Photo: Puja Sen
Photo: Puja Sen

The cost of rebuilding

NOTE FROM THE FIELD: Villagers whose homes have been destroyed in the earthquake are anxious about reconstruction.
Photo: Puja Sen
Photo: Puja Sen

On 25 April, Purna Bahadur Tamang was working in a forest that overlooks his village when the earthquake struck. As he saw houses collapse and the dust rise around his home, in which he knew his wife and two young kids were, he made a mad dash for 20 minutes across the hilly terrain to reach them. Thankfully, he found that his family was okay, and so were his buffalo, goat and two chickens. A newly-born calf, however, died because the roof of the shelter caved in on it. Everytime he mentions this calf, his two 12-year-old nieces, who live in Kathmandu, giggle. They are visiting the village to mourn the death of their uncle who died before the earthquake. They see any grief about the animal's death as ironic, given the circumstances.

The casualties in Falame village in the district of Kavrepalanchowk, accessible via a dirt road some distance from the Panauti-Kushadevi stretch, and 30 kilometres from Kathmandu, is restricted to animals and houses. Made up mostly of the Tamang community, there are only a few young men left in the village, as most have left in search of jobs outside. Many families worry about the process of rebuilding their homes without these men. Although, for the present at least, there are staff and teachers volunteering from a nearby private boarding school, helping clear debris and set up temporary shelters, Purna Tamang is most worried about not having enough money to fix his home before the monsoon.

Even before the earthquake, the job prospects of young men like Tamang were slim. He owns a garden on the other side of the village, about two kilometres away, where he grows corn enough for his family's consumption, but not enough to sell. On most days, he looks out for odd jobs – anything from chopping and gathering wood to fixing houses – which pays little more than NPR 400 (USD 4) per day. He does not think he will be able to earn anything from the construction work that will now be required following the disaster. That work, he thinks, will be done for free by volunteers. As for his own house, he is certain it will cost him almost everything he has.

All the houses in the village, made of mud and bricks and built on the sloping face of the hill, need attention. As the days go by, affordable earthquake-resistant housing will become a preponderant concern. According to the latest government estimate, as many as 200,552 private houses have been fully destroyed and 186,285 houses have been partially destroyed throughout the country; these figures are likely to increase. The government has set aside a few thousand rupees per destroyed house for immediate relief. But so far, residents in Falame have seen none of it. While no rehabilitation plan has yet been adopted, the government is set to discuss the logistics of the three options it has come up with, one of which involves setting up 'organised human settlements' for the earthquake victims, in the upcoming Parliamentary session.

Already 12 days since the earthquake, there is no clear indication of what plans like these might mean for those who face the prospect of long-term displacement, and what kind of relief efforts will emerge under such arrangements. With the monsoon fast approaching and given the uncertain expenses of construction, Tamang is right to be worried about rebuilding his home.

~Puja Sen is an assistant editor at Himal Southasian.

~'Notes from the field' is a reporting initiative, where we bring stories of the people and places that have been affected by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal.

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Himal Southasian