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Pangtang in pain

Thursday, May 7th, 2015
Prem Bahadur Biswokarma's family in Pangtang, Sindhupalchok.  Photo: Om Astha Rai

Prem Bahadur Biswokarma’s family in Pangtang, Sindhupalchok.
Photo: Om Astha Rai

Om Astha Rai in Sindhupalchok

Prem Bahadur Biswokarma, 43, does not have time to cultivate his corn plants that are wilting away and getting infested by unwanted weeds.

After the 25 April earthquake destroyed his house in the remote Pangtang village of Sindhupalchok district, Biswokarma has been busy digging up the rubble in hopes of retrieving some belongings, building makeshift tents and running around to receive relief materials.

“I don’t have time to care for crops,” he says, while overseeing his grown-up sons who were fixing the roof of their damaged house. “In a time of crisis like this, rebuilding our house and managing food is more important than anything else.”

In Pangtang, most villagers have been too busy trying to manage enough food and a safe shelter that it has put a halt on farming, which may cause a severe crisis regarding lack of enough food in the near future.

No one is seen working on terraced corn fields. Everyone is busy building temporary shelters of waiting for helicopters to drop relief aid.

“Our legs are still shaking,” says Biswokarma. “We don’t have time and energy to cultivate crops.”

Even if some villagers want to start working on the fields, they do not have the necessary equipments. Their ploughs, hoes, sickles and other tools are buried under the huge mounds of mud, stones and timber. And they cannot make these tools any time soon as Pangtang’s only furnace, owned by Biswokarma, is destroyed.

The Pangtang villagers worry more about planting rice, due to lack of seeds, than cultivating their wilting corn plants. “We’ve lost all our agricultural tools,” says Biswokarma. “And we cannot manufacture them since my furnace is destroyed, I don’t know how the villagers will grow their crops and make a living.”

Rudra Prasad Adhikari, a 62-year-old farmer, says they have lost their seeds, too. “We used to borrow seeds from others during a crisis in the past,” he says. “But now the crisis has befallen every one, we have all lost our corn, paddy and millet seeds, and this time we cannot borrow it from anyone.”

The earthquake has also destroyed all hand mills, water mills and an electric mill: making it difficult for the survivors to grind their leftover food grains. “We’re now staying alive by eating whatever is being dropped by helicopters,” he says. “Once relief stops coming, we’ll have nothing to eat.”

Pangtang has access to roads only in the dry season. Once monsoon starts and the road gets blocked by landslides, the locals cannot bring foods from elsewhere. “The earthquake was bad,” says Adhikari. “Our lives after the earthquake are going to be worse.”

The earthquake killed nearly 70 and wounded more than 100 people in Pangtang village and the locals are mourning the loss of their loved ones. Once time heals those wounds, it will be a challenge for them to survive.

With mills destroyed, agricultural tools damaged and seeds buried, life after the earthquake is tough in the seasonally-isolated village of Pangtang.


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