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“The earth hasn’t stopped shaking”

Anu Shrestra (24) lives with her mother, daughter, husband and 15 other people in a tarpaulin shelter amongst potato fields in Sankhu, Nepal.
"We are really struggling living here. I don't feel safe going to the toilet at night and the children are scared when the wind blows against the tarpaulin. It's cold and when it rains it's awful. Sometimes, there's nothing to eat."
"We were working in the fields preparing to plant corn when suddenly the earth shook. We looked towards our town and saw clouds of dust rising all over. We were very scared and held each other. We huddled together, we were so scared. I feel so lucky to be alive."
The family's four story house collapsed entirely in the earthquake. The two buildings next to theirs are still partially standing but in the house opposite a mother and her two children died when it collapsed. "IâÂÂm still worried about the things buried inside my house. There are some metal water pots and legal documents about the field and house."<br style="color: rg

Aubrey Wade, photographer

“When we talk about disasters we tend to look at the big numbers: how many thousands have died or lost their homes, but we forget that behind these are people with names and faces. That’s why it was important for me to focus on individuals and to shoot how they were living now and what was left of their past houses, their past lives.

The first people I shot were Anu Shrestha and her mother [pictured, right]. Anu said to me “everybody knows what it feels like when your home suddenly vanishes”. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I didn’t think that was true. We can imagine, but few people really know.

When you are there you are forced to connect with all elements of the story, some of them desperately sad.


 

The woman walking past the rubble holding the child [first picture above] was absolutely destitute. At that point she was sleeping between two cars, her husband was absent and she was desperate. She was isolated from the community and very much alone.

I think the picture of the doorframe [second picture above] gives a sense of what was lost. How do you change a pile of rubble back into a home? The lady who lived in this house was inside when the earthquake struck and survived its collapse when it fell down. She first pulled herself free and then rescued her son, who was in hospital at the time the picture was made.

People were really afraid of the aftershocks. Many buildings that looked like they were structurally sound had become incredibly fragile, because of cracks in the walls and foundations. They could fall down at any time and that is the story now. It is currently monsoon season, but would you move your family back in?

The thing that’s been missed in mainstream coverage is the complexity of the political landscape in which this event happened. An earthquake happening in China or America occurs in a very different socio-economic context than an earthquake in Nepal.

Nepal is a post-conflict society, and one in which tensions between communities haven’t been fully resolved. This is evidenced, for example, by the failure to hold local level elections in over ten years and the failure to agree on a new constitution. Although Nepal is absolutely a safe place to visit, there remain deep political divisions within Nepali society that risk being worsened if relief efforts don’t take into account conflict dynamics, or if aid becomes politicised.

In particular, the exclusion of marginalised groups may be compounded if aid isn’t sensitive to caste, ethnicity, religion and gender or if relief efforts draw too many resources away from other marginalised areas of the country not affected by the earthquakes. On the other hand, if they take the complex dynamics of Nepal into account, the relief and recovery processes have the potential to contribute to greater social cohesion, equity and peace.

It is four months since I left Nepal, but the people I met have stayed with me, particularly Roshana and Sunil. I met them both in Sankhu, near Kathmandu, where 980 houses collapsed and almost 90 percent of buildings have been left damaged. I think what really affected me was the fact that they were both at the start of their lives.”

 

 

Roshana Manandhar, student

“The first night of the earthquake my dad, sister, brother and I were a five-hour drive from home in Pokhara on a holiday we had won. My mum couldn’t come, she was at home in Sankhu. I tried and tried to call her but the network was busy and I was so scared. Eventually I got through and found she was safe at my grandmother’s house.

When we got back to Sankhu, the place was deserted and almost all the buildings had collapsed. Before the quake, I didn’t like my house because it was made of mud and there were cracks in the walls and the floor. Now it is gone I miss it so much. Afterwards we lived in a bus in the field next to the school where my mum teaches. There were 70 people in six buses. I cried for three nights when they told me to sleep in the bus. That is where I met Aubrey and he took my photo.

Things have changed in the four months since the photo was taken, but they have not become better. It has been raining for the last month and it’s difficult to live in the fields. It is muddy, slippery and people say there are snakes. We have moved into a small shop. We are renting the room and it costs a lot of money. My mum is a teacher so we use her wages and what we make in the shop to pay the rent. When the shop is closed it becomes a bedroom for the five of us.

I am still studying, but I don’t have a quiet place where I can concentrate and I have to open the shop even during exams. I’m learning Korean, and when I graduate I am going to try to move to Korea. I can earn more money there, although I don’t know what I will do for work. Due to the high unemployment, most people go to foreign countries to find work, and this is only increasing after the earthquake. If we worked hard in our own country, we could build a better Nepal – but we leave.

Everyone in the world knew when the earthquake hit Nepal. For two months we received aid – free check-ups and medicine, free drinking water, food – but after that the world has gone back to its own business and I think it has forgotten us. The remote places need aid even more than we do. It took 20 days for some areas to receive tents after the quake. How did the people live all those days without tents and enough food?

People say it is going to happen again and those people who still have houses are not sleeping in them in case they fall down. But I don’t fear another quake. I am used to it.”

Sunil Singh, teacher

“Our house fell down in the earthquake and, like most of the people of Sankhu, we stayed outside that night. The ground shook every ten minutes. We felt it hundreds of times and each time it sent a chill down my spine. The next night we stayed out again, this time in the rain. On the third night my family and I moved into our grocery. We slept with our shutters up, in case we needed to run out.

Four months on we have moved up to the first floor above the shop. We are not sure how long it will survive: the government has talked of widening the street and our building is apparently too close to the street. We have two rooms for my parents, my brother and me. We sleep, work, cook and eat within these rooms. It is very scary when a storm blows or when it rains. Just last night we felt our house shake, this time with thunder – the earth hasn’t stopped shaking. I am engaged, but in these odd circumstances I cannot think of marrying.

People here have started going to their jobs, those who have them. The farmers have planted rice, but production will be low this season as many fields have grown tin huts instead, where families are hiding themselves. The life savings of my parents have been spent and I am struggling with my job. Even though I teach at college from six in the morning until six in the evening, my income is not enough to reconstruct my old home. There is a lot of pressure on me. My brother hasn’t got a job, I am the only person in my family earning a salary and sometimes it is too hard. Still, I am pressing on.

Tears come to my eyes every time I enter my town. The temple, homes, squares – everything has turned to rubble. The streets still have not been cleared. The water pipes are leaky, and the people struggle to find clean drinking water. I want to do something for my town; I want to rebuild it, as do my friends, but we do not have much money and we have other commitments. They say you cannot shine in the sky until you first become a lamp in your family.”


Aubrey Wade travelled to Nepal with Oxfam. You can support the charity’s Nepal Earthquake appeal at oxfam.org/en/emergencies, and find out about leaving a gift in your will to Oxfam at www.oxfam.org.uk/legacy  

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