Old Gurkhas endure homeless winter after Nepal earthquake devastation
Entire villages in areas that traditionally provided soldiers for the renowned brigade were flattened by April’s quake and a crippling trade blockade has since hampered efforts to rebuild.
More than a thousand British Army Gurkha veterans and widows are enduring winter in tents and makeshift shelters eight months after their homes were destroyed in Nepal‘s massive earthquake, a military charity is warning.
Entire villages in areas that traditionally provided the backbone of the renowned Gurkha brigade were flattened by April’s quake and a crippling trade blockade has since slowed efforts to rebuild.
The 7.8 magnitude earthquake and aftershocks destroyed the homes of 1,129 veterans or their widows and badly damaged the homes of another 1,000.
Veterans, many of whom are in their 80s or 90s and already frail, are now living under tarpaulins or in makeshift corrugated iron shelters as temperatures drop below freezing.
April’s earthquake was the most powerful to strike Nepal since 1934.An estimated 8,900 people were killed and over 22,000 injured. Over 600,000 homes were destroyed and three million were displaced.
Eight months on, a blockade along the southern border by Indian-backed ethnic groups who are protesting a new constitution has stopped fuel and building supplies entering the country. Prices have soared and reconstruction has been hampered.
Lt Col Steve Whitlock, Nepal field director for the Gurkha Welfare Trust, said: “I went up to the very north of Gorkha and there wasn’t a permanent house standing in the entire village. When you are looking down the valleys you can only see bright corrugated iron of new shelters.
“In the evening it dips below freezing and some of the high areas will end up with snow.”
The charity gives pensions to more than 6,000 former Gurkhas or widows and medical care to 25,000. It had hoped to begin an extensive rebuilding programme in October, but the blockade which began a month earlier has slowed efforts. Diesel, cement and timber have become scarce and their prices have soared. There are also widespread shortages of medicine and cooking gas.
He said: “Unfortunately, for as long as the border blockade remains unresolved, we will suffer a significant impact on the rate of our reconstruction work.”
An emergency appeal by the trust has raised £4 million since the earthquake, but the soaring cost of building materials is rapidly consuming the funds.
Dharamsing Tamang, an 80-year-old former rifleman who fought in Malaya and Borneo, lost his rented home and was forced to live under plastic sheeting next to a pigsty after the earthquake.
He said: “We heard a big noise and everything was shaking. We grabbed at the pillars in our room and ran outside but the building stayed standing. We were scared so we slept in the local monastery for a week after that. When we returned, it was during the second earthquake on 12 May that I fell and cut my head while leaving the collapsing room.”
The trust treated his injuries, but his home was destroyed. He said: “We had to sleep under plastic, next to a pigsty. It was a very hard time.”
Shersing Gurung, a 97-year-old veteran, has been forced to take refuge in a cattle shed after his house collapsed. He said: “When the earthquake struck, I was sleeping in the courtyard. I felt the ground shaking and heard walls collapsing but couldn’t find the strength to move. Luckily my daughter dragged me to safety.”