I got the following posting through a friend of friends of mine. It documents observations from a westerner’s perspective who has lived and worked in Kathmandu for some time, through the recent earthquakes and now in the aftermath.
What was interesting to me was the breadth of topics covered, and the kinds of things that matter to those living in Kathmandu. We don’t always get this slant from the media so I thought it would be worth sharing with you.
It’s a long posting but interesting all the same and worth the read.
“Life seems to be returning to normal in Kathmandu. The traffic has increased to about 90% of what it was before the earthquake. Many tents and shelters are down in my area, but some still remain. These tented people have been unable to complete the repairs of their homes before monsoon. My neighbors in the field thought the repairs to their house would have been finished in two weeks, but after almost a month they are still camping out. One stays in the shelter to guard it during the day, while the rest of the family return to work on their home, or go to their place of employment, or work in their field or go to school. After the first long night of monsoon rain two nights ago, they redug their trench around the shelter, the previous one not deep enough to run off the water. In other words, they got soaked. But so far the days have been sunny so things can dry out before the nighttime rains.
Others, such as the tea shop/ house owners are waiting until monsoon finishes. This gives them time to work out what kind of simple earthquake structure they will build for their permanent home. The mother laughed when I teased her the other day suggesting she start selling her wonderful tea again out of their makeshift used corrugated kitchen, but her kitchen isn’t set up for business. She again reminded me to be careful with my dogs to keep them from being eaten by the leopards.
Rice has been planted and the streams (called rivers here) are being diverted for irrigation.
Many of the mud brick homes have been demolished, others are still in the process of being demolished and others haven’t been touched yet. I suspect it has to do with how much manpower a family has. With most young men working overseas in this area (I’ve lost 4 gardeners over the past two years to overseas work) these families may just not be able to demolish on their own. And workers are in short supply. Most of the construction workers are Indian. They all fled after the first quake, and have yet to return. There is a new house being built below me and work restarted about a week ago, but only for two days. Because of the high demand, the contractors have taken on too many jobs. They don’t want to lose any business so they send their workers to one place for a few days and then to another place, with the hope that this will prevent the owner from ending the contract and hiring another contractor.
There are over 2,000 people living in tented camps. Many locals would like to rent a room until they can repair or rebuild their homes but 81% of apartments in Kathmandu are declared unsafe and rents for those that are safe have skyrocketed. The Shelter Cluster organization (an interagency org.) reports that 84% of Kathmandu households have been damaged. The government is trying to control rental increases and people can report their landlords if they try to raise the rent. But landlords are getting around this ruling by kicking out their tenants (on the pretext that repairs have to be done; this happened to a friend of mine), then raising the rent dramatically. The rent for apartments through the Kathmandu google group has increased by 75-100%.
Prices for food have “soared” report the newspapers. Their understanding of “soared” is different than ours. If food costs go up 5% it is considered “soared”. But any price increase has an effect. And food costs are increasing and will be even more expensive, what with planting being delayed and the prediction of a weak monsoon for this year.
The major part of relief, food, shelter and medical care, seems to be slowing down, and only now are the remote areas being reached, 6 weeks after the first quake. The big push now is to build temporary shelters in these areas that will last one or two years until homes can be rebuilt. One of the problems of the remote areas is that these people are cut off from trade part of the year so that their stock of food, seeds and animals need to support them during that time, and if they have lost their homes and storage buildings they are going to suffer terribly. Landslides caused by monsoon rains, can wipe out trails to the trading areas at the best of times, but now since the quake they are totally cut off. Due to the most recent landslides some people have been able to relocate, but any assessment of need done before the landslides is no longer applicable.
People need shelters in these areas. Unfortunately the government has announced that there is no longer a need for relief, everyone has been taken care of. Consequently, they are taxing “relief” supplies coming into the country. However, they are willing to let items (especially shelter items, tents, tarps and corrugated metal roof sheets) into the country with out a duty charge as long as all supplies are turned over to them for distribution. That would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. There is at least one warehouse, that I know of (and probably more) that is filled with tents and tarps collecting dust. The government says it must assess the need first; meanwhile people are getting soaked from what meager shelters they have been able to pull together. And there is a tendency for unequal distribution through government channels. The least politically connected, the lower casts and the most poor are the last to receive help, if they even get help at all. The larger agencies don’t have these prejudices and can insure that aid is given to all.
Face saving is very important here in South Asia. It could be that the government lost so much face due to their total inadequacy to deal with the earthquake (except for the police and army) that they now want to be able to distribute in their name to improve their tarnished reputations. Many people wondered why Nepal turned down two large helicopters that were flown from the UK and sat for over a week in India waiting permission to come to Nepal. A Nepali general is being held in the UK awaiting trial for crimes against humanity during the Maoist insurgency here, despite the Nepal government’s demand that this general be released. Many suspect this is the real reason for turning down the desperately needed helicopters.
But enough of politics, it just makes me angry and frustrated because there is not much I can do about it except post reports on facebook with the hope that enough people become incensed that there will be another international outcry and the government will change its mind. But if the government can ignore the protests of large agencies, I doubt they will pay attention to those of us who do not donate much to the Prime Minister’s earthquake fund.
I don’t have much work these days, many left after the quake and now more are leaving to escape the monsoon rains. It would be a perfect time to take a vacation in Pokhara, there are no tourists which means the cd shops and bars won’t be blasting their music at full volume. It will be very peaceful. But there was a tremor yesterday in the west part of Nepal, the part that has not shifted over the Indian plate. There has been no movement between Pakistan and Central Nepal so geologists feel this is at most risk, any time from now to 100 years from now. I am not ready to experience another big quake, just yet.
Right now the sky is dumping its clouds over Budhanilkantha, yet less than 4 miles to the east in Boddha it is bone dry. It is said this area is blessed, that is why we are getting so much rain and why it is the safest area for earthquakes. There is a holy temple in village below me that houses the Sleeping Vishnu. A stone sculpture reclining on a bed of entwined snakes seemingly floating in the water pond. It is said that when Sleeping Vishnu is having a nightmare, he turns in his sleep causing earthquakes. So people, as they run out of their houses, scream at the top of their lungs to wake up Vishnu, to get him out of his nightmare. After the quake the temple set up its party tarp to serve as a camping place for those too afraid to return to their homes. Later, the party tarp was used to shade the audience during music and dancing, festivities to lighten the mood. Now it is business as usual. The tourist and devotee trinket, puja (items for praying- colored powders, garlands of flowers, and other precious items offered to the god) thali and sweet shops (thali is a set South Asian meal) and the fruit shops have all reopened but are not doing a brisk business. The area used to fill with busloads of Indians touring around all of the main Hindu holy places, but now there is maybe one busload a week of these pilgrims.
One day last week I went to my motor scooter service center to see if they had reopened. Not only had they reopened but the yard was jam packed with like minded riders. I will wait a few more weeks before I go again.
The glass walled shopping centers have reopened. I’ve regularly gone to movies with a friend on the top floor of these centers, reluctantly following her into the elevator (my concern being power failures and a broken generator) but I won’t anymore. I will take the escalator, if I even dare to go into one of these buildings again.
When shopping or taking care of business, we foreigners find ourselves carefully examining the walls and floors of these structures, and also determining all of the exits. We are in and out as quickly as possible. Some friends refuse to shop in any buildings that are more than one story high. All of the buildings have been inspected and been given either a green sticker (no structural damage), yellow sticker (some damage needs to be repaired) or red sticker (absolutely no entrance). But most government employees are not paid well and the temptation of earning some side money can be great. This is the reason so many newer houses collapsed. They were poorly made (not earthquake resistant per government rules) yet the owners passed inspection. The positive side of this is that the small shops and single floor supermarkets are doing a booming business. We look at the parking lots, is there enough room for us to stand safely outside to avoid falling debris?
The aftershocks are decreasing in intensity and frequency, but many of us foreigners still sleep on the ground floor with the outside door open and others have set up an outside bedroom, mosquito net and all. Two weeks after the first quake we started to become complacent, I had just replaced all of my dishware that had been sitting on the floor. But then we had another quake. Now we are wary of complacency.
And yet, many Nepalis are out again going to dinner, perusing the shopping malls and taking their time chatting inside the supermarkets. They appear to be relaxed and unconcerned. The bars are reopening and restaurants are full again. The newspapers have a weekly section full of pictures of the rich and famous in Kathmandu, lots of partying seems to be going on. Art galleries have reopened and other indoor events are taking place.
This is in the latest newspapers:
Chicken prices have soared from $2.50 to $2.90 per kg due to the loss of poultry farms. And now that restaurants have reopened the demand has increased.
Road work has returned. The city had all of its roads torn up to have them widened. Instead of doing it section by section the leaders at the time decided to tear up all of them at one time. We slogged through mud during monsoon and wore goggles and eye protective wear during the dry season. The dust was so thick, I had to turn on the lights of my scooter to warn oncoming traffic of my presence. Most were paved last year, but within about two months, a number started falling apart. But now the holes are being repaired and the last of the unpaved ones are finally being asphalted.
Insurance companies are not doing well. They have paid out about 7% of all claims. The reason is that there are only 144 certified surveyors in the country, and thousands and thousands of affected homes. It will take time. The government has promised to fund these companies if they are about to go bankrupt, due to all of the claims.
The rest of the news is taken up with the leaders deciding to finish the constitution with some exceptions. The judicial system is saying there can not be any exceptions. There is a lot of push and shove scrambling for power, the same old, same old.
The effect of this quake is all encompassing and it wasn’t as big as had been predicted. Those that have lost limbs will need to be rehabilitated.
Not only are many homeless but many have lost their legacy seeds and the food they had stored in their homes. Monsanto has promised to donate seeds to farmers, but with two years of failed corn crops from Monsanto seeds, farmers are wary of this gift. There will be a shortage of food and much will need to be imported. Children are still without schoolbooks and many are not even attending school, although more and more temporary school shelters are being built.
The country is suffering from a huge income loss due to lack of tourists, and businesses that remain closed. The government will not get the tax money they had projected for this year. Those in tourism will have no income for some time, and day workers at factories have no income at all. The earthquake has destabilized the ground and we expect to see many, many landslides which will cause even more relocations of villagers. One wonders how these villagers will survive being away from their farm land and how will they take care of their livestock? Many feel they must risk landslides because of the need to move their livestock to higher ground for summer grazing.
There seems to be 4 phases of an earthquake. First is search and rescue those buried under rubble and intensive medical care. Next is providing food, shelter (mostly tarps), toilets and potable water. After that, is a big pre-monsoon push for the temporary shelters. During monsoon, floods and landslides will be a concern.
And finally all energy and money will go towards permanently rebuilding structures, schools, hospitals, houses, and factories. Except for those in the landslide and flood prone areas, there will be a lull of activity until the rains stop.”
This was a direct extract from Kelly’s posting, not a word was changed. My appreciation to Kelly in allowing me to re-post her observations.