Quake survivors who can never return home

Rasuwa, April 25

Nepal marked the second anniversary of the devastating earthquake of 2015 today.

Though reconstruction is finally under way, thousands of survivors still living in flimsy shelters have been told they can never return home.

Experts say the 2015 quake, which killed nearly 9,000 people, has heightened the risk of natural disasters in parts of the Himalayan country already prone to landslides, particularly during the monsoon rains.

Around 2,500 families still living in temporary shelters now face permanent resettlement because authorities say the villages where they used to live are not safe.

Among them is Subi Maya Tamang, who lost her home and her three-year-old granddaughter when their village of Haku was swept away in a massive landslide triggered by the 7.8-magnitude quake.

For two years Tamang and her family have lived in a makeshift shelter built on rented land alongside 100 families a day’s walk from their wrecked homes.

Their tin and tarpaulin shelters offer little protection from the harsh winter in this remote Himalayan district to the north of Kathmandu.

The 48-year-old recalls how rocks and mud rained down on her village, killing over 50 people. “It took everything. There is nothing there, all swept away by a landslide,” she told AFP.

“There is no road. There is no house to live in, or land to farm if we go back.” But Tamang is one of the lucky ones — hers is the first village for which the National Reconstruction Authority  has earmarked land.

The NRA, a government agency administering the $4.1 billion pledged by donors to rebuild after the earthquake, recently completed a survey to identify areas at risk from landslides. It now plans to resettle the community in new location — although it is not clear when the rebuilding will actually start.

“They will be not just be given land,” said NRA official Dhurba Sharma, insisting the agency was working on the resettlement plan “with priority”. “The vision is to develop settlements that are equipped with infrastructure, have schools for the children and offer livelihood options to residents.”

Survivors whose homes were destroyed have been told they will get a Rs 300,000 grant to rebuild. But many are growing impatient.

Birbal Tamang, a 64-year-old farmer whose house and cattle were swept away in the landslide, said he was counting the days before he could start rebuilding his house. “Technicians came with equipment and told us our village was very dangerous,” he said.