Earthquake-devastated Nepal struggles to rebuild

CBC Asia correspondent Saša Petricic revisits Nepal a year after the country was struck by a devastating earthquake. He discovers that Kathmandu remains strewn with rubble as the government continues to withhold aid from quake victims.

CBC's Saša Petricic finds aid is still withheld and Kathmandu remains strewn with rubble

In many ways, the Nepal I see now isn't very different from the one I left shortly after last April's earthquake. People still live in the ruins of their former houses or in temporary shelters brought in by aid organizations.

International donors — including Canada — pledged $4.4 billion US in assistance last spring, of which $2.8 billion US has been paid out to NGOs or to the Nepalese government. 

But until this week, NGOs have been prevented from building replacement houses, and the government has not handed out any of the $2,000 US it promised each family to help rebuild. So, the rubble remains in Kathmandu and throughout the affected zone.

Thousands of people are living in the remains of their former houses, still waiting for help.

Basic services are still in short supply.

In some places, water is available. In others, the nearest working well is a two- or three-hour walk away.

Other services are also in short supply. For months, a political crisis and protests made crossings from neighbouring India impassible, leading to a shortage of food, medicine and building supplies.

Recovery has been hardest in rural areas.

For the past year, the Bhattari family has been living under corrugated metal donated by aid group Plan International, on the site of their destroyed house in the village of Sikharpur.

Both parents and their four children survived the earthquake and its aftershocks, but they have struggled to rebuild their lives since.

Maiya Bhattari smiles thinly. "I now think we are going to spend all our lives living like this," she says. "We don't have money to rebuild or to do anything else. I wish we had died in the earthquake. I have thought that many times."

Some build houses from the rubble of their original homes.

Down the road, I find Rudra Dhital building a shelter from the stones and mud left from his old house. He's waited a year for help from the government, but says he can't wait any longer.

"The monsoons are coming soon and I need to build a small shelter to survive," Dhital says. "If we get another big earthquake, I'm sure that this house will not last. It will fall on top of us. But what else can I do?"

Life in Kathmandu hasn't gotten easier for many.

There is a similar sense of desperation in a dusty lot in the middle of Kathmandu, still home to thousands who have lived here since the earthquake.

Their old homes were destroyed and they cannot afford to rebuild or rent in a city where apartments and rooms are expensive and hard to find.

They have built their lives under donated tarps and scavenged bits of bamboo.

And those who can, work here.

There are even gardens to grow potatoes, onions and other vegetables. Bikram Tamang has been here so long, he's on his second crop. "People are sad because they think another earthquake is coming and they think, How can we go anywhere else? Where else can we go?"

Several hours' drive outside Kathmandu, in the district of Sindhupalchowk, an entire village of solid new temporary houses has been built, with permanent ones about to follow.

Canadian donations are making a difference.

With funding from the Canadian government, local villagers are being trained to put up sturdy brick walls and roofs that are less likely to collapse in another earthquake.

NGOs have not been allowed to start building permanent houses, but there's plenty of construction because of temporary ones and training.

But the joy and optimism here are palpable. The children's shrieks echo in the windowless shells.

Young ones have been remembering and talking about the earthquake all year.

The adults have, too, and they are just as eager to have a permanent roof over their heads. This woman cooks with pots bought with Canadian donations.

But for most survivors, life since the earthquake has not changed.

Still, for most earthquake survivors in Nepal, life is not coming together with nearly this much hope or certainty. They are still in the rubble.

They live under metal sheets or plastic tarps weighed down with rocks, surrounded by walls they hope won't fall on them or wash away with the coming monsoons. 

And in most cases, they can't believe they are still waiting for help from their government to rebuild.

Photos by CBC News reporter Saša Petricic. To see more of Saša's photographs, follow him on Instagram 


Saša Petricic

Senior Correspondent

Saša Petricic is a Senior Correspondent for CBC News, specializing in international coverage. He has spent the past decade reporting from abroad, most recently in Beijing as CBC's Asia Correspondent, focusing on China, Hong Kong, and North and South Korea. Before that, he covered the Middle East from Jerusalem through the Arab Spring and wars in Syria, Gaza and Libya. Over more than 30 years, he has filed stories from every continent.