A week ago I returned from Nepal and I have to say that I have not seen any great progress in the city, Durbar Square in Kathmandu as well as Bhaktapur and Patan all remain the same. Also the great stupa of Boudhanath continues with its covering of bamboo scaffolding and is only being restored with the help of many Buddhist volunteers who carry stones every day to ensure the work progresses.
One might think that international money that came to Nepal after the earthquake is being used for urgent repairs or improvements to the infrastructure for the good of the people but in all honesty I do not really see many changes in the city since the first time I was in Kathmandu 6 years ago…
Kathmandú post News: http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2016-05-19/no-pipe-dreams.html
The New York times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/01/world/asia/nepals-earthquake-recovery-remains-in-disarray-a-year-later.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0
The good news is that it seems the horrible and treacherous blockade by India has finally ended and fuel can once again get back to Nepal. The return of the fuel has also helped the tourism to begin to return, as the people breathe a collective sigh of relief they can start to raise their heads and move forward.
Specifically I’ve spent the last 15 days in Langtang. I needed to see for myself what was happening there and that all the aid they had received was being distributed and managed well. I wanted to see how they had utilised the support and what else might be needed in the near future… I also wanted to take the chance to help as much as possible with my own two hands.
Vídeo from Héctor Romero. https://vimeo.com/user2805112
The time in Langtang really paid off because I’ve got a lot of pictures, videos and interviews about what is happening there which I’ll share with you in the coming weeks. I think it’s incredible to see how in just one year everything is up and running again. They have opened paths to safely climb to Langtang, opened Tea Houses and Guest Houses all along the route where you can eat and sleep without any problems, repaired the Guest House in Kyangin Gumpa which is already offering a varied menu and a high level of comfort to their guests and in Langtang itself the first houses are starting to be rebuilt.
The first time I arrived in Langtang after the disaster and saw with my own eyes what really happened I thought that it would be impossible to do anything in that place again. Where the village was before was only a sea of stones and rubble. But as we progressed to the top of the valley where the avalanche had not directly hit we saw people working, cleaning up their land to start planting potatoes and other vegetables, collecting firewood and building walls that would stop wild boars entering to eat their crops. In other places we saw people piling wooden beams that could be reused for new construction, also piling up the stones that would be used to build their new homes and basically recycling everything else that could be used again…
For example, below you can see the old house of Pasang and her family. Her father had already started to repair the house, but between 4 of us we managed to get it ready to begin to grow potatoes the following day.
There are many villagers who have been left without family or direct help to do the kind of work mentioned above and have left their land as abandoned rubble. Relating to this issue Maria Climent, the current president of SOS Himalaya, told me that €5000 had been given to the Committee of Langtang especially to hire outside workers to help clean all areas of Upper Langtang that will eventually be used to build new homes or prepare fields to cultivate. I personally think it is a great initiative on their part and I hope that the plans will soon be implemented.
During my days in Langtang I saw helicopters from SOS Himalaya loaded with €60,000 worth of materials for Langtang, I also had the opportunity to chat and learn more about Maria Climent. Today I can safely call her a great friend and would like to say Thank you very much again to Maria, Kilian and Jordi for your great help.
Although all of the survivors convey strength and optimism it cannot not hide the fact that they still have many problems and they will need more help in the future to continue the ongoing progress. Most survivors still live in tents or temporary shelters made of stone and metal and have building materials that have been given to them stored away awaiting the opportunity to rebuild their homes. Food has been brought by helicopter from Kathmandu when they have had the opportunity, food has also been carried by porters who charge about 15 euros a day (plus meals) and can carry up to 40 kg each … There are also caravans of donkeys climbing loads every day.
All of these materials and supplies that have been received during this first year since the earthquake are thanks to the various NGOs and individuals who have generously donated what they could afford to the people of Langtang. Without them none of this would be possible.
-The main problem now in terms of reconstruction is that there are only a limited number of workers and as all of Nepal is in reconstruction the wages of these workers have also risen sharply. This mens that those who have saved money or direct assistance from a sponsor can pay for the materials that they lack, transport said items to Langtang and finally to pay workers to start rebuilding their homes. But understandably many villagers cannot afford to pay these fees and will have to wait and take turns to continue slowly rebuilding all of their houses.
Again those who already have a Guest house in Kyangin, or house in Kathmandu, or a sponsor, or saved money can start to rebuild their homes first. It seems unfair that the people in the greatest need will be at the end of the line due to a lack of resources … I’d love to see how the wealthy neighbours help others to quickly overcome these problems as in any great community. In this respect I had mixed feelings and do not understand how the foreigners can selflessly offer their help then why between themselves the same does not happen … Help only appears to be offered to immediate family and even given the current situation I have observed grudges, gossip and jealousy among some villagers. I know this happens between all humanity, but after suffering such a terrible disaster I would think that the people would put that nonsense aside and work together helping each other. But that would be a utopia I guess …
-The second problem concerning the reconstruction is that they are trying to build more resistant houses which can support tremors and small avalanches. This requires the use of foundations, metal bars and cement for the basic structure of the houses and also more cement to hold the stones.
Because of this the simplest houses can have a cost of €20,000 which includes the purchase of materials, transportation, labour, furniture, etc … Much of these costs have been raised thanks to donations and they have able to purchase most of the materials, but there is still cement and iron that is essential to begin.
The Langtang Committee in coordination with Om Nepal are building 2 demo houses (one in Mundu and the other in Upper Langtang). These are being built to show the villagers the best way to make the foundations and pillars that support the structure, how to put stones and wooden panels so you are well insulated from the cold and in general to try and create some guidelines to build houses in the correct way. The problem is that most villagers are more concerned about clearing their fields and start planting vegetables instead of learning to build their houses. This is due to a general concern about bringing food up from Kathmandu which is very expensive and the need to start growing their own food so the villagers can fend and survive for themselves.
Even though the government are offering a $2,000 incentive for people who build their homes in the correct way many still do not think about it for now…
Although the real problem is the same as in the previous case, many people already have metal plates for the roof, the wooden planks to insulate the interiors and also the stones for the walls … but only those with private capital can pay for transport to bring sacks of cement and iron for the structures. Others are waiting.
Each bag of cement costs €10 and weighs 50 kg. Every helicopter was costing about €450 (thanks to a temporary pact with the government and aid NGOs) which can carry 500 kg on each trip. If we think a basic house needs at least 100 sacks of cement this requires 10 trips at a total cost of €4,500. We then add the cost of the cement which brings us to €5,500, and this is not counting the cost of the iron and associated transportation. All of this money was coming forward thanks to donations managed by the committee, but although there is still a lot of material to be transported from Dumche the service has currently been paralyzed as one of the helicopters being used crashed in Langtang (thankfully victimless) and that has served as an excuse for the government to block the flights. Now if you want to fly they must pay the normal price of €1,200 each trip.
Many are choosing to work with the porters and donkeys but finally this comes out at almost twice the price compared with the helicopter.
Wooden beams for interior structures, floors, frames or windows can be taken from the trees that were left in the wake of the huge wave that passed down the river but for this you must pay for a permit to the government to use the wood. They ask for €100 but I am not sure how much wood the permit entitles you to use. If you are caught by the army using this wood without paying the license the penalty is disproportionately high. It seems odd that the government are demanding you to purchase a permit to use the thousands of trees that were uprooted by the avalanche and if not used will just be left where they are to rot. Once the wood has been collected the area is also left clear which will allow the planting of new trees.
In my opinion the government has not stopped to cause more difficulties instead of helping these people. They have now raised the price for tourists to access the natural park, the permits are currently €35. In the brochure it states that 30 to 50% of this money returns to the Langtang area to help the development … how can it be 30 to 50%? and what is this money actually being used for? Because from what I can see is that the only reason the roads have reopened is that the villagers themselves, with their hands have rebuilt them and now no government is helping them to rebuild their homes. From what I’ve seen there is also no management of waste, no electricity, no method to bring clean water to villages, or an accessible hospital in case of emergency. During my next visit I want to investigate a little more about the actual amount that is returned to Langtang and how it is distributed.
In conclusion is to say that all those who I asked about the best way to help them told me that the sooner tourism returns the better. With tourists the economy that is stagnant right now will be activated. Those who have Guest Houses offer accommodation, food, hot water … This causes others to sell their vegetables at a better price, those with yaks to sell their cheese, hiring workers for cooking or cleaning, those who hire guides for trips to the peaks around, porters and donkeys bringing food and gas … but more importantly all of this definitely encourages the locals return to the mountains and renew their hope that a new life after the tragedy itself is possible.
And aside from the solidarity issue, I must say that the Langtang Valley has everything a mountaineer tourist is looking for. It is a wonderful place surrounded by mountains and forests … and are now fully ready to welcome travelers back to their Guest Houses.
To bid farewell here is a beautiful message from Kilian Jornet from his Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/kilianjornet/videos/10153419650535178/