8-14 May 2015 #757

Life after deaths

The capital may be getting back to some normalcy, but the death and destruction in Melamchi is just too severe.
Om Astha Rai in Sindhupalchok

Pic: Om Astha Rai

Bishnu Maya Majhi (pic, above), 40, was in her home when the ground started shaking just before noon. The house collapsed on top of her, trapping her under the rubble.

She cried out in pain as her husband, Ek Bahadur, tried to frantically clear the debris, and pulled her out alive. “I thought I was gone,” she recalls, gazing at the pile of bricks and timber that was once her home. “But my husband saved my life.”

But her happiness, at being alive, soon turned to sorrow: her sister-in-law was dead and her granddaughter was severely injured. And now, her remaining family is challenged with the day-to-day survival.

With no shelter or food, Majhi limps around with a deep wound on her right leg, which is infected and she has not received any medical care.  

“Wherever I went, there were too many people and I had to return empty-handed every time,” she says. “We have eaten whatever little food was left.”

Ek Bahadur Majhi did manage to grab a relief packet with some rice, noodles and biscuits, but that didn’t even last them a day. Ten days after the quake, the couple retrieved a bag of rice from under the rubble. It was mixed with dirt, but it was godsend. Says Bishnu Maya: “We would have died if we waited for relief.”

Bishnu Maya lives in a settlement of 12 fisherman families in the village of Jyamire opposite Melamchi, the site of one of Nepal’s largest projects to bring drinking water through a 27km tunnel to Kathmandu. Nearly 300 people died here. Rescue teams are here with dogs, but they are pulling out mostly bodies.  

The capital may be getting back to some normalcy, but the death and destruction in Melamchi is just too severe. Survivors are now resigned to living in their tents for months, perhaps even years. Their houses are unliveable.

The main worry of the survivors, after medical treatment and last rites for relatives killed, is shelter. As in the aftermath of disasters like these, it is the elderly, children, newborns and pregnant women who are most vulnerable. As in most of Nepal, there are fewer young men left here, Sindhupalchok is the district with one of the highest absentee populations in Nepal.

Kumar Katwal has been living out in the open for nearly two weeks now after his house collapsed, killing two members of his family. He says survivors like him just want two things: food and shelter before the rainy season next month.  

“I am barely alive but I wish the earthquake had killed me. Life is just too difficult.”

Risheshwori Chalise

Nearly 4,000 people were killed in Sindhupalchok, half of the total official death toll from the 25 April quake. The quake destroyed food stores, and people don’t have seed for the paddy planting season. If they cannot plant rice, they will be hungry for the rest of the year. Many have lost their livestock, too.

Yadu Nath Chalise, an 83-year-old who survived the 1934 earthquake considers himself lucky to have lived through another one. This time, he is more worried about running out of food. He had set aside 14 bags of rice and millet for seed and to eat. But his mud and stone cowshed aslo collapsed.

“I could save just this much,” he says, spreading out a small quantity of rice on a mat in the afternoon sun. “I could not save the seeds, I don’t know how we will plant, what we will grow and what we will eat.”

Yadu Nath was working on the field when his house collapsed, his 80-year-old wife Risheshwori Chalise was feeding buffaloes in the shed and was injured. She says: “I am barely alive but I wish the earthquake had killed me. Life is just too difficult.” 

Yadu Nath and Risheshwori are living in a makeshift hut, and cannot run after the trucks and helicopters that come to their village every day. “No one comes to ask if we need help,” he says. “Only those who can run around are getting relief.”

There are tens of thousands of survivors like Bishnu Maya Majhi and the Chalise couple who live in the edges of society, they fall between the cracks and have not received much help.

In the absence of people’s elected representatives and a functioning local government, they will have to just get by on their own. Survivors here in Sindhupalchok and other hard-hit districts of Central Nepal are finding that just and equitable relief may be too much to expect for now.

Read also

Needed: A Marshall Plan, Editorial

Sindhupalchok’s sorrow, Bhrikuti Rai

Rising from the rubble, Anurag Acharya

Bright lights on a dark day, Mark Zimmerman

Learning from disasters, Vinod Thomas

Shaking things up, Editorial

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