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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
A year on, millions of Nepal quake survivors wait for aid
By Paavan MATHEMA
Kathmandu (AFP) April 22, 2016


Landslide in northeast India kills 16
New Delhi (AFP) April 22, 2016 - A huge landslide hit a camp for construction workers in a remote part of northeast India on Friday, killing at least 16, police said.

Heavy rains triggered the disaster in the Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh, which lies on the Tibetan border and is claimed in part by China.

The workers, who were building a hotel, were asleep when the landslide hit their camp in Tawang district, more than 10,000 feet (around 3,000 metres) above sea level.

"Sixteen bodies have been recovered by police and emergency workers. One more is feared trapped under the debris," said Anto Alphonse, superintendent of police for Tawang.

"Three labourers survived and have received minor injuries. A total of 20 workers were at the spot when the massive landslide struck the construction site."

India's National Disaster Management Authority said police and soldiers had rushed to the scene.

Landslides are common in the Himalayas, particularly during monsoon season, which begins in June.

In a tweet Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed "grief on the loss of lives" in the disaster.

Days of incessant rains have caused flood-like situations in many parts of the frontier state, triggering flash floods and landslides.

Local media reported heavy damage to houses, road infrastructure and crops, as all the major rivers in the state are running over the danger mark.

Nepal quake in numbers, one year later
Kathmandu (AFP) April 22, 2016 - A year after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake tore through Nepal, millions of people remain homeless.

Here are some key facts about the quake and the reconstruction effort.

DEATH TOLL: The death toll from the earthquake and its aftershocks stands at 8,959. Another 22,303 people were injured.

HOMES DESTROYED: More than one million houses suffered severe damage. The quake destroyed 776,895 houses completely while 298,998 dwellings need repairs.

LOST HERITAGE: 131 historic monuments were reduced to rubble while another 560 structures require repairs. Work on a few sites in the Kathmandu valley has begun, but officials say it will be years before Nepal's rich architectural heritage is restored.

HEALTHCARE: 1,227 health centres were damaged during the quake, severing a lifeline for remote, rural communities. Forty centres have been rebuilt so far, with work in progress on another 100 sites.

SCHOOLS: The disaster destroyed or damaged nearly 8,000 schools, leaving almost one million children without classrooms. A handful of buildings have been repaired but most students still have lessons in bamboo and tin shelters.

ECONOMY: The earthquake caused losses of $7 billion. Nepal's economy is now expected to grow by just 1.5 percent over the financial year ending in July 2016 -- the lowest level since 2007 -- according to the Asian Development Bank (ADB).

FOREIGN AID: International donors, including India, China, the World Bank and the ADB, promised $4.1 billion to aid Nepal's recovery. But the National Reconstruction Authority, the body in charge of spending the funds, was only set up in December. It has since signed agreements to disburse $1.85 billion.

FUNDS RELEASED: Although the government has promised around $2,000 to each household for rebuilding homes, only 641 families have received the first instalment of $500. Most victims have received payouts worth less than $250.

WHERE ARE VICTIMS LIVING NOW: The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies estimates four million people are still living in temporary shelters. The government says 113,384 families have moved back into homes that are at risk of collapse during aftershocks, while more than 31,000 victims have rebuilt their houses on their own, tired of waiting for help from the authorities.

A year after an earthquake flattened her home in Nepal, Menuka Rokaya still lives in a tent with her husband and nine-month-old baby as they await even a sliver of a $4 billion aid fund.

"We have lived like this with a baby through monsoon and winter," says Rokaya, one of an estimated four million people who are still homeless.

"The quake spared us, but it is difficult to survive now.

"Earlier, many people used to come here to help us. But... they have all disappeared now," she told AFP as she nursed her young daughter.

The world rallied to donate money to help the desperately poor Himalayan nation after the 7.8-magnitude quake struck on April 25 last year.

Nearly 9,000 people lost their lives in the disaster while over half a million homes were destroyed.

But while $4 billion in aid has been raised, wrangling between political parties over control of the funds has meant that most victims have received nothing beyond an initial small payout.

Rokaya, who was six months pregnant when the quake brought down her home, now lives with her family in a tent that offers little protection from the cold and the rain.

"We haven't heard anything about compensation. We don't have any money, how can we rebuild?," said Rokaya, who lives in a camp near Kathmandu airport.

The family has to survive on the $10 that her husband earns a day as a tea-seller and meals are cooked on a stove inside their tent. They have to wash in a communal toilet on the camp site.

An estimated four million people are still living in sub-standard temporary shelters, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Many were living hand-to-mouth even before the quake, which dealt a huge blow to Nepal's already fragile economy.

To make matters worse, protesters angered by the terms of a new national constitution mounted a blockade at the Indian border -- the main entry point for fuel and other goods -- creating crippling shortages that lasted for months.

Tourism also took a nosedive as prospective visitors cancelled bookings following dozens of deaths in quake-triggered avalanches at Everest base camp and along the popular Langtang trekking route.

- 'Policy vacuum' -

Work has begun on repairing the huge damage done to Nepal's cultural heritage -- a major tourist draw.

The famous royal squares of the Kathmandu Valley reopened to the public last June and masons have begun work on restoring other historic sites including the fifth-century Changu Narayan complex, but officials say it will take years to complete.

After months of bickering, the government finally established a National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in December to oversee rebuilding and distribute funds.

Until then, rebuilding had effectively been put on hold because the government had instructed people to follow specific quake-resistant designs to qualify for aid -- but had not released the blueprints.

"You had many organisations... willing to support housing reconstruction, but they had to act in a vacuum, a policy vacuum. So they could not start work," said Jennifer Duyne, who heads the international and Nepali donor reconstruction effort.

Even aid organisations that had started to rebuild schools and health facilities were told to pause their efforts until the new body could review them, a process that took months.

And while the government promised $2,000 for every home destroyed, fewer than 700 families have received the first instalment of $500.

NRA chief Sushil Gyewali said the organisation was now "expediting the process" of distributing funds.

But thousands of survivors have chosen to risk losing the government aid, and have instead taken out loans or turned to charities for help.

- 'Things are really bad' -

In Ramechhap district, east of Kathmandu, where 40,000 houses were damaged, Gurkha soldiers have been hard at work breaking rocks and laying down concrete to construct schools and build homes for veterans.

Famed for their ferocity and valour, the 2,500-strong Gurkha brigade largely made up of soldiers recruited mainly in Nepal, has been part of the British army for 200 years and served in Afghanistan and Iraq.

They plan to complete work on 1,200 houses by next year under a scheme run by the Britain-based Gurkha Welfare Trust.

"People are living under very poor conditions, just in a temporary shelter, so things are really bad," said Sergeant Lal Rana.

"We are trying to help, but it won't be enough because people need help all over Nepal."

For farmer Bhoj Raj Sunuwar, the Gurkhas, who arrived in his far-flung village of Bhuji days after the earthquake and before government officials showed up, have been a blessing.

Sunuwar, whose father served with them, has lived with his family in a temporary shelter since the disaster but is now looking forward to having a roof over his head thanks to their help.

"If they were not here we would be forced to spend another year in a shelter," he told AFP.

"I have no hope from the government."


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