Monday, 25 April 2016

A year later: Kathmandu


        Kathmandu is a bizzare valley. Out of the many places I've been to, it is definetely one of the most diverse ones. In a way, it seems almost similar to London, as a capital hosting many from different backgrounds. The place is forever busy. If it weren't for the pillars supporting the houses and buildings on the edge of collapsing, one would think Kathmandu still feels the same. It baffles me on how and why people would be walking around so casually under crumbling buildings. Life after the 7.8 Mw earthquake here seems to have moved on when you look at people buzzing away in the city but many do constantly think about the incident and fear of another such big one coming, especially with the recent devastating news of earthquakes hitting Japan and Ecuador. 





       My first stop at Kathmandu was Asan. It was as busy as ever. Trade is always swimming here; whether you're a vegetable vendor or a potey (bead) crafstman, it is the place to be if you are looking to boost your business. While crowds were occupied at the front, the backyards of the buildings told a different story. With so many houses built so closely in a cluster, you wonder whether the adjacent buildings helped support one another and if there were another one to strike, would it result in a domino disaster. In my opinion, very little had been done to restore these structures and it was alarming how the public were not concerned as much as I thought they ought to be in this matter. Many dangerous buildings were empty and bore no dweller yet they were not brought down at the same time. As with many Nepalis, I believe that the government should be responsible for ensuring the safety of its people. After all, it's comprised of a supposedly literate set of people who have access to the nation's funds and are there to support its people, not feed off them.   





Hanuman Dhoka Durbar (royal palace) Square was unrecognisable from how I remember it two years ago. The UNESCO world heritage site was part rubble and efforts were being made to restore it.

 



However, most buildings in Naxal were sturdy enough to survive both major earthquakes from last year.


          One of the rarest sights I had seen was the silent streets of Thamel. What was once a tourist hot-spot was very empty. Although shops were all open, customers hardly came by. I asked a few shop owners on how the days had been since and they all replied insisting that they might have to either close down or rely completely on exporting if this were to continue.





      Balaju was one of the many hard-hit areas. I lived in the place for 5 to 6 years so when I came back to my once hometown, it was pretty difficult to take it all in. Just a couple of homes stood still and almost every household lost a family member. Not many live here anymore, with most having gone to settle in safer places.




An unexpected delivery! We were blow-drying Daisy with the help of an inverter generator after her bath when we felt a kick on her stomach. I still can't believe we didn't realise she was pregnant. The next morning she gave birth to a litter of four of the cutest litttle pups. Nepal is still subjected to blackouts on a day to day basis, so much so that Nepal Electricity Authority even has a schedule for it.


      I also had a look around the city for prefabricated homes. They are much light-weight in construction and safer in comparison to bricked homes; almost like a portakabin. Below is an example of such a prefab house that many were considering to replace their broken homes with. Although price-wise it may not be cheap, some can be reconstructable and it would be a much safer option, especially to those who have sadly lived through the trauma of the quake.


     Parts of Swayamabhunath were destroyed and restoration was in process.



      Famously known as the Monkey Temple, I witnessed a mischievous fella on the site, stealing a bottle of drinking water. The shopkeeper only watched and shook his head suggesting that maybe this happened a bit too often.



      Nepal is still as religious as it was 10 years ago when I left the country. People still follow their religious routines on a day to day basis. I can't really tell if the earthquake strengthened or weakened the Nepalis' belief in a supreme being but what I did see was that many people jumped in to help clear the debris of temples and to rebuild them; whether it be for historical preservation or to diminish God's wrath, but those who have been homeless as a result of the earthquake have yet to recieve rebuilding grants from the government to this date.







One of the main acts that will always be remembered is the humanitarian response from many countries to help Nepal. Many government as well as relief organisations gave their support to help mend a broken nation. Nepalis express their thankfulness towards the generosity showered by international efforts and now ask for nothing more because the problem now lies within the nation and its leaders. Patience is running out among the survivors of the earthquake as their calls for help from the Nepali government, even though its been a whole year, are still going unnoticed...


A year later: Siranchowk, Gorkha

On the 25th of April, 2015, over 8000 people lost their lives, more than 21,000 were injured, 21 died whilst on the verge of making their dreams come true to climb Everest and hundreds of thousands became completely homeless; all in a matter of seconds.

        The 7.8 Mw earthquake was so strong that the jolt was even registered here at my workplace around UK time 07:50 AM.


  Figure courtesy of Dr. Houcheng Huang at Diamond Light Source Ltd.

       According to Avouac et al., “The rupture propagated eastwards for about 140 km, unzipping the lower edge of the locked portion of the Main Himalayan Thrust (MHT) fault at about 2.8 km per second along this zone.” This eastward unzipping of the fault continued as observed during the 7.3 Mw aftershock on the 12th of May, 2015, and the transfer of stress to neighbouring regions should facilitate future rupture of other areas of the MHT adjacent.

I will be sharing photographs of the sites I visited in Nepal during September, 2015, starting with Gorkha, then moving on to Kathmandu and Bhaktapur, and reporting on the progress made in these areas by then and as said by the victims of the earthquake.

Gorkha

As I walked up the hills, I could see the damages done to the houses from a mile afar. One of the many reasons as to why there had been almost nothing done to repair these houses were due to the arrival of monsoon season (June to September) in Nepal, which hampered manual work and introduced new forms of road bloackages almost everyday, therefore no materials including bricks or stones could be transported. A hike to this village, Siranchowk, from Gorkha Bazaar would take at least 8 hours.


       Temporary shelters made up of jasta pata or corrugated steel sheets were set up. This particular one in the picture below housed 15+ people during the rainy season. Although most prepared their food in their homes, no house in Siranchowk was safe enough to be slept in due to multiple cracks and the sheer danger that they may collapse any moment if another quake were to hit. Everyone would spend the majority of their days outside in the fields or in the shelter. The jasta pata were bought from the money sent in by family members living abroad and donations sent in from the UK. This was the only form of aid the residents of Siranchowk had recieved by Sept, 2015. Fortunately, no one was seriously injured here as everyone in the village were working in the fields on the day the earthquake hit.



       A community meeting was held in the school nearest to the village as part of my visit there. Due to the decrease in population of youngsters in the village; with many of them migrating to cities for work and higher education, this school currently holds no student. Here, a hole in one of the classrooms' walls has resulted due to the earthquake. An area where perhaps no one can beat Nepalis is in hospitality. Even when food was scarce, we were welcomed with a feast which filled me with guilt to the core. All I could do was thank them a hundred times.




This elderly who suffers from tracheal cancer has not been able to visit a doctor since the natural disaster occurred.

One of the sad and hard-hitting facts that I encountered during my journey was that the hierarchical caste system in Nepal is still prevalent to this day. Even in such dire times, people labelled by society as having service-castes found themselves in a difficult position to ask for help, let alone were they provided with aid. People may argue by saying that there is a decline in such issues but negative aspects of culture and tradition like these are not something to be preserved and must be fought against until no trace of it is seen in practice.

        In terms of neccessities, Siranchowk, like many of the villages in Nepal, does not lack in water resources which is its plus side. The monsoon had delayed works on agriculture and farming but back in September, they said they had enough for a year's worth of food supplies.



        I have yet to contact those who I met in Siranchowk to ask them about the progress they've made so far. My trip to Gorkha was extremely confusing to me, in a sense that everything man-made were in ruins and rubbles whereas when I looked through towards nature, everything seemed so serene and still. It was difficult to imagine that such a beautiful place like this could tremor so violently and bring many to their downfall...




Reference:
Avouac, J.-P., Meng, L., Wei, S., Wang, T., Ampuero, J.P., Lower edge of locked Main Himalayan Thrust unzipped by the 2015 Gorkha earthquake. Nature Geoscience . ISSN 1752-0894, 2015