By Eric Ladd
On April 25, avalanches cascaded off Mount Everest, small farming villages throughout Nepal were leveled, and the capital city of Katmandu was thrust into a state of panic by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake.
Already one of the world’s poorest countries – lacking infrastructure, organization or any type of plan to handle this sized disaster – Nepal was rocked by a second, 7.3-magnitude earthquake on May 12. The two tremors have left more than 8,500 people dead and many unaccounted for.
Some Nepalese question the karmic reasoning for one of the poorest countries on the planet being shaken to the ground. Sitting on a bench inside the Boudhanath Stupa in Katmandu, an elder Buddhist monk described how mankind is treating the planet so badly and doing so much damage, that this earthquake is a sign. “We need to change our behavior’s before it’s too late,” he said.
Religious beliefs aside, it’s hard not to give some merit to the elder’s opinion. Nepal’s receding glaciers act as the headwaters to rivers that feed India’s massive population, air and water pollution is at an all-time high, and population growth and land disputes over mineral rights are stressing finite resources.
Four weeks after the first Nepal earthquake, aid groups are starting to pack up and head home, leaving behind limited resources from the world’s wealthier nations. As of May 19, there were just 15 helicopters in use in all of Nepal, and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced its “completion” of Nepal relief efforts on May 22.
It’s not all peril – Nepal is home to a hearty culture with strong faith. The Nepalese are eager to rebuild and attract tourism again, but they will need your help.
Located on the outskirts of Katmandu lies the tiny Hindu village of Belawu. This subsistence-farming community is etched into a steep bamboo-covered hillside, and a place where families have lived in harmony with nature and provided food for the region for hundreds of years. Belawu’s residents built homes with mud, bricks and stone. Nearly all of them were demolished in the April and May earthquakes.
The Bhandari family was settled into their home, set amongst small rice paddies fed by hand-dug water canals, when the April 25 quake struck. With a shortness of breath, shaking hands and tears in her eyes, the mother, Goma Bhandari, recounts the earthquake. She describes how the dirt floor of their home shook and opened up, consuming the grain stacked above it. Hot water came out the earth, burning some of the family members’ feet as they ran for safety.
Six hours after the tremor settled, the hot-water crack closed and disappeared, leaving behind a destroyed home and a family life thrust into a refugee state. This farming family was forced into becoming builders, utilizing poorly crafted tools to construct a shelter of worn-out tarps, and beds supported by two wooden pallets. The leaky tent is no more than 12 feet by 14 feet and contains the kitchen and sleeping area, where all seven family members – ranging in age from 5 to 60 – sleep together on the dirt floor.
In the corner of the tent the sleeping blankets are neatly stacked, providing room for the youngest boy to play with a rice bowl, which doubles as his only toy. Goma sighs and shakes as she expresses her fear of the coming monsoons and her ailing husband who has diabetes, now forced to work as a laborer building the new home.
Gaining some composure, Goma offers tea to a group of volunteers. By divine intervention this family was chosen to receive a stack of donated sheet metal from Tsering’s Fund — a nonprofit dedicated to the continued earthquake relief effort in Nepal — providing cover for the long monsoon season ahead.
This $150 stack of metal has given the family a glimmer of hope, for now.