Ramechap district is freezing and locals are struggling to keep warm as temperatures are dropping below zero. Pisang Lama, 31, is just one of thousands living in temporary shelters completely unfit for winter. Like in most of the earthquake affected districts, also in this area south-east of Kathmandu the ruins of the old mud and stone houses have been replaced with tin shelters. There’s no insulation and no real protection from the elements. Lama explains: “The conditions are very harsh here not least in the evening. As the sun sets, the tin roof and walls start to get freezing cold, and it gets worse as due starts falling on the bed, wetting the blankets and making it impossible to sleep. My biggest concern is to protect our child who is just one year old. I keep her wrapped around my back most of the time so she doesn’t get cold, and at night we have ended up keeping wooden planks just above her bed to avoid due from falling down on her. But we can’t avoid the chilling-cold air flowing out from the tin walls.” The local principal, Ramji Shrestha, is struggling with the cold too, also at school. Many students are absent, down with the cold or flue. Ramji explains: “It was always cold in the village here due to its geographical location, but the tin roofs and walls have made the conditions worse, especially for children and old people. Tin shelters seem to be the wrong choice as they are not at all good especially for the winter season. People are using all sorts of materials like plastic, paper or wood to insulate the walls and roof – those who can afford it – but even then it’s very cold compared to the old houses.” Ramji Shrestha recently went to the hospital in Ramechap where the number of patients admitted with the common cold and fever is very high: “The hospital is getting so many patients suffering from pneumonia and other cold related illnesses that they can’t accommodate more people due to lack of beds. The situation is equally bad at the local medical store. They are receiving more patients than the medicine in stock can cover. Transportation is infrequent due to lack of petrol under India’s embargo, so fresh supplies of medicine are very limited.” What about insulating and trying to improve the tin shelters with outside support? Ramji Shrestha explains: “The government just distributed 10,000 rupees to each earthquake-victim household for winter. But this amount should have been distributed before winter started, and it’s too small for people to insulate their shelters. The relief money was donated to our government from around the world so that victims could get help in time. But the incompetence of our government is so great that they released it slowly in installments instead!”
To be sure, as winter has struck the situation is harsh in the hills and mountain communities affected by the earthquake. Tin shelters are proving completely inadequate as relief money has not been enough to insulate them. It’s enough to go to Bhakatapur to find many earthquake victims, not least children, down with cold-related conditions! Will locals receive help to better cope with this situation? Well, as far as this winter is concerned, probably only few.
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