lasting recovery.
In many parts of Dolakha district, which bore the brunt of the first and second massive earthquakes, more than 95 percent of homes and buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged. In some villages I visited, this was 100 percent.
Many families are living in crowded conditions and makeshift shelters under tarpaulins and plastic sheets. This is especially true for Dalit, lower caste and marginalized or indigenous groups. Children and their families are exposed to the elements in many cases. A large number of them are sharing space with livestock animals which, as the main source of household income in Nepal, also need shelter and protection from the elements. These conditions are difficult and often unsanitary. Many Nepalis, especially children and the elderly, are at heightened risk of communicable diseases, including those transmitted from animals to humans.
Nepalis who have the means, albeit limited, have begun reconstructing their homes or makeshift shelters, mainly with reclaimed materials from destroyed buildings. This includes wood and stone and mud for walls and corrugated iron sheets for roofs. Many people are afraid to rebuild their homes with stones because of the safety fears they still have of further earthquakes. This is perfectly reasonable, as ground-shattering tremors are felt nearly every day.
Fear of another massive earthquake is compounded by another threat, one that is all but certain to hit Nepal: the annual monsoon rains.
Torrential rains are coming, that is for sure. And they are coming in June. The incessant rain will increase the vulnerability of families living in temporary shelters and further raise the risk of disease. It will also make it more difficult for groups like ours to reach people in remote rural areas.
After the rains come winter. Temperatures in Nepal can drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
The building, waterproofing and winterization of homes in the next month are an urgent and desperate need and the number one priority for the Nepali people. Only a mere 22 percent of the international appeal for Nepal’s relief and recovery has been funded to date. This is not good enough. It is critical that more of this funding is provided, and soon. In the absence of this support, many of Nepal’s communities will be left to literally drown in the monsoon rains or freeze.
I am amazed at the goodwill and the resilience of the Nepali people. They are helping themselves as much as possible with the limited resources available. But much of that goodwill and hope could be literally washed away by torrential rains.
The international community must not let that happen.
Alex Gray is Global Humanitarian Director for Relief International. The Washington, DC-based aid group has worked in Nepal for 30 years.
[Photo courtesy of DFID]