Nepal marks one year since quake as frustration mounts
KATHMANDU - Agence France-Presse
Nepalese people attend a prayer meeting in memory of people who died in last year's earthquake at the Kasthamandap Hindu temple in Kathmandu, Nepal, Sunday, April 24, 2016 - AP photoNepal held memorial services on April 24 for the thousands killed in a massive earthquake one year ago, as victims still huddled in tents across the country accused the government of failing them.
Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli laid flowers at a destroyed 19th-century tower in Kathmandu, where hundreds gathered to remember the devastating quake that ripped through the impoverished Himalayan nation.
Buddhist monks in maroon robes also held prayers at the site of a popular temple destroyed in the 7.8-magnitude quake that killed nearly 9,000 people.
Some four million survivors are still living in temporary shelters one year on, according to aid agencies, with frustration against the government mounting.
Around 100 protesters -- including victims of the disaster -- marched towards government offices in the capital, demanding faster reconstruction efforts.
Chhuldim Samden, a 21-year-old student, said she was fed up with waiting for help as she and her family struggle to survive in a shack in the capital.
"Even after one year, so many people are staying in tents, we are still living in a shack," Samden told AFP as she took part in the protest.
"Where did all the donations go?"
Fears of quake-triggered landslides forced Samden, her parents and 17 other families from her village in the devastated Sindhupalchowk district to walk for two days until they eventually found shelter in Kathmandu.
Although international donors pledged $4.1 billion to aid Nepal's recovery, political wrangling over control of the funds and delays in setting up the National Reconstruction Authority mean most victims have received nothing beyond an initial small payout.
Following a storm of criticism, the government has vowed to kickstart reconstruction of schools and hospitals, and speed up distribution of the first $500 instalment of a $2,000 payout promised to homeless survivors.
Trekking guide Govinda Timilsina told AFP his life has been on hold since losing his house. He has been unable to rebuild his home himself because of the government's complex rules for qualifying for quake aid.
"The government rules were so confusing, we were scared we would not get compensation if we started work on our own," said Timilsina.
Apart from the damage to hundreds of thousands of homes nationwide, the disaster reduced more than a hundred monuments to rubble and damaged another 560 structures, including many centuries-old temples and stunning royal palaces, in the Kathmandu valley that used to attract visitors from around the world.
In the historic town of Bhaktapur, many of the traditional brick houses that made it famous have been replaced by grey tents and rusty tin shacks where women like Laxmi Nyapit are now forced to raise their children.
"Unless we get help, I don't know how we will ever live in a house again," the mother-of-three told AFP while sitting in her tent, which houses a bed and a stove.
Nyapit, who has received just $150 from the government, said commemorations -- including candlelight vigils planned for later April 24 -- meant little.
"They have to remember those who died, but first they have to remember us survivors and come here to help us," said the 40-year-old, who earns 35 rupees (32 US cents) a day from knitting gloves.
"If our government cared, we would not be living like this after a year."
The disaster struck on April 25 but commemorations were being held on April 24 -- the quake anniversary according to the Nepali calendar.
It wrecked infrastructure across the hardest-hit regions of Nepal, damaging more than 1,200 health centres and severing a lifeline for remote, rural communities.
Nearly 8,000 schools were destroyed or left unsafe, leaving almost one million children without classrooms.
Tired of waiting, some 110,000 families have moved back into homes that are still at risk of collapse. More than 31,000 victims have also rebuilt their own houses, taking out loans or turning to charities for help.
On top of the financial losses, pegged at $7 billion, the disaster also delivered a severe blow to Nepal's already weak economy.
Growth is now expected to reach just 1.5 percent over the financial year ending in July 2016 -- the lowest level since 2007 -- according to the Asian Development Bank.