Nepalis in remote villages struggle to find shelter ahead of annual monsoons

by Anna K. Poole
Posted 6/23/15, 02:42 pm

Nepal’s topography, the Shangri-La of mountaineers, lies mangled and crumbled after two powerful earthquakes thrashed the Himalayan nation on April 25 and May 12, demolishing 700,000 homes and killing more than 8,700 people. Hundreds more are injured or missing. 

A recent Reuter’s report puts the price tag for economic reconstruction at almost $7 billion. Pre-quake Nepal was already reliant on foreign aid, agriculture, and tourism, all jeopardized in the quakes. On Thursday, Nepal’s government announced it would hire international experts to study trekking routes to see whether they’re safe enough for hikers to return. 

While climbers wait for mountain passes to reopen, villagers living in communities that cling to the rocky hillsides are still struggling to survive. Relief supplies have poured into Kathmandu, the nation’s capital, but the remote villages haven’t received as much help.

In the lowlands and cities, the atmosphere hangs with dirt, said John Lyon, CEO of World Hope International (WHI), a Christian aid and development organization working in Nepal. “People are tearing down partially-destroyed buildings by hand, there’s rubble in the streets, and a thick layer of demolition-dust everywhere.” 

Lyon returned last week from an emergency response mission to remote districts. As he trekked through Nepal’s villages, Lyon saw piles of brick and stone, stacked Jenga-like, salvaged from the ruins of homes, schools, and even churches. According to the villagers, the stones are meant for rebuilding. 

“These frail people are using simple tools to tear down and rebuild, with the phrase ‘Nepal Will Rise Again’ plastered on billboards and signs,” Lyon said. “Their energy and resourcefulness gives me hope that it will happen.”

Lyon also traveled into the mountainous regions. Although less dusty, they were more difficult to reach, with roads slick from recent rains. “For villagers here, mud is the problem, and finding shelter,” he said. Vibrant tarps and aluminum Quonset huts donated by relief organizations such as WHI must suffice as refuge for the time being.

Nepal’s monsoon season begins this month and runs through September, making the question of shelter a significant one, as debris-dotted terrain melts into landslides that further exacerbate the devastation. Most buildings have structural damage, and people are afraid to go inside. Last week, a WHI team in partnership with the Wesleyan Church, trekked into the remote Gorkha District to provide 70 industrial-strength canvas tents from NRS Relief to villagers in Barpak. The heavyweight tents are costly, but resilient enough to last through the rainy season, unlike the commonly provided open shelters made of tarp-draped wooden frameworks. 

Lyon urged Christians to pray for fellow believers in Nepal, especially amid the possibility of increasing persecution. “Pray for strength,” he said. “Pray that they can exercise their faith without fear of retribution.” Hinduism is the majority religion in Nepal, though many inhabitants practice a fusion of Hindu and Buddhist beliefs. Christians make up less than 1.5 percent of Nepal’s population of 28 million.

“Legally, you can be a Christian in Nepal. Socially, it’s unacceptable,” Lyon said. 

Kathmandu is more tolerant of ecumenical diversity, but new converts in rural villages are often rejected by family, sometimes suffering outright physical abuse. Binita Nepali, a Christian woman in Gorkha District, told Lyon her brothers were beaten severely when they converted. After the earthquake, villagers taunted them: “Your church is destroyed, now who will come? No one will come.” 

Nepali told them, “We don’t place our faith in buildings, but the Lord.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Anna K. Poole

Anna is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course.

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