12-18 June 2015 #762

One crisis at a time

Dhading survivors brace themselves for the rains, but have more immediate worries
Mallika Aryal

Photo: Deependra Bajracharya

DHADING: The road to Majhgau is only 28km from the district capital. On a good day, without rain, it takes a four-wheel drive more than four hours to get there. Locals say that the road was once paved. But one wouldn’t know it because there isn’t a speck of asphalt left.

Buses and trucks lurch and sway as they navigate the cratered surface, one small mistake and they could either get stuck in a pothole or fall off a cliff. One shudders to think what this road will be like when the rains come. Rockfalls already block the road, and there will be more landslides soon.

The village of Majhgau has seen damage too. Most homes, animal sheds and schools buildings are damaged or destroyed. Last week, schools reopened, and that has given the children a sense that things are going back to the way they were. “We are still talking about the earthquake all the time, but we are now also slowly talking about how to rebuild our homes,” says seventh-grader Roshani Itani. Like the rest of the villages in the quake-hit districts, Majhgau is ready to move on, look ahead.

Photo: Mallika Aryal

The government, too, is impatient to move on to the reconstruction phase. An international donor conference slated for 25 June will focus on finding the money for rebuilding. But even though the relief operation is supposed to be over, the monsoon may necessitate rescue and relief all over again as floods and landslides are made worse by the unstable slopes.

This year’s monsoon is going to be especially hard for the country and the 15 quake-affected districts. Nepal’s meteorologists announced earlier this week that this year’s monsoon has been pushed back by another week. There is a lot of talk, at least in the capital, about how the government and organisations working on reconstruction need to take advantage of this ‘window of opportunity’ to use the extra week to get preparations in place.

In the district capital of Dhading Besi, Child Protection Officer Hari Prasad Upreti has his work cut out. He himself has been living in a temporary shelter since the quake destroyed his house, but that doesn’t deter him from working to help his community.

“I haven’t eaten or slept properly since the disaster began,” Upreti says in the five free minutes he has away from his work. He spent many nights working at the transit shelter set up at a park for children who are at risk. “My own house was destroyed by the quake, my children haven’t seen me in days,” he says.

His staff interrupts the interview. Kathmandu needs a written report on the children who were recently rescued and brought to transit shelters. “Between running around, writing reports, talking to reporters and local organisations, I hardly have time to think about anything else,” says Upreti.

Kathmandu’s coordination and management of the relief efforts has been criticised for being slow off the mark and unequal in delivery, but here in the districts there are many selfless civil servants like Upreti who have redeemed the government’s reputation.

Upreti understands that the monsoon is going to exacerbate the situation in the villages, but he can’t think about that right now because the needs in the villages are more immediate. The district hospital is still full of quake-injured patients, children are still at risk of infections, and relief still needs to get to remoter parts of Dhading.

If rebuilding is to happen properly, Kathmandu needs to keep up the morale of its bureaucrats in the villages. This is critical because people like Upreti are the backbone of the effort to save lives of children and young mothers.

No one needs to tell the people of Dhading to prepare for the rains. They know it is around the corner, and they anticipate it with a mixture of joy and dread. It allows rice planting, but it also brings landslides and epidemics. This year, it could be worse.

Says Upreti: “Yes, we know about the monsoon dangers. But our needs are so immediate that we can’t think beyond the next few hours, the end of the day. We just deal with one crisis at a time.”


Read also:

Soon, the monsoon, Editorial

When it rains, it pours, Sonia Awale

25 June Donar Summit, Om Astha Rai

Growing back, Sonia Awale

Needed: A Marshall Plan, Editorial

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