Concern is mounting for earthquake-hit communities in Nepal amid a stuttering recovery and the onset of winter.
The UN says NGOs are facing a race against time to get ‘critical’ supplies to the worst-affected regions, before temperatures plummet.
Hundreds of thousands of people are estimated to be still homeless, six months on from the 7.8-magnitude quake, which left more than 8,500 dead.
Kathmandu Post journalist John Narayan Parajuli says the country has barely started its recovery from the April 25 disaster.
The 33-year-old told euronews: “The recovery has been slow. In fact the government has been unable to start recovery except for the initial cash transfers for temporary shelters following the end of the search and rescue period.
“While the UN, and non-governmental organisations are on the ground, in the absence of a functioning government body leading recovery and reconstruction work, there is a lack of direction.
“Government has been unable to access more than $4.4 billion (3.88 billion euros) pledged by foreign donors in June, as it is yet to create mechanisms and identify projects for spending the money.”
Nepal has been squabbling over a new constitution demanded by Maoist rebels, who fought government forces in a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006. They won elections in 2008, which led to the abolition of Nepal’s 240-year-old monarchy.
The deep divisions over the new constitution have seen protests in southern Nepal, whose people feel disenfranchised from the new set-up. That, adds Parajuli, has led to a fuel blockade on the Nepal-India border.
He said: “The official explanation [from India] is security concerns for their transporters due to unrest on the Nepalese side of the border, but the real reason is that India is unhappy about the new constitution not addressing concerns of the Madhesi population living in the south of Nepal.”
Race against time
The UN in Nepal says fuel shortages are impeding the delivery of supplies to help Nepal’s worst-affected communities.
It added: “It is of critical importance to deliver supplies by the end of October as the passes in the Himalayas will be at increased risk of being blocked by snowfall.
“The humanitarian community is implementing contingencies to address the fuel shortages and to increase its capacity to deliver the supplies within an ever-decreasing window of opportunity.”
Aid organisation Mercy Corps says the fuel crisis is pushing up the price of everyday goods and slowing Nepal’s recovery.
Jeffrey Shannon, Mercy Corps’ director of programmes in Nepal, said: “The inability to bring sufficient fuel and other necessary supplies into the country is causing delays that jeopardise long-term recovery.
“Having just got through a heavy monsoon season, we need this time before winter to rebuild.
“Everything is grinding to a halt just when people need to be getting back on their feet.
“This is the worst possible time for an economic crisis. The borders need to reopen.”
Parajuli says an estimated 2.5 million people were left homeless after the earthquake in April, which was followed by a 7.3-magnitude aftershock a fortnight later.
He added: “While some may have found spaces with their relatives or rented places, a vast majority are in need of proper housing as a harsh winter approaches.
“People are still living in tents or makeshift shelters for more than six months now. While they survived the rainy season, the winter is going to be much more difficult.
“It means a lot of hardship for people who have survived a massive disaster. The winter temperature can drop to -10 degrees Celsius sometimes.”
Parajuli said the initial recovery timeline was five years, but said given the slow start that won’t now happen.
While political instability is being blamed for blocking help getting to Nepal’s people, one source of aid that has begun flowing again is tourism.
The industry made up 3.9 percent of Nepal’s GDP in 2013 and directly supported 504,000 jobs, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
“The earthquake is a real tragedy because a lot of the income for Nepal is tourist-related,” said David Jones, managing director of Exodus Himalaya Treks and Expeditions, which specialises in trips to Nepal.
Jones said bookings and inquiries had almost completely dried up, while other reservations have been cancelled.
“It’s devastated us,” said UK-based Jones, who helps company founder Bhim in Nepal. “We’ve even had past customers of ours who have been fundraising for Bhim, the situation is so bad.”
He added: “All of the attractions in Nepal are still very much there and the hospitality that the Nepalese are famous for is still there.
“I’d like to be optimistic but it’s going to take a long time. In Kathmandu people are still living in tents and tourists don’t want to see that.”
Gordon Steer, UK manager at World Expeditions, was more upbeat despite bookings for October, the start of the trekking season in Nepal, being 40 percent down compared with the same period in 2014.
“I’m fairly optimistic for the future,” added Steer. “There’s inherent risk in adventure travel and trekking and people who travel to Nepal are aware of the current situation and a lot of people are pragmatic in their views.
“People coming back to trek in Nepal is really important for the Nepalese people, it’s a big industry.”
The company – for which Nepal makes up around 30 percent of business – has also been running trips for tourists wanting to help the rebuilding effort.
Damage to Nepal’s heritage ‘massive’
Yet while trekking has been the backbone of Nepal’s tourism industry, visitors also came to see its temples and stupas in the capital Kathmandu and beyond.
Thomas Schrom, a conservation architect, who has been assessing the state of Nepal’s monuments, said reconstruction of the country’s heritage sites had been estimated at 158 million euros.
This breaks my heart. Basantapur Durbar square, one of the historic places of Nepal, before and after. pic.twitter.com/OLqnoluqnz— FG (@FunnyGooner) April 25, 2015
He said: “The damage has been massive. All of the UNESCO’s world heritage sites have been damaged.”
He said around a third of Nepal’s estimated 750 monuments have been badly damaged, but all have been affected in some way.
However 80 percent of monuments in Kathmandu are still intact.
He added the priority at the moment is to strengthen what is still standing, given there has been more than 400 aftershocks.
“On an emotional level it had a lot of impact and damage,” said Schrom. “Nepal is slowly recovering but it was a severe shock to its system. But more concerning is the massive damage to towns and villages and it will be extremely difficult to rebuild.
“We should not forget that there’s thousands of people who have lost everything. I know people who are living in bamboo and corrugated shacks and they’ve lived through the recent monsoons, that’s not nice for them.”