What the media won’t tell you about the Nepal earthquakes is that you don’t see devastation everywhere you go. The reality is much harder to swallow. It’s what I came to call the ‘random’ factor during my recent visit to Kathmandu after the quakes.
Cruel and arbitrary destruction
There are of course areas which have faced complete and utter devastation. But in Kathmandu it was much more common to see a house still standing, while its neighbour was in a pile of crumbling ruins.
Earthquakes are seemingly arbitrary – where survivors legitimately have cause to ask ‘why me?’
And of course this doesn’t just extend to the buildings. The cruel and indiscriminate nature of the earthquakes takes human life in the same way.
I met a family where four young children were playing on the roof garden of their house when the earthquake struck. The tremors caused the roof to collapse, burying the children. After the most tortuous few hours imaginable, their big brother Kishan was able to pull them out of the rubble. Three of the children survived. One died.
Their parents, Lakshman and Rama take me back to their ‘home.’ It has completely collapsed – the solid roof still in a giant slab on top of the mound of bricks and dust where they used to live.
Their seven-year-old daughter Kristina is extremely reticent as we scramble across the ruins. She doesn’t want to go back. And then I realise just how frightened she is.
Living in fear
The fear remaining must be extraordinary. Kristina is too young to understand what an earthquake is, yet her recent experience of the giant quake has torn her world apart. Her clothes now are what she was wearing that day when the earthquake buried her. She is wearing borrowed shoes. There are no toys.
And with significant aftershocks a daily occurrence, the trauma isn’t over. Kristina's family have no option but to sleep in a tent. And thousands more are choosing to do that because the risk of further damage and buildings collapsing if they return to their homes is distressingly real.
Post-quake plans to rebuild
Apart from the random nature of the damage, here is another, under-reported, truth. The industrious nature of the Nepali people post-quake is extraordinary.
I ask Lakshman what he is going to do next, and he tells me ‘I’m going to build my house again, of course.’ I can’t bring myself to understand how he’s even going to start moving the giant concrete slab. He has a commitment and faith in the future which seems a far more powerful force than any earthquake.
Having faith in the future
Lakshman’s attitude is typical of everything you see in Kathmandu. Bricks are precious; lovingly saved, piled up by the roadside.
The iconic tower in the centre of Kathmandu also came down in the 1934 quake, and was rebuilt using the original bricks. The plan is to do the same again this time. It's a desperately needed symbol of hope and rebirth in this resilient city.
A friend writing to me after I returned home said: 'The human's ability to courageously stand in the face of life's various trials - to regroup... to rebuild... to remain, has always both confounded and inspired me.’
Nothing I’ve ever seen could be a truer way of describing Lakshman – and so many other brave and beautiful people of Nepal.
How you can help
ActionAid has been on the ground in Nepal since the first earthquake struck, and so far, thanks to the generosity of our supporters we've helped 80,000 people with emergency supplies like food, water and sanitary kits.
But as you can see, the need is huge. To help the Nepali people start to rebuild their lives and recover from this trauma, we need more funds. Please donate now - it takes two minutes, and you can be sure we'll put your donation to good use.
Photos: Sharron Lovell/ActionAid, Prashanth Vishwanathan/ActionAid.