Slowly, Nepal picks up the pieces[ courtesy: THE TIMES OF INDIA]

by Keshav Pradhan, TNN

KATHMANDU: “One more tremor,” shrieked an officer when Singha Durbar, Nepal’s secretariat, shook on Sunday, a working day in the Himalayan nation. On Monday and early Tuesday, too, Kathmandu trembled many times, and phones rang incessantly as residents alerted their near and dear ones.

By evening, families in many localities were back on the pavements with tarpaulin or polythene sheets, mattresses and pillows. Since the earthquake of April 25, Nepal has experienced more than 140 tremors.

Deeply religious, at times bordering on superstition, Nepal is fighting hard to come to terms with the devastation.

“We must now move ahead. The first thing we must do is to help quake survivors rebuild their lives,” said former Kathmandu mayor Prem Lal Singh on Tuesday. He spends most of his time with the survivors at Gongabu, one of the worst-hit zones in the city.

Reflecting the gradual change in the mood, a local daily front-paged a poignant photograph of a woman returning to her field that was half-tilled when the quake struck. In many parts of the city, shops have begun to open. Hawkers are back in the streets. The number of taxis is rising by the day.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala too seems to have overcome his inertia that got him flak last week. He shared the sorrow of survivors in Sindhupalchowk and Gorkha districts. “My house (official residence) is also damaged,” he told villagers in Sindhupalchowk.

Many said casualties wouldn’t have been so high if people had followed building rules without mixing them with superstition.

“Many of us go to gurujis and jyotishis for consultation when we build a house. They offer their advice after checking the colour of the soil brought by their clients,” said Hem Joshi, a private firm employee. “Thirty-four years ago, my cousin saw some marks on his freshly plastered drawing room floor. He immediately went to a tantric near Patan,” he recalled.

Others like Prem Lal, who had earlier launched a campaign to make Kathmandu green, said, “We must take note that every building has its lifespan. We must identify houses that need immediate attention.”

Most structures that fell were either very old or had structural defects. “One fairly new building collapsed at Gongabu, killing 15,” said journalist Yugnath Sharma Poudel.

At Naxal, residents wanted some floors of a 10-storeyed building to be pulled down. “We won’t be able to sleep if the height of the building isn’t reduced. It swayed so much during the earthquake,” said a woman, who lives near the high rise.

Deputy PM Prakashman Singh said the government would introduce stringent building rules. “For many, this earthquake was an eye-opener,” he said. Some alleged that house owners and builders flouted building laws taking advantage of the political instability. Every one or two years, Nepal gets a new PM.

Another stupendous task is renovation of the world heritage sites. The archaeological department has begun listing the temples, palaces and heritage sites devastated by the earthquake in Kathmandu, Gorkha, Dhanusa, Dolokha and other districts.

“These sites became world famous because we had built them. Now we must rebuild them,” said Prem Lal, environment minister in the government that King Gyanendra disbanded to take charge in 2005.


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