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Nepal Quake, Three Months on

Jul. 27, 2015

Today we look at the situation in Nepal three months after a major earthquake there. Sho Beppu reports from the capital, Kathmandu.

Behind me, you are seeing the mountains that circle this historical capital. Seen from here, we feel that the town is starting to recover, but once you visit the areas hit by the earthquake, you see how it is still impacting the lives of the people.

That orange building used to be a hotel. From the outside we don’t really see the destruction but, as aftershocks will continue, the government considered that building unsafe. Now, that hotel is shut down.

A magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit Nepal on April 25th. More than 9,000 people died in Nepal and neighboring countries, including several killed in aftershocks. About 900,000 houses were damaged and many people lost their homes.

Three months on, I went to see how local people are coping with the situation.

This is old Kathmandu, a district that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Historically, both Hindus and Buddhists have shared their lives here. This shows the destructive power of the earthquake that struck on April 25th.

There are some signs of normal life returning. The streets are busy again. But the quake has placed a heavy burden on the poor.

The government says 2.8 million people still need tents, food and other humanitarian support.

The lack of usable buildings in the devastated areas has pushed rent up and left some people without options.

Sixty-six-year-old Chandra supports thirteen family members, including his wife, children and grandchildren.

He wants to leave but he can’t find a house big enough with what he can afford as a day laborer.

"The rent was 5,000 rupees,” he says. “Now it’s double that."

And this woman echoes his sentiments: "We are looking for somewhere around here. But we haven’t found it yet."

Public infrastructure has been severely damaged as well.

This is one of the damaged schools. Nearly 7,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged. Being a Saturday, the schools were closed and empty. If the earthquake had struck during a weekday, the death toll of young people could have been much higher."

I visited another school in the suburbs. Children are traumatized. Eleven-year-old Ronish was watching TV at the time.

"The electricity went off and the building started shaking,” he says. “I was scared and ran outside."

Ten-year-old Monika has been staying with friends. She couldn’t find her family right after the earthquake.

"It still scares me,” she says. “It was horrible. I can’t forget it. I felt sad when I saw my school and I’m scared that it might happen again.”

The building survived, but that does not mean it’s safe. Officials painted a red mark on the surviving part of the building. The mark means that it will be demolished, because it might collapse in an aftershock.

Seeing the building being demolished, it’s clear that the structure was weak. It had been built by simply piling up bricks. Buildings are being reconstructed with future earthquakes in mind, but it’s not an easy process, as education volunteer Sushil Thapa explains:

"We’re also trying to build things, earthquake resistance way, like prefab, something like that. So that even though the earthquake comes, no one will be hurt. That is huge money. We don’t have sufficient technology here in Nepal. We have to import from other countries. We don’t have raw materials like prefab, these are very costly."

The United Nations says there’s still an urgent need to keep the international community focused on the disaster.

"The monsoon rains, together with possibilities of landslides, add a lot of challenges to our operation,” says Akiko Yoshida of UN Nepal. “Once the monsoon is over the winter is quickly approaching. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to get the communities ready for the winter."

Shibuya: So Sho, reconstruction still has a long way to go, doesn’t it?

Beppu: That’s right Aki. The earthquake did more than destroy lives and property. It also put many poor children at risk from human traffickers eager to exploit their suffering. NHK World’s Kenichi Tanaka reports.

Nepal is one of the world’s poorest countries. Life has become even harder for people since the earthquake. That includes children.

A 14-year-old girl lives in a village that was damaged by the disaster. About two weeks after the earthquake she and some friends went to Kathmandu. Her destination was a restaurant that was rumored to be a hotbed of prostitution. Traffickers often approach young women who come to such businesses.

The girl says she decided to go to the restaurant even though she knew about the risk. She says she wanted to help her family.

"The earthquake destroyed my house and school,” she says. “I didn’t know how we would survive. We have no money. There is no food at home. And, as the road was blocked, we didn’t get any relief."

But she says she became worried before knocking on the door of the shop. She returned home 10 days later. The girl and her family now live in a tent.

"My mother asked me if I was eating,” she explains. “She told me I had lost a lot of weight. Now, I think I should have stayed in the village."

NGOs are working to protect children in areas hit by the disaster. Members of an organization that’s trying to stop human trafficking are working with the police and the local administration. They set up a checkpoint along roads between Kathmandu and areas damaged by the disaster. They keep an eye out for children traveling alone.

One NGO worker is concerned about a child she encounters: “Where are you from? How can I contact your parents?”

There are more reports of brokers approaching parents and children, claiming they can offer kids jobs and education. UNICEF says at least 245 children have narrowly escaped being taken away by traffickers and others. Members of the NGO are trying to warn people about the situation. More than 20 parents attended a meeting in the village.

"Look at this leaflet,” says this woman. “This is how kids are taken by human traffickers."

They found that five brothers whose mother died in the quake have been contacted by a person claiming to be a relative, inviting them to come to Kathmandu.

It’s a story with which Sunita Danuwar, President of anti-trafficking NGO Shakti Samuha, is all too familiar:

"After pretending to help those in need by distributing aid supplies, the brokers eventually use them for human trafficking. The government and aid groups must work together so that children do not become victims of trafficking."

Kenichi Tanaka joins Sho Beppu with more on the problem of human trafficking.

Beppu: Welcome Kenichi, so despite warnings from the NGOs, why do children still fall into the trap of the traffickers?

Tanaka: Well, I’m talking with NGO staff and I was surprised at how sophisticated the traffickers are in their approach to their targets. Sometimes, they reach the family members and get known that way. They can then visit the target’s home without suspicion. And, the future of the girls is tragic. They are mostly promised work in the Middle East, but they end up in brothels in India.

Beppu: This problem of human trafficking existed in this country even before the earthquake. But are you saying things are getting serious now?

Tanaka: Yes. This problem is not a new problem for Nepal, but I think the disaster definitely made more victims. And the quake pushed poor families into much worse conditions.

I spoke to people after their counseling sessions and was surprised to hear from potential victims that they were aware of the dangers, but that it was their own choice. Sometimes, family members even encouraged them to go with them and work in outside countries. Also, there is an issue that Nepalese society, in general, tends to consider even a 14-year-old as an adult.

Beppu: That they should start to work anyway... But, some people say that the magnitude, the impact, of the earthquake is too large for this country and Nepal alone cannot shoulder it. What’s your view?

Tanaka: In fact, when I visit the worst-hit areas, I see many aid workers from the UN, The Red Cross, and international and domestic NGOs, but I hardly see anyone from the Nepali government.

I even visited a village where no damage survey has been done. The government says it plans to set up a new agency to handle reconstruction, but we don't know when it will be launched.

Beppu: Speaking with one UN humanitarian officer, this person told me that even after this current monsoon season ends, it doesn’t mean that the crisis will go away. But, in fact, winter will come as early as November and the very vulnerable people are not ready for that. So, what do you think is the most pressing need now?

Tanaka: I think the biggest need is to reach the most remote areas. I even heard there’s a village where it takes 10 days to send aid goods. Overall, I’ve been covering the aftermath of the earthquake, which happened three months ago, and I get the feeling that it is not the end of the assistance period. Instead, I think it’s just the beginning of a long-term commitment by the international society.

Beppu: Natural disasters can strike anywhere equally, but the situation in Nepal reminds me how unequal their impact can be on the people who have the least.

At a school, one NGO worker told me that the challenge is not just to rebuild the same vulnerable school building, but to build a better one instead. This might also apply to the country itself. And, whether Nepal can be rebuilt stronger than before depends on how effectively the international community can deliver assistance.