Lil Bahadur Ohja stands open armed, the look of resignation clear all over his face.
“What else can we do?” The 58-year-old former government employee and driver says to us. “We are not expecting money. We know the money is there, and we want it badly, but we know the government will never give us the money.”
His house in the village of Ajingare was badly damaged by the earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25, killing more than 9,000 people and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless. He received 22,000 rupees (approximately $205) despite the flood of money donated by individuals and governments around the globe.
By May, the UK’s DEC Nepal Earthquake Appeal had raised £50 million ($75 million), in addition to the £33 million ($50 million) committed by the UK government.
The Wall Street Journal reported in June that governments across the world have pledged billions of dollars in aid and grants, with India ($2 billion), China ($760 million), Japan ($260 million), the US ($130 million) and the EU ($112 million) leading the way. In addition, the ADB and World Bank have promised a combined $1.1 billion in low-interest loans.
Yet six months on, the only signs of aid reaching the ten villages we visited in the Kathmandu Valley are sacks carrying the logos of Oxfam, Save the Children and other aid organisations brought in emergency provisions of rice shortly after the earthquake struck, and corrugated iron shelters that are now used to store food.
Many of these villages resemble war zones, with rubble piled up on either side of roads, vegetables growing where homes once stood, and those still standing patched up with tarpaulin. People still live in temporary accommodation as if in a mini-refugee camp.
In May, the Nepalese government promised loans of up to 2.5 million rupees (around $24,000) for earthquake victims in the Kathmandu Valley at 2 percent interest, although later this was rejected by private banks, and a revised figure of 4 percent was mooted. However, the loans have yet to materialise.
In nearby Hattigauda, Dipkumari Shrestha, 51, stands amid a heap of rubble. Six months earlier these stones formed the two-storey house in which she lived. She was visiting the local market in Trishuli when disaster struck. She fainted when she saw what had become of her home. Tragically, she soon discovered that her mother and six other members of her extended family had died in the earthquake.
“I wish I had my parents so they could look after me. I feel alone,” she says, tears welling in her eyes. Her father had died some time before, leaving her as the head of the family.
She received the 22,000 rupees compensation that most, but not all, households have received. This money allowed her to build a wall at the foot of the hill, which she is using as a compound. She still lives in make-shift corrugated iron accommodation that was provided to victims in the aftermath of the earthquake. “I’m waiting for a miracle,” she says.
“I was sleeping on the first floor and I had a matter of seconds to save myself,” says Shobha Dangol, a 45-year-old government official from the village of Nuwakot, which was some 30 kilometres from the epicentre of the earthquake.
“Luckily I escaped. I carried my 93-year-old mother out and hid behind the house,” she adds. “I felt like everything was falling apart, dust was everywhere in the air, houses were falling down and the earth was moving.”
Like Dipkumari, she received 20,000 rupees compensation. It cost more than that – 25,000 rupees ($240) – just to clear away the debris, and a further 46,000 rupees ($440) to build the temporary accommodation, reusing the old timber wherever she could, where she lives with her mother and ten other family members, providing for them from her monthly salary of 12,000 rupees ($115).
“Before we built this accommodation, the entire village was living in one tent,” she explains. “When a strong wind came, we were all holding the tent and trying to stop it from flying away.”
Nildevi Thapliya, 71, claims that many people in Nuwakot have yet to receive any money. She had three houses, all destroyed by the earthquake. Her compensation was 15,000 rupees, which disappeared in clearing the debris of her former homes. Now she lives in a temporary house on the outskirts of the village, living off the rice she had stored and the vegetables she grows on her land.
“I can’t even cry. I have nobody to stay with and I can’t die either. My tears are finished,” she says. “I want my story to be listened to, but there are lots of stories like mine, so that nobody can hear all our stories.”
The earthquake did not discriminate between old and young. Ranjita Tamang, 18, was six-months pregnant at the time the earthquake struck her village of Kallabari. “I was cooking and the stones started to fall, and luckily I escaped,” she says, sitting with her three-month-old baby, Hero, in her arms.
As if losing her home, were not enough, her fellow villagers forgot to register her name when they submitted the compensation form. So she did not qualify for the 15,000 rupees compensation provided by the state, only receiving 7,000 rupees from the municipality.
“I don’t know where to claim the money,” she says. Now, she relies upon the casual farm labour her husband can find to feed her young family. “It’s pretty hard to get work in the village,” she explains. Even then he only gets 400 rupees – just less than $4 – per day.
Like many in the village of Purano Pani, Bhadra Singh Tamang, 33, lost his home in the earthquake, and moved to temporary accommodation, where he and his family now live. But unlike the others he was not prepared to hang around endlessly for a miracle to appear.
“I waited a long time for the aid to come from the government but I gave up,” he says.
Borrowing 150,000 rupees ($1,400) from a private financial company in Trishuli at 17.5 percent interest per annum, he raised the money to build a new house. “I just wanted to build a house that can withstand an earthquake,” he says. It’s also cheap. Bhadra estimates the six-room, single storey house will cost 400,000 ($3,800) when labour is taken into consideration.
“I tried to convince other villagers and they all said, ‘You try first and we will watch the outcome’,” he says.
Back in the village of Ajingare, we are joined by a group of farmers and Lil Bahadur Ohja’s daughter, Sharmila, aged 18. “What of the future?” I ask them.
“Future?” Sharmila laughs. “The future is nothing. The future is farming. Before everything was perfect. Now we have to begin again from zero.”
Mark Bibby Jackson, Nathan Horton and Jeetendra Thapa travelled to ten villages in the Kathmandu Valley from October 14-17, 2015.
By Mark Bibby Jackson, Photos Nathan Horton.