Life after disasters

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Life after disasters

By Mari Marcel Thekaekara


A building in Chautara, after the earthquake in Nepal on 25 April. (DFID under a Creative Commons Licence)

Kathmandu: the name sounds like a perfect place, a romantic paradise. In the Sixties and Seventies, it was heaven for hippies. But before that, of course, there was Everest. The wonderful Himalayas were always there. Many serious mountaineers went there to climb. It’s now easier to get there, so more people go on Himalayan treks. But for most people in Nepal, life has always been difficult and poor. Everyone knows they are brave, hard-working and tough. We love them and think they deserve better. Nepal has had Maoist terrorism and a violent end to monarchy. These have not helped the economy.

Many young Nepali girls work as prostitutes in Bombay and Kolkata. They work to pay for a home and food for their family. These girls have a terrible life of violence and poverty. The families with a slightly better houses usually have a daughter working as a prostitute in India.

And now, after all that, the terrible earthquake. The Nepal Prime Minister thinks that 10,000 people died. No-one knows yet how many people died in the rural areas. I have written about the Orissa cyclone in 1999, the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 and the 2004 tsunami. It is always the same after disasters.

First, many people rush there – people who really want to help and other people who want to look and make videos. Some people are not sensitive. They take photos of very unhappy people. And the corrupt people take the donations that should go to helping people rebuild their lives.

In every situation, the people suffering in the disaster had dignity. In some situations, they were unbelievable. There were many emotional stories that were not in the news. In Orissa, a group of Mumbai students and some British volunteers were preparing to leave after finding out what the villages needed. They were saying goodbye, very sad, after being close to the local community for weeks. The fishing boats went out to sea for the first time after the cyclone. Orissa has always been very poor, even before the cyclone. But the fishing community made a goodbye meal for ‘their’ volunteers. They cooked all the fish they caught. Fish, crabs, shrimp and lobsters – worth a few thousand rupees. These very poor people who had lost their homes and everything they had, made a wonderful meal. ‘But you could get a lot of money for this shrimp and lobster,’ someone said. But they replied: ‘These people have shared our sorrow for weeks; they are our guests. It is right for us to feed them good food before they leave’. We were amazed.

The Gujarat earthquake victims cooked food for a group of foreign volunteers, a week after they lost everything, when they lived in simple tents. ‘Poor things, they have come so far to help us. They must be tired and hungry. So we cooked for them,’ the Kutchi villagers said.

And in Nagapattinam after the tsunami, Tamil people gave a lot of fish and prawns, a month after the disaster, to the people helping them.

There are experts already in Nepal to see what the problems are. They will need to look after the women and children. After the cyclone in Orissa, a lot of children were sold after their parents died.

After the tsunami, a survivor told me: ‘Millions of dollars came. It should have changed Nagapattinam into Dubai or Singapore if they had used the money well. Thieves took a lot of money. God can punish them.’

My heart goes out to the people of Nepal. The Japanese can probably help them most. They know all about earthquake help. People are asking for money everywhere. I hope enough money gets directly to the people so that they can finally have a better life. So I hope some good comes out of this terrible earthquake. This terrible tragedy as big as the Himalayas.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).