Patience wears thin among Nepal quake survivors as calls for help go unheeded

A year after Nepals worst earthquake since 1934, and with aid from government and agencies scarce, villagers in Sindhupalchowk are turning to relatives abroad

The villagers gather on top of a mountain in Nepals Sindhupalchowk district, on the sun-spotted ground in the canopy of two trees, to make a last-ditch cry for help. A year after the worst earthquake in 80 years hit Nepal, their patience with the government and international agencies has all but vanished.

Clutching a pink smartphone with a patchy internet connection, connected to a loudspeaker so everyone can listen in, Ram Krishna calls the people they know they can count on: relatives and friends overseas, who will send home remittances.

He places a Viber call to Saudi Arabia. At the other end of the line, migrant workers have convened to discuss how to help. But they have barely begun the meeting before the connection cuts.

I hope it helps but migrant workers earn so little they cant send much, says Govindra Buri, 74, as a younger man carries the loudspeaker away. I hope they can send just 1,000 rupees [6.67] each.

On a mountaintop in Sindhupalchowk, villagers gather to listen in as Ram Krishna calls migrant workers in Saudi Arabia to ask for aid to solve an urgent water shortage.

Across the country, where the quake killed almost 9,000 people and destroyed an estimated 600,000 houses (pdf), people still sleep in makeshift tin shacks amid heaps of rubble with an estimated four million in sub-standard temporary shelters. As they wait for the government to deliver aid, families sink deeper into an economic slump.

If the approaching monsoon season wasnt worrying enough, much of Sindhupalchowk is also experiencing a dire water crisis, as the quake destroyed pipes and dried up sources. The economic consequences are severe. With barely enough water for humans, let alone animals, villages have had to give away cattle.

The earthquake lasted approximately 50 seconds but it will upend peoples lives for years. The scale of suffering in this mountainous district east of Kathmandu is staggering. One in seven of the 22,733 people killed in natural disasters worldwide last year was from Sindhupalchowk.

It could have been even worse. In Katunjebani, a village a few kilometres from the gathering, no one was killed because the quake occurred when they were working in the fields. But the cattle were locked up inside, and all died.

I was sick and lying in bed when the earthquake hit. I had a fever and everything came tumbling down, 80-year-old Sabitri Upadhyaya recalls. Childless and a widow since her husband died 16 years ago, she is used to taking care of herself but is running out of means.

My neighbours and I are old and feeble. No one has come here to help us. I wanted to protest but Im too old and I dont have the energy, she says, not bothering to wipe away tears.

Like many fellow villagers who were unable to show financial assets to the bank, Upadhyaya had taken out a private loan to construct a shed for new cattle. Such loans carry interest rates of up to 24% a month, according to several villagers.

A $200m World Bank grant has allowed the Nepalese government to promise 200,000 rupees (1,335) to 100,000 families each to rebuild their homes. But the money has stalled, due to political gridlock that, until recently, delayed the establishment of the National Reconstruction Authority, the body responsible for distributing the aid. Fewer than 700 families have received the first instalment of 335.

Most affected families have received only 25,000 rupeesand basic food and winter items. Even if delivered, the promised money is a pittance compared with what people lost, and nowhere near sufficient to build a new house.

With household economies gutted by a year of struggling for survival, there are more immediate concerns.

For 22-year-old Usha Parajuli, eight months pregnant, the financial pressure has become a source of great anxiety. Her husband lost his job as a clerk in Kathmandu due to the recent constitutional protests and blockade of Nepals border posts with India, which exacerbated the troubles of the Nepalese.

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