“The majority still live in emergency shelters”

Two years ago, the earth shook in Nepal. Almost 9.000 people have been killed, more than 600.000 houses collapsed. Reconstruction is stalling, as David Booker, Nepal country officer for Caritas International, reports.

Interviewer: There was quite unprecedented solidarity in Nepal. Caritas International alone received more than ten million euros in donations. Nepal has 26 million inhabitants. You were there some time ago. How are the people there today?

David Booker (Nepal Country Officer at Caritas International): Things are much better today than they were a year or two ago, right after the earthquake. Unfortunately, the majority of those affected are still living in emergency or transitional shelters. These are improved corrugated iron huts. Some have also built houses, but that’s really only five or ten percent.
Interviewer: At that time, there was also emergency aid, which was highly praised. What exactly did that look like?
Booker: Caritas was one of many international relief agencies that came in the days following the earthquake. Caritas is a member of a network of national Caritas associations that work together after such major disasters. Caritas Nepal, the national association in Nepal, has done an excellent job in the first weeks. The help we gave, they organized and did the logistical planning. They have organized that blankets, tarpaulins, water and other aids could come to the affected people.

Interviewer: Now it’s been two years, now of course it’s about reconstruction. The best reconstruction is probably of little use if the houses collapse again during the next earthquake. Your organization is therefore trying to build up a more sustainable and stable structure. How does it work?

Booker: This is called the reconstruction process. After the first phase, you have to start planning for long-term aid very quickly. Reconstruction always takes a long time. The government in Nepal has already seen what happened in Haiti after the earthquake. There was little coordination. The government then launched a new reconstruction model. The families themselves decide what to do with their crumbled house. The government then provides funding. The organizations, like Caritas, are mainly there to help, with training, with technical assistance on the ground. Many peasant families are now involved as stonemasons, as bricklayers with their neighbors, and many have received technical training from Caritas or others.

Interviewer: Nepal is also a country that is not free of religious tensions. The dominant religion is Hinduism. The Christians are only a small minority. How are Christians faring there in Nepal?

Booker: Christians are a very small minority of less than two percent. It is a country with a tension that comes partly from politics. Traditional, leading parties are Hindu. At the same time, there is now a majority from communist-Maoist groups that have different religious attitudes. From the Hindu side, there are the so-called "Members of Parliament" who want to ie threats or draw hard lines. Unfortunately, there was also an attack, an arson, on a Catholic church in Kathmandu last week. Attacks like this happen all the time in Nepal, even though it is mostly a peaceful country. But the forgiveness afterwards always comes back. This is the good part of the culture in Nepal. It is usually a country where all different varieties of religions can live peacefully.

The interview was conducted by Milena Furman.

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