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Caritas brings hope to the homeless in quake-hit Nepal

Many victims of the November natural disaster are out in the cold, literally shivering in the Himalayan winter
Survivors search for their belongings in the ruins of a house on Nov. 5, 2023. At least 154 people were killed in the Himalayan country when the 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit on Nov. 3.

Survivors search for their belongings in the ruins of a house on Nov. 5, 2023. At least 154 people were killed in the Himalayan country when the 6.4 magnitude earthquake hit on Nov. 3. (Photo: AFP)

Published: January 26, 2024 08:26 AM GMT
Updated: May 18, 2024 05:31 PM GMT

Wali Rana and her four-member family huddle inside a makeshift tent to keep themselves warm in the night.

Rana and her children are exposed to the harsh winter season in the Himalayan nation of Nepal after their mud and stone house was destroyed in a Nov. 3 earthquake that claimed 154 lives.

Inside the blue tarpaulin tent, Rana and her children cover themselves with blankets and clothes given by aid agencies. She is worried because the cold weather has already claimed the lives of 34 people, including four children, staying in makeshift shelters.

Rana expects her new house to be completed in a few weeks with the help of Caritas Nepal, the social service arm of the Catholic Church in the country.  

The Church's project aims to build temporary shelters for some 1,200 families, to protect the quake-affected poor harsh winter.

The winter season starts in Nepal, located at some 3,200 meters above sea level, in December and ends in February.

Nepal has the distinction of having the second-highest average elevation in the world — behind Bhutan — and many mountainous areas experience extreme cold on most days.

As the night temperatures drop below zero degrees in Jajarkot district in western Nepal, a widowed Rana complains of her family’s inability to sleep.

“Cold air sweeps through the tent in the night,” said the 40-year-old single mother, living in remote Maide village in Jajarkot, the district worst-hit by the 6.4 magnitude earthquake.

Government dragging its feet

Rana was rescued from the debris with a head injury and multiple fractures. She was in hospital for more than a week. Her three children and mother-in-law were among 360 injured people.

According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, nearly 80,000 homes were damaged or destroyed in the earthquake in Jajarkot.

Rana’s husband, a migrant worker, died in Malaysia six years ago, which forced Rana to become a daily laborer to earn a living.

“The earthquake left us homeless too,” said Rana.

Like the Ranas, hundreds of families are living under the open sky, hoping for a roof over their heads.

The government plans to provide a housing grant of 50,000 Nepali rupees (US$376). But the plan is gathering dust.

By the second week of January, the authorities have built only 24,010 temporary houses.

Caritas comes to the rescue

The government says funds are difficult to come by and construction workers are too expensive.

However, Caritas Nepal has stepped forward to build 1,200 temporary shelters under an Earthquake Response and Early Recovery Program.

The Catholic charity has joined hands with a local NGO, Youth Awareness Raising Centre Nepal (YARCN), to undertake the construction of temporary shelters in earthquake-affected areas.

It has also chipped in to help the government with socio-technical support to build 1,000 shelter houses within a year.

The new structures are resilient to earthquakes, fire, and flooding said Janak Sharma, program manager of Caritas Nepal in Karnali province, where the earthquake wreaked havoc.

These shelters are also built on a low budget, using locally sourced materials such as wood, slate, stone, bamboo, lime and ash, he said.

According to Dharma Raj Bhitrakoti of YARCN, a total of 71 temporary houses are ready to be handed over in the next ten days.

“We are planning to hand over all the 1,200 houses within six months,” Bhitrakoti added.

Rana is one of the beneficiaries awaiting to move in. “I am eagerly waiting to shift to the new house,” she said.

Bahadur Rana, 45, another beneficiary from the same village, has been working tirelessly to complete his new earthquake-resilient temporary shelter with the support of Caritas Nepal.

Currently, the construction worker, along with his wife and two children live in a makeshift plastic tent.

“We are waiting for the sheets to arrive for the roofing, he said.

“I hope to move in early next week,” he added.

The homes being built by Caritas Nepal have two rooms, one kitchen and a front porch, costing around 62,500 Nepali rupees

Caritas Nepal is also providing winter support for the poor by providing them with clothes, blankets and solar lights, especially for young children and lactating mothers.

Nearly, 1,500 families, including 2,600 children and 880 lactating mothers are benefitting from this package, said Sharma.

The charity has selected the most vulnerable groups like Rana as priority beneficiaries, he added.

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