Nepal earthquake emergency has barely begun in rural areas


This page in:

 remains of several houses in Pauwathok
Remains of several houses in Pauwathok

On Saturday I drove to Sindhupalchok, in the mid-hills of Nepal, to the northeast of Kathmandu. The narrow road climbed up and down the shoulders of the hills, along clear streams, through green forests and among fallow terraced fields with neat piles of cow dung waiting to be spread.

In the shade of a pipal tree, one girl sits picking lice out of the hair of another younger girl, her sister perhaps. The road is good, streetside shops are selling breakfast, or groceries, or other supplies, and along many parts of the road the scene from a distance is bucolic:  calm, peaceful, normal.

But get closer, and it is quickly obvious that there is little that is normal in Sindhupalchok today. The farther we leave behind the richer neighborhoods of the Kathmandu valley, the deeper we reach into the rural areas, the greater the destruction of April’s earthquakes.

A few kilometers after we cross the Dolalghat River, we come across a hillside hamlet, Pauwathok, where only a few buildings remain standing. Plot after plot along the winding paths contains a ruddy, dusty pile of stone, brick, roof tiles and lumber, the rafters stained black from the indoor kitchen fires.

The women gather near the local temple or a visiting water bowser, or rummage through the rubble of their houses to retrieve what can be reused.  An old lady laments the death of one daughter and worries about the fate of another, brought to the hospital in Dhulikhel, 30 km away.

Here and there, men work together to sort through the detritus of their houses—pulling out and stacking burnt-black rafters, retrieving any decent lumber, and sorting wood and stone into separate piles in the streets.

Relief workers and convoys have passed through, but so far no one has stopped to help.

Further along the highway, past many other small towns just as direly impacted as Pauwathok, we reach the district capital, Chautara, and are told that the road is open only to one-way traffic, from the other direction. We walk into what was once a small, but neat and vibrant, urban center, and are stunned by the destruction.

Two- to –five story houses, hung along either side of a narrow road on the crest of a ridge, have crumbled, or sagged, or teetered, or pitched into or away from the street.  Heavy power lines droop low enough to be touched, buildings that once stood side by side have moved several feet apart, and nervous visitors scamper past unstable building fronts and ripped roadbeds.
Street scenes in Chautara
Street scenes in Chautara

Unlike in the valley or along the road out, virtually all the shops in Chautara are shuttered, and relatively few people are about.  There is rubble everywhere, pushed to the verge of the road. Small numbers of men and women, a few with young children, walk desolately out of town, carrying a few shopping bags of things. A man on a ladder breaks into the second-floor window of his house, reaches in and throws pale-yellow corncobs and large metal bowls to a friend below. 

In the few open shops, some of the keepers are stacking inventory at the door to be collected and carried away. In another a young woman, holding a baby and seated on the floor, blankly watches television while her reclining husband shouts on the telephone. 

On the streets outside, young men on motorcycles race uphill, against traffic, while a few police and army vehicles drive past, presumably to greater emergencies beyond. Dutch, German and Korean search-and-rescue teams, in matching orange gear, stand about in groups. Foreign journalists lug huge cameras and microphones, and a camera-carrying drone buzzes overhead like an oversized mosquito.

It feels like a war zone.  Many people have lost a great deal. Some have lost almost everything. It is hard to imagine how the people of this town can ever recover. It is easy to see, in their faces, an overwhelming sense of loss and dread, for what is past, and passing, and to come.  For these people, the emergency is not over; it is barely beginning.


Johannes Zutt

Country Director, Bangladesh and Nepal

Join the Conversation

May 05, 2015

I want to be part of the rehabilitation work in Nepal. I have previously been to Nepal for Public health related work. Who do I get in touch with ?

Alex Ndalila
May 06, 2015

I express my deepest sympathy to the Nepalese. It is not easy. Much as each of us can give a dollar or the little we have, the world bank and other international institutions should marshal their members to contribute towards a kitty towards reconstruction of the country, especially in areas worst hit by the earthquake. If countries can send aid workers, relief food, choppers, tents etc. that will go a long way in making them feel appreciated.
Of importance to me, are the lessons learnt after such a disaster. I am a Kenyan. Woe unto us if such an earthquake of such magnitude hit Nairobi and its environs. First a good number of building have not been built to standards to resist such forces. Sub-Saharan countries must put in place measures to at least ensure that should such a calamity strike, the damage is less severe. It is important that these lessons are shared out. Thank you. God bless Nepal.

Prakash Dahal
May 06, 2015

Johannes Zutt has given the graphic account of the horror the QUAKE slammed on people of Puwathok and Chautara, putting down words weaving his story with pity and sorrow, pain and anguish, people went through. Frantic survivors in terror picking up lives rummaging through houses turned rubble of mountains. Yes! That is the way of all animals walking on two feet, no matter what corner of Earth they live on. You bomb a place on earth, survivors would behave in no way different from how Nepalese responded.
Quake to Nepal is not a stranger unlike Johannes Zutt who appears to be an alien to a calamity called Quake. Cob of corn is way of life in Nepal's hills in the same way as picking lice from head and crushing them between nails at leisure. Life is resilient, it doesn't stop, go on and on like gushing brook, whether or not your eyes well up in tears and heart cries at the loss.
Come next time Zutt, the fallow field dotted with mound of manure will turn green. Some-blackened rafters will sit over head. Mother Nature will help them with everything to make a fresh start.
If only and if only, people out there stop stirring emotions, pity and pathos in a game to bake their own bread or to escape their own stress-full, wretched life full of misery. Nepal doesn't need looters in the guise of rescue squad and reporters who lay hands on relics and artifacts in the name of clearing sites. You can corrupt politicians, predispose them to do your bidding, plant chip into their head and hold device in hand to control them, but remember, Nepalese will get back on their feet and lot quicker than you expect to send you marvel at them if only you stop fueling your trade with pity, pathos and emotions.