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After Nepal quake, survivors struggle in squalid camps

Disease fears grow, residents complain of insufficient food, water and sanitation

After Nepal quake, survivors struggle in squalid camps

Unhygienic conditions in the relief camps such as the Tundikhel camp in Kathmandu have spawned skin diseases and diarrhea (Photo by Ritu Sharma)

Ritu Sharma, Kathmandu
Nepal

May 7, 2015

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More than a week after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, cutting a wide swath of destruction through the country, residents in relief camps are struggling to get by.

“Life is very miserable in camps,” said Mangla Maya Swal.

Swal has been living in a camp in Bhaktapur district since her home was badly damaged in the April 25 quake. She and her family of nine are sharing a single tent, which in normal circumstances would be insufficient for two or three people.

“There is no proper arrangement for toilets or a specific bathing place. The mobile toilets that the government has provided are dirty and stinking,” she told ucanews.com.

Water shortages have plagued residents, most of whom have moved from houses deemed unsafe to live in. In the nearby village, most houses sport large cracks and small locks on the doors. Residents go in only to collect what remains of food, cooking gas and clothing.

In the camps, emergency food aid is handed out daily, but residents say it is far from sufficient.

“We are given two packets of noodles, a packet of biscuits and a bottle of water. This is not enough even if each member of a family is given these items,” said Kamla Gurung, who is staying with 10 members of her family in Tundikhel camp in Kathmandu.

Manushi Parajuli, who is also staying at the Tundikhel camp, said she has struggled with the haphazard nature of distribution.

“They announce anytime during the day and start distributing. We have to run, leaving everything behind to get the food,” she said.

Kamla Gurung (right) sits with her family members at her tent in Tundikhel camp in Kathmandu (Photo by Ritu Sharma)

 

Disease concerns

Unhygienic conditions in the relief camps have spawned skin diseases and diarrhea, while many are still being treating for quake-related injuries. Others bear less visible scars of trauma.

“People are coming with diseases which are caused due to the trauma caused by the earthquake. They are also complaining of stomach problems and eye infections,” said Miraj Siddiqui, a doctor at a health camp in Bhaktapur.

Mukti Narayan Swal of Bhaktapur district has been helping rescuers dig out bodies for days.

At the start, he said, he was unable to sleep for three nights straight.

“I had never seen a dead body up close in my life and now I was taking out disfigured bodies from the debris. It affected me a great deal,” he said, adding that he can still feel the tremors whenever he closes his eyes.

The situation has been particularly acute for children, many of whom did not even knew what an earthquake was.

Ten-year-old Seema Basnet said that she was watching TV when the earthquake struck. “I felt that we were swinging in the air. My mother told me that it was an earthquake and we all should go out,” she said.

For four-year-old Yam Kumari Thapa, the houses collapsing is what she remembers most. “They all came down one by one,” is all she can mutter.

To help the children overcome the trauma of the earthquake, UNICEF has been holding recreational activities in the Tundikhel camp. Children here are provided with drawing books and storybooks — outlets to express themselves.

“We are trying to engage them in recreational activities so they overcome the trauma. Some of them still feel scared and cannot sleep at night but we talk to them individually and counsel them,” Padma Lama of World Vision, who is helping in the UNICEF camp, told ucanews.com.

For quake survivors like Govind Shreshta, staying in a relief camp is not a feasible option.

“Camps are not comfortable. There are so many people…. Some talk and some play cards. You cannot sleep properly,” he said.

Shreshta, who is a taxi driver, said he is sleeping in his vehicle while his wife and two children spend their nights in the compound of their cracked house.

“We go inside the house to cook food and the rest of the day we spend outside,” he added.

The UN children's fund, the World Health Organization and the Nepalese government are also rushing to vaccinate more than half a million children as fears grow that on-the-ground conditions could lead to a deadly outbreak of measles.

"Before the earthquake, one in ten children in Nepal was not vaccinated against measles, so we're going to vaccinate half a million children in the coming weeks," said Kent Page, UNICEF Nepal's emergency spokesperson.

"Many of the children are living outdoors, they're not getting the food they need, their sort of physical well-being isn't so good, so they're more susceptible to often fatal diseases like measles," Page said.

Starting over

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala last week announced that the government would provide 100,000 Nepali rupees (US$1,577) to the family members of those who have lost their lives in the earthquake. More than 7,600 people died in the quake, a figure that is expected to rise as more bodies are found.

He also said that the government would announce a comprehensive scheme for the rehabilitation of survivors and also for the reconstruction of their damaged homes.

The earthquake resulted in a massive loss of property across the country. Over 100,000 buildings collapsed in the calamity while nearly 78,000 have been damaged.

However, people residing in camps are not optimistic government aid will come through.

“I do not think anything is going to happen. We will have to start building our houses and our lives again. There are thousands of houses that need the immediate attention of the government,” said Saili Tamang, who came from one of the worst affected areas — Sindhupalchowk district — to Tundikhel camp.

“They are not able to provide proper tents and basic food material to us. How are they going to rehabilitate us all?”

Additional reporting by AFP

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