Nepali Villagers Trapped Under Threat of Glacier Floods

Posted by on May 28, 2015

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One month after the first of two major earthquakes in Nepal, 38 villages, 834 households and 4600 people continue to wait for substantial relief efforts and remain uncertain about the future.

The first earthquake, which hit on April 25, severely damaged villages in Pharak, in the southern part of the Everest region in Nepal. When the second earthquake hit on May 12, what remained of villages after the first quake was destroyed.

Woman stands in front of a makeshift shelter, salvaging her belongings. She is worried about how she would be able to provide for her family now that she cannot return to her home. (Photo by Pasang and Un Sherpa)

Woman in front of a makeshift shelter, salvaging her belongings. She is worried about how she will provide for her family now that she cannot return to her home. (Photo by Pasang and Un Sherpa)

Pharak lies within Chaurikharka Village Development Committee (VDC) – the local level administrative zone – in the Solukhumbu district. So far, the government of Nepal has not listed Solukhumbu as a priority district, and major relief operations have been largely absent.

In addition to experiencing continuous tremors, villagers in Pharak are also shaken by rumors of that Imja Tsho, a glacial lake upvalley from the village, could burst and flood villages below, as it had thirty years ago.

The thought of a potentially catastrophic flood wiping out villages continues to keep villagers away from their homes and gardens where they live in tents. On May 25, a sudden concern about a glacial lake outburst flood drove hundreds of villagers to higher ground, fearing for their lives. Though Imja Tsho did not burst, there are reports that another glacial lake may have released its waters, creating high river levels downstream. According to local sources, water levels on Imja Tsho appear safe as of May 26.

Immediately after the first earthquake, I traveled to Nepal, where I joined my husband Un Sherpa, a medical volunteer, and Krishna Bhetwaal, an engineer volunteer, on a visit to Pharak to assess the community’s needs.

I am an anthropologist. I was born and raised in Kathmandu, but I often visited my mother’s home village of Jorsalle in Solukhumbu, where we would stay with her mother, who lived there. I now live in the United States, where I teach anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University.

 Dr. Krishna Bhetwaal, engineer volunteer, and I assess damage caused by a falling rock inside a home in the village of Jorsalle. After the first earthquake a giant rock rolled into this house leaving a huge hole. After the second earthquake, this house is completely damaged and uninhabitable. (Photo by Un Sherpa)

Dr. Krishna Bhetwaal, engineer volunteer, and I assess damage caused by a falling rock inside a home in the village of Jorsalle. After the first earthquake a giant rock rolled into this house leaving a huge hole. After the second earthquake, this house is completely damaged and uninhabitable. (Photo by Un Sherpa)

When I returned to Nepal after the earthquake, I visited over 200 houses in 30 villages and found that help is urgently needed.

The villages of Jorsalle, Bengkar, Gumela, Thado Koshi and Chaurikharka, to name a few, have been severely damaged with nowhere for residents to live. Families are living in crowded, cold and wet temporary tarpaulin shelters, schools are struggling to stay open, and health posts are waiting for medical supplies and staff.

To date, villagers have received tarpaulins, tents, rice, oil, salt and some cash from multiple sources. All of this, however, remains insufficient. In the region, the supplies – which have come in groups of tens or hundreds – are not enough to help the thousands in need.

Based on our assessment, there are two most vulnerable groups. The first group is the families of migrants who came to Pharak from other regions looking for better economic opportunities, and the second is the economically disadvantaged families, who did not have much to begin with even before the earthquake. Both of these groups are unseen, voiceless and without strong social networks to rely on.

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House in the village of Rangding. (Photo by Pasang and Un Sherpa)

In the absence of major relief efforts and attention to the region, community members have stepped up to volunteer and exhausted their limited financial and social capital. Neighbors are lending blankets and food, while they themselves sleep outside in cold makeshift shelters. Community members are donating their own money and putting together impromptu relief efforts to help one another.

It is clear that in order to recover from this disaster and rebuild in a sustainable way, the efforts of many will be needed.

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