Nepal quake 1 year later: Most of the 2 million left homeless still in temporary or unsafe shelters

Destroyed homes in Lamosanghu village in Sindhupalchok, Nepal. (Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam)

Recovery is still under way in Nepal one year after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake killed more than 8,700 people and destroyed 750,000 homes. Yet, problems persist as rubble remains and people continue to live in temporary shelters. It is an all-too common situation after a major disaster, and aid groups working in Nepal are concerned by the lack of international support and slow action by the Nepalese government that leaves people vulnerable.

Few people actually owned land before the earthquake struck. With so many homes destroyed the issue of land is even more important. But, the government of Nepal has been slow to help. The National Reconstruction Authority, established to disburse the more than $4.1 billion in aid sent to the country, took nine months to set up and has just started issuing grants. Those go to people who actually own land in a country where 40 percent of land is owned by 4 percent of the population.

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“It is unacceptable that many thousands of people will be living in temporary shelters for a second year because of delays in reconstruction and powerful interests raising disputes around land ownership and usage,” said Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam’s Nepal country director, in a statement. “The government should heed the lessons of previous disasters and ensure that the most vulnerable citizens are not pushed to the back of the queue.”

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Families that can prove they owned land before it was destroyed by last year’s earthquake are eligible for a $1,900 grant. Those few people who get the money only get one-quarter of the sum at first. Once they start building a home that meets guidelines for an earthquake-resistant home, they can get the rest of the money – which may not even be enough to cover the full cost of the home.

Nepali women queue at an Oxfam winter and shelter distribution. (Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam)

Nepali women queue at an Oxfam winter and shelter distribution. (Kieran Doherty/ Oxfam)

For the roughly 3 million people still living in temporary shelters, that money can go a long way toward rebuilding their homes. However, a significant number of Nepalese will not be eligible. As many as one out of every three farmers did not own the land they farmed, meaning they could be left with nothing.

These problems are compounded for women, said the international humanitarian organization CARE International. Families lost their homes and ability to make an income due to the disaster. CARE worries that women and girls are “disproportionately affected” and are being left out of the reconstruction efforts. Just one out of every five households with land documents have a female name on them, finds Oxfam. And single women often rely on the support of a male to get land documents, if they get them at all.

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Relief is not coming soon for people displaced by the earthquake. The summer monsoon season is coming soon. Oxfam, CARE and other aid groups are pushing for the government Nepal to speed up its recovery efforts in order to have fewer people living under tarps or tin roofs when the rains come. But politics are making matters difficult. The head of the EU delegation to Nepal said that delays were “due to political haggling,” earlier this month. Add in growing distrust of aid groups and you have a humanitarian problem.

“We are hoping that the government will provide clear guidelines on reconstruction soon so people have clarity on what help they can expect and when,”  said Max Santner, head of country office for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) in Nepal, in a statement. “The monsoon season is looming and we need to look at the immediate needs of people who are still waiting to rebuild their homes. There is still so much to be done, and there’s no time to waste.”

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.