Nepali Times

Same old story

Tuesday, August 4th, 2015
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The deadly Jure landslide last year presaged the earthquake as well as delayed rehabilitation

BINITA DAHAL in SINDHUPALCHOK

Exactly one year ago this week the entire side of a mountain broke off near the village of Jure taking down dozens of houses, wiping out an entire section of the Arniko Highway and blocking the Bhote Kosi River.

More than 150 people were killed, 80 families were made homeless, and there were mass evacuations downstream since it was feared that the 3 km long impounded lake on the river would burst. The vital highway for China trade was finally reopened, and the river found its own way around the debris.

As it turned out, the Jure landslide almost became a rehearsal for an even bigger disaster that was to hit Sindhupalchok nine months later. There are signs that the delays in compensation and resettlement of survivors of the landslide will be repeated on a much wider scale with rehabilitation after the earthquake.

Temporary shelters for earthquake survivors at Sindhupalchok.

Temporary shelters for earthquake survivors at Sindhupalchok.

“We were living in a shelter in Lamosangu after the landslide, but after the earthquake even that place wasn’t safe so most of us have moved to Banepa and Kathmandu,” says Krishna Lama, 30, who lost both his parents in the landslide

Help poured in from all over Nepal after the landslide, and Rs 22.3 million was collected in the Jure Landslide Relief Fund formed under the District Disaster Management Committee (DDMC) meant for the victims. That money has been frozen after the earthquake, even though Sindhupalchok CDO Bal Bhadra Giri said he has asked it to be disbursed since survivors of the landslides were also victims of the earthquake.

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“We have categorised survivors to into three groups, A, B and C and plan to distribute the funds, we are waiting for permission from Kathmandu,” Giri told us.

If families affected by the landslide haven’t got their compensation even after one year, many here affected by the earthquake wonder how much longer it will take for them to get the Rs 15,000 emergency and the Rs 200,000 housing grants from the government. In addition, families whose homes were destroyed are still living in temporary shelters after one year.

Emergency rescue and relief operations, which seemed to be reasonably effective immediately after the earthquake, are now plagued by delays, mismanagement and uneven distribution. In the absence of the Reconstruction Authority, there is confusion about rebuilding grants and relocation of vulnerable populations.

Sindhupalchok after Nepal earthquake

Til Maya Bharati, 71, has been living in a temporary shelter for the past three months.

Til Maya Bharati, 71, has been living in a temporary shelter for the past three months says her main necessity is a more permanent home for her family. She says: “How long can we live in tents?”

Her neighbour Sriram Giri has got the Rs 15,000 and other relief immediately after the earthquake, but now thinks that the money for rehabilitation and resettlement which the government promised will take years, or may never happen.

“There is just so much destruction, I think the government is overwhelmed,” Giri said, adding that there is much confusion about when and how the grants and loans for reconstruction will be distributed.

“The government and the district administration should be very clear about policy and provide guidelines on eligibility for grants, and also support earthquake resistant construction,” says local journalist, Yubaraj Puri. “It’s not just houses that need to be rebuilt, people here need livelihoods.”

Assistant CDO Bharat Gautam says it is difficult to send relief out during the monsoon, and adds that many families are waiting for the rains to be over to start rebuilding their homes. Which must be why in the district administration office one doesn’t see much of a sense of urgency to address the needs of earthquake survivors.

Gautam’s next remark says it all: “If we get instructions from Kathmandu we will start sending construction material in November after Tihar to the outlying villages.”

To be sure, there are bright spots in local government response, volunteer groups and relief agencies have filled the gaps left by the local administration. But the overall sense here in rural Sindhupalchok is of survivors learning from the Jure landslide to make do with whatever they have because they know help from the government when it does come will be too little too late.

Read also:

A flood of floodsKunda Dixit 

Rebuilding lives in Jure David Seddon

Landslide survivors struggle to survive the aftermath Naresh Newar

Photos: Sindhupalchok Gopen Rai


Mission unaccomplished

Monday, August 3rd, 2015
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gopen1

A migrant worker leaves Nepal through Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu. Photo: Gopen Rai

Dambar Krishna Shrestha in Himal Khabarpatrika, 2-8 August

Nepal’s labour recruiters went on strike last month for the right to keep on cheating poor migrant workers and make them pay for their visas and tickets. Thousands of workers waiting to board flights to Malaysia and the Gulf were held hostage until the government relented.

They agreed to lift the strike but are now using all their political connections to abort the government decision which would have required employers abroad to pay for the ticket and visas of Nepali workers.

capsuelThe agreement between labour recruiters and the government looks like a ploy. Labour Minister Tek Bahadur Gurung knows he will no longer be in government by the time the three months comes to an end, while the recruiters now have time to lobby for a rollback.

Labour recruiters started picketing the office of the Department of Foreign Employment at Tahachal, stopping pro- zero cost migration agencies from applying for labour permits. After a series of failed negotiations, they accepted the policy on 25 July for three months. But they compelled the government to revise the policy by forming a high-level committee.

The committee led by Labour Secretary Surya Prasad Shrestha also has representatives of labour recruiters as its members. The committee will visit Malaysia and the Gulf countries in the coming months, find out if employers are ready to provide free tickets and visas and submit a report within two months. The government will revise the policy if necessary based on the report.

Although Labour Minister Gurung is adamant he will not backtrack, there are fears that he will be forced to do so when the Shrestha committee submits its report. Powerful manpower agencies have already convinced Prime Minister Sushil Koirala that the policy will have negative impact on migrant workers and the remittance-driven economy.

11822334_10153507178597500_5406964788477973865_nKoirala reportedly asked Gurung to not implement the policy, but the minister balked. Koirala then sent instructions in writing to Gurung to implement the policy only after signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with destination countries.

“On the pretext of signing MoU with destination countries, a pro-poor policy is being aborted,” migration expert Ganesh Gurung told us. Labour recruiters appear determined to force Gurung to withdraw the policy because it will prevent them from squeezing outbound migrant workers.

Even before the zero-cost policy was announced, nearly 45 per cent of employers in Malaysia and the Gulf used to bear the cost of migrant workers’ airfare and visa fee. But Nepali labour recruiters would share this money with their counterparts abroad. Most migrant workers were overcharged Rs 200,000 for airfare, visa fee and insurance.

The zero-cost policy allows labour recruiters to charge only up to Rs 20,000 from migrant workers for their service fee, insurance, labour permit cost and contribution to their welfare fund.

A labour recruiter told us there is unhealthy competition among manpower agencies to grab job quotas, and some of them go to the extent of persuading Malaysian and Arab employers to give them just quotas and not bear any costs of workers.

“In such cases, they just pass on that added cost to the migrant workers,” he says. “Some Nepali labour recruiters have given cuts to Malaysian and Arab middlemen in advance to grab employment quotas. If the zero-cost policy is implemented, they will lose those cuts. That is why they are against it.”

Officials at the Department of Foreign Employment also want a cut of the money charged with every worker, and that is the reason there is reluctance in the bureaucracy with the policy.

Bal Bahadur Tamang, former Chair of the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA), says labour recruiters are not against the policy but just want time to be prepared for it. “We could have accepted the policy had the government given us just three months to prepare for it,” he says.

Labour recruiters say the zero-cost policy sounds good but accuse Minister Gurung of trying to take advantage of it since he used to run a recruitment company himself, which he has now divested to his relatives.

NAFEA’s Kumud Khanal says, “His sole purpose is to make policy that will help companies belonging to his relatives.”

According to Khanal, Gurung received 2,500 free ticket-visa job quotas and distributed them among his relatives in January 2015. In June, he received an additional 2,500 free ticket-visa quotas from a Malaysian company. Khanal alleges that a Bangladeshi agent whose company is lobbying with the Nepal government to introduce biometric system for migrant workers is providing free ticket-visa quotas to manpower companies close to Gurung.

Labour recruiters say those manpower companies that can grab free ticket-visa job quotas will benefit from the new policy, and most of these companies are indirectly owned by Gurung. It is possible that Gurung would have benefited, but there is no denying that the zero-cost policy would have ended exploitation of Nepali migrant workers.

Advocate Som Luintel, who advocates on behalf of migrant workers says: “Whatever the truth, the new policy is in favour of migrant workers but manpower agencies have the political clout to sabotage it.”

Also read:

Zero cost migration, really?, Om Astha Rai

Who is against zero cost migration, and why?, Om Astha Rai

Belabouring the obvious, Editorial

 


Building back Bungamati

Monday, August 3rd, 2015
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100 days later, historic town struggles to rebuild and  overcome a shortage of masons

Om Astha Rai

After the earthquake flattened her house in this historic town on the southern fringes of Kathmandu Valley, Sunita Shrestha looked for a mason to build a shelter. But the few bricklayers that were around were all busy with their own homes.

Increasingly desperate, the 25-year-old tailor spent the first two weeks with her family huddled under a tent by the ruins of the Machhindranath temple. Then, she made a temporary shed out of salvaged material.

“I had money, but there were no masons so I had to build the shelter by myself,” she recalled.

The ordeal made Shrestha realise that there was a shortage of skilled masons, and this could be her new career path. So, when a three-month masonry training program supported by the government and the Asian Development Bank (ADB) was offered to Bungamati residents, she applied without thinking twice and was delighted to be among the 20 people selected.

Sunita Shrestha at the masonry training program.

Sunita Shrestha at the masonry training program. Pics: Om Astha Rai

On completion of the training next month, she will switch to masonry from her current tailoring job. “I will first rebuild my own house,” said Shrestha. “And then I will work for money.”

The 25 April earthquake destroyed most of the houses and temples in Bungamati, one of the worst-hit towns in the Valley. Known for its wood-carvers and artisans, many families lost their homes. They will be rebuilding once the government starts distributing reconstruction grants later this year, but it would have been difficult without bricklayers.

Prem Shakya, one of Bungamati’s senior most masons, said most of the people in the village prefer to become wood carvers, sculptors or carpenters. “No one wanted to learn masonry skills before the earthquake,” he said. “But now interest in brick-laying has surged.”

Shakya is now sharing his experience of 40 years working with bricks with local youth. He teaches them to lay bricks, build pillars and construct houses. Yogendra Neupane, a 23-year-old overseer who helps him with theoretical knowledge about masonry, said: “We teach a fusion of new and traditional ways of construction.”

The earthquake has not only created job opportunities for masons but also a chance for the government to encourage construction of earthquake-resistant houses. The training, for instance, teaches people like Sunita Shrestha the techniques of reinforced masonry that can withstand shaking during an earthquake.

Masonry training program

Debendra KC, a manager at Training Centre of Nepal which is coordinating the program in Bungamati, says: “After the earthquake, people want to build houses that will not collapse in an earthquake, but we didn’t have enough masons with the  knowledge in earthquake-resistant construction.”

Masonry training program

The training mainly targets drop-outs and unemployed youth, but there also college students and masons who have learnt new techniques.

Saroj Shrestha, 23, is one of them. Having graduated from Patan College, he was about to apply for a short-term Chartered Accountant (CA) course. But when he found out that people were being trained in brick-laying he decided to enroll.

“I can resume my studies later, but the skills which I gain here can be useful to rebuild my own house,” he told us.

Kanchha Shakya, 50, has worked as a mason all his life and did it in the traditional way. After seeing the devastation caused by the earthquake, he knew instinctively that traditional brick-laying methods needed to be improved.

Shakya said: “After the earthquake, people want to make safer houses by reinforcing the walls, and I want to learn these skills. It will help me to get jobs when the real reconstruction starts.”

Read also:

As remote as Kathmandu

After the aftershocks


‘More planes this year’

Sunday, August 2nd, 2015
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R9hTfh8Nepal Airlines’ Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar on Sunday informed a parliamentary committee about his plan to purchase two new aircraft within this fiscal year.

Kansakar also said that Nepal Airlines will be adding at least one new aircraft to its fleet every year from the next fiscal.

“We cannot turn around the national flag carrier without adding more aircraft to our fleet,” he said, answering to questions by members of the Parliamentary Committee on International Relations and Labour.

Nepal Airlines has recently purchased two new Airbus 320s and imported two Chinese aircraft after a gap of 24 years.

Kansakar was summoned by the parliamentary committee to shed lights on Nepal Airlines’ management reform plans and, most importantly, reports about financial loss caused by the new Chinese aircraft.

The committee asked Kansakar to submit all documents about the Chinese aircraft within 15 days.

As per a deal between Nepal and China on 28 November 2013, two aircraft manufactured by EVIC China, MA-60 (56 seater) and Y12-E (18 seater), were recently brought to Nepal. As per the same deal, Nepal Airlines will have to bring in four more China-manufactured aircrafts on grant and loan.

Citing loss caused by the Chinese aircrafts due to high insurance cost and expensive as well as not-so-easily-available spare parts, Nepal Airlines has decided to not bring in more aircrafts unless these two problems are sorted out. A high-level committee set up by the government is currently coordinating with China to find ways to lower insurance cost and supply spare parts easily.

Nepal Airlines had insured the new Chinese aircraft only for three months, saying that the deal might be scrapped if problems about insurance and spare persist.

But last week, Nepal Airlines renewed insurance of the Chinese aircraft for one more year, hinting that the deal might not be scrapped. Kanskar told Nepali Times that insurance cost has been lowered this time around. “It would have been impossible to operate the Chinese planes without lowering the insurance cost,” he said.


Thank you Nepal

Saturday, August 1st, 2015
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e8sKxBHPeregrine Frissell

Like many international travelers, I had made my plans to come to Nepal well in advance of the quake. After 25 April I was discouraged by many people who knew of my plans.

Stuck in the pall of assumption and misinformation, they encouraged me to stay home where they presumed it was safer. They thought I was trying to be the hero, swooping in after the disaster to lend my infinite wisdom and guidance as a 20-year-old college student. Everyone claimed to know that the last thing Nepal needed was for me to go.

I wasn’t alone in that situation, and the result is too many people didn’t come. That defeatist attitude continues to sap Nepalis it is intended to protect. The economy of Nepal and the livelihoods of many individuals I’ve spoken to over the past two months rely on tourists. And those tourists are missing out on an experience of a lifetime when they cancel their plans here. Nepal doesn’t need my infinite wisdom or my guidance. It needs people to come and witness its majesty, serenity, and resolve in the face of a rebuilding process many in the West can’t even contemplate.

Everything is being rebuilt, not just buildings. Politicians are rebuilding their reputations as well as the country’s potential by working on the new constitution. Writers and journalists are rebuilding the national image. But it’s the ordinary, working citizens that present a tenacity that’s inspiring to me. The women dressed in beautiful traditional clothing and the men in flip-flops and shorts tossing bricks from a monstrous pile to the back of a waiting truck. The children helping to cook under tents in the middle of a chaotic city, or gather food in the high mountains of Rasuwa
journalism was not even a speck in the vast expanse of the mountains of Nepal.

However, if I had been able to read the words I myself have written in the last two months while here I would have been much more confident in my decision to come. That is worth a lot, and I feel proud to have been able to cover Nepal’s recovery process.

That message isn’t breaking news to anyone here, but it’s the beginning of a piece of the long-term transition back to normalcy. Nepalis are proud of their country, and as I move on in my education and career, I will never stop encouraging others to come too. And of course, the adage has proved true: visiting Nepal once is never enough.

Until next time.

Peregrine Frissell was a summer intern at Nepali Times.


Doctor defends Nirmala

Friday, July 31st, 2015
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Nirmala Thapa, a 24-year-old Nepali woman who is in a Malaysian jail on the charge of aborting a foetus, can now heave a sigh of relief.

Ng Ek Tiong, a doctor who conducted an abortion on Nirmala at his clinic in Bukit Mertajam of Malaysia, appeared in a Sessions Court on 30 July and told the judges that her lost life would have been at risk if she had continued with pregnancy.

“Do you agree that whatever procedure you did was justified and in accordance to the law and that you did it in good faith to save the life of the mother?” defense counsel E. Gnasegaran asked, to which the doctor agreed, according to the local media reports.

The doctor also told the court that Nirmala did not know her own mental and physical health conditions and it was up to him to assess and perform the required treatment.

“She came for a checkup and told me she was feeling sick and unable to work, so I did a scan and confirmed that she was six weeks pregnant,” he reportedly told the court.

Nirmala faces charges of ‘conducting an act to prevent a child from being born alive without the intention of saving her own life as the mother’ under the section 315 of the Malaysian Penal Code. She could face up to 10 years jail or a fine or both upon conviction.

She underwent abortion at Poliklinik Ng of Bukit Mertajam, Malaysia on 9 October last year. Abortion is illegal in Malaysia and can be permitted only if a registered medical practitioner concludes that continuity of pregnancy would result in risks to the mother’s life, physical and mental health.

The final verdict on Nirmala’s case is expected to be delivered within three weeks. She had gone to Malaysia as a migrant worker.


Kaski landslides kill 18

Thursday, July 30th, 2015
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At least 18 people have been killed in two separate landslides in Kaski district. The death toll could go higher as many people are still missing, according to the police.

A massive landslide triggered by Wednesday night’s rain damaged the 20,000 liters water storage tank, sweeping away a settlement of around one dozen houses in Lumle village of Kaski. According to the Kaski District Police Office, as many as 13 bodies have been recovered so far and at least 25 more people are believed to be buried under the debris.

Five people have been rescued alive from Lumle and efforts are underway to airlift them to Pokhara for emergency medical treatment. As the landslide has blocked parts of the Pokhara-Baglung road, taking the injured people to the hospital by road has been difficult.

“Helicopter has not reached Lumle so far,” an officer at the Kaski District Police Office told Nepali Times . “It is difficult to take the injured to the hospital without helicopter, the road is blocked.”

In Bhadauretamagi of Kaski, another landslide has killed four and injured 13 people. However, police say no more people are buried here.

A team of Nepal Army and Nepal police has been digging into the rubble to rescue people alive in Lumle from early Thursday morning. Search and rescue works are almost over in Bhadauretamagi.


 

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