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Nepal's farmers continue fight for survival after deadly quake

October 08, 2015

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A farmer pictured next to his maize crop. ─ Photo by author
A farmer pictured next to his maize crop. ─ Photo by author

KATMANDU: Five months after the devastating Nepal earthquake, agriculture-dependent communities in the region, sandwiched between destruction and the need to earn a livelihood, have yet to emerge from the chaos.

The April 2015 earthquake which hit the Himalayan region earlier this year killed at least 9,000 people, causing widespread destruction and leaving Nepal paralysed in the aftermath.

About 40 per cent of Nepalese people live in poverty, with the majority of them dependent on agriculture for a living, the United Nations estimates.

Farmers living in the far-flung mountains ─ whose houses were destroyed and agricultural activities disrupted by the earthquake ─ are still waiting for help reconstructing their homes and streamlining their only means of sustenance.

A house destroyed by the earthquake. ─ Photo by author
A house destroyed by the earthquake. ─ Photo by author

Savitri Parajuli, a 50-year-old resident of Dhangane Beri village, stands in front of her mud house, paper bags in one hand and a grub hoe in the other.

“I cannot go work in the fields as my part of my house is lying destroyed. The remains of the house are standing, but the structure has retained big cracks which makes it a risky place to live in,” she says. Despite her troubles, Savitri has a smile on her face.

Savitri is a rice farmer. Although her husband left her after marrying another woman in the village, she remains a provider for her parents-in-law.

Savitri and her family are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. She used to work the fields, growing rice and vegetables for a living. However, the earthquake has left her family with limited options. They must choose between earning a living or reconstructing their home – their only shelter.

Savitri Parajuli standing in front of her house. ─ Photo by author
Savitri Parajuli standing in front of her house. ─ Photo by author

“The government gave us Nepalese Rs15,000 but a single room cannot be built with such little money. The government had promised us an additional amount of Nepalese Rs185,000 but we are still waiting for that,” she said.

The massive 7.8-magnitude earthquake which shook the lives of at least eight million people is regarded as the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since 1934.

Laxmi Nepal, a 20-year-old girl in Naubishe village, recounts the disaster.

“It was like a horror movie; the land under our feet was shaking like a monster trying to swallow us. Women and men were screaming in a way I have never witnessed before. Houses and buildings were falling while we ran to hide, to be safe,” she says.

A house razed to the ground by the quake. ─ Photo by author
A house razed to the ground by the quake. ─ Photo by author

Of the 115 houses in Naubishe village, 108 were razed to the ground by the quake.

Laxmi says the villagers spent about two months living in the open fields following the earthquake. “We still have nightmares about the earthquake and its devastation,” she says.

The earthquake also destroyed the irrigation system and killed 80pc of livestock in Naubishe where agriculture is the only source of income for villagers.

“We have not been able to grow anything for the past six months as the irrigation channel to our field was destroyed by the earthquake and there are no signs of reconstruction until the next season,” says Ganga Nepali, a Naubishe farmer.

In some fields, farmers planted maize expecting rainwater would irrigate the crop but it grew feebly, as there was inadequate rainfall.

“My maize crop grew so poorly that it is good for nothing. It is another loss for me as I spent my money, time and labour to plough it,” says a gloomy farmer pointing towards his maize field.

Krishna Dhital, the district agriculture extension officer, says the local government provided rice, maize and vegetable seeds to affected farmers.

A mini-power tiller to plough land was given to those who lost cattle, while super grain bags to store seeds for the harvest were supplied to those who lost their homes.

Rishi Kant Ghimire, a programme officer of the District Development Committee in Kavrepalanchok district, says the government has announced an aid package of Nepalese Rs200,000 as compensation for those whose homes were completely destroyed by the earthquake.

“The local government has already disbursed Nepalese Rs15,000 as compensation to those whose houses were completely destroyed, while the remaining Nepalese Rs185,000 will be given to them soon after the disbursement procedure is passed by the cabinet,” he says.

Ghimire thanked Pakistan, China, India and other countries for their immediate help and support during relief activities.