Inequality in Earthquake Reconstruction: An Ethnographic Account of Peri-Urban Locality in the Northern Part of Kathmandu
This paper is based on three-month-long ethnographic research in Dharmasthali of Tarakeshwor Municipality, a peri-urban locality in the northern part of Kathmandu District one year after the 2015 earthquake. The study examined the difficulties and challenges facing the people during the rebuilding process and their interface and negotiation with the state and non-state agencies.
Immediately after the earthquake, people in the study community were forced out of their houses to temporary shelters as their houses were ravaged by the earthquake or, at least, those were not in a condition to be used without proper maintenance. The victims had built these shelters either on their own or with support from different state and non-state agencies. There had been, primarily, three types of shelters (temporary structures) built in the study community in the aftermath of the earthquake: i) Tunnel house(Golghar), out of corrugated sheets formed in inverted U shape, with the support from donors, ii) small houses built from salvaged materials derived from their destroyed houses on their own expenses, and iii) those with a little money made a temporary shelter made up of metal truss on their own expenses. People living in the former two types of shelters had to face problems like water leakages and the risk of snake bites during the monsoon and, in the summer, wind roofs of these temporary structures season and also it was too cold in winter and too hot in the summer season.
The temporary shelters built by the people revealed unequal capacity of the victims to the reconstruction and further exacerbated inequality. During the rebuilding phase, people of high-caste Newar and Brahmin/Chhetri groups who had ancestral property built new homes by selling their land. A few wealthy people with stable employment or business had earthquake insurance and had no problem building new homes.
But Dalit group without any land and people from low-income groups faced lots of financial problems, had no other option but to wait for the government fund. These poor suffered more lasting negative effects as they had lost a large percentage of material assets.
Most of these poor people currently do not have official ownership of their property, the basic condition by the NRA for the victims to receive rebuilding grants. Others with their own land, the new building codes of the municipality made rebuilding their home even more difficult. This led to many houses built without adhering to the municipal building codes in the community, potentially creating vulnerability to future earthquakes.
The study shows that it is the poorer sections of the community that bear the major impact of disasters like earthquake. Those with access to resources can construct their homes easily, but the poor face significant challenges in recovery and rebuilding. The study concludes that during disasters there is a need for government assistance to be generous and rules to be sufficiently flexible to enable the poorer victims to rebuild their homes and their lives.
Key Words: Community, Earthquake, reconstruction, Municipality, Coping strategies, victims