Sangita Thapa survived the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook Nepal. Today, she’s on a mission to share the voices of the women who are at the heart of the devastation.
Sangita Thapa | Nepal
Under the shelter of a tin tent in Sipadol, Bhaktapur, Dibya Laxmi (25) breastfeeds her 15-day-old baby as she begins to share her story with me. She is just one of many new mothers who have been impacted by the devastating 7.8 earthquake that shook my homeland in late April.
“Since then, I stayed at my sister’s,” she continued. “Everyone was living in a tent because both my husband and mother’s houses were destroyed. Then my father and brother made this tin roofed tent to avoid the coming rain.
“Since all our things are covered in the rubble, I do not have food to eat, which is affecting my health and my baby. I eat chiura (beaten rice), or whatever is available, and now my milk is not sufficient for baby. Neither my baby nor I have been able to sleep here. How am I to take care of her? Without a home, I do not know how I am going to make it.”
Across 39 districts, at least 8 million people have been affected by the biggest earthquake to hit Nepal in 80 years. The quake injured more than 16,000 and killed 7,652 people (1,209 in Kathmandu alone) as of May 8, though that number is expected to rise as the rubble is cleared and rescue work extends to remote areas. A total of 279,234 houses have been completely destroyed, according to the Home Ministry.
As I talk with Dibya, I realize what the numbers confirm: Women and children in quake-affected areas have been hit hardest. UNICEF recently announced that 1 million children are in need, and, according to UNFPA 126,000 pregnant women and girls have been affected.
I walked to Bhaktapur, a severely affected district, to inspect the situation of quake survivors. Women and their families, now homeless, are taking refuge in tents and camps set up by WOREC, an NGO working for women, the Red Cross, and local youth clubs. I saw more lactating mothers living in unhygienic conditions. They cradled their babies—some as young as 16 days old—in their arms.
I spoke with Binita Silakar (26), a mother of a 5-month-old child. The baby appeared fine except for her tears—which may have been dueto the sun reflecting off the tin roof, making for intensely hot conditions.
“It is not easy to live here with a small baby,” Binita said.“We lost clothes and other essential things in the earthquake. These tents will be of no use soon when it starts raining. I do not know how we will face those days.”
Women are giving birth in appalling conditions due to a lack of basic reproductive and maternal health services. I heard the story of Bharati Gurung, a 19-year-old woman from Dudhpokhari, Lamjung. After being carried to the nearest health post, which was devastated by the earthquake, health post workers helped her to deliver her baby. She lied over a plastic sheet on the cold ground of a school and gave birth after seven hours of delivery pain.
Back in Bhaktapur, I am reminded that it is not just pregnant women and mothers, but all women and girls, who are suffering. A teenage girl in camp shared that she was particularly concerned about her period and related hygiene due to the lack of water.
I spoke to Bishnumaya, a 76-year-old woman, who lamented, “At this age of my life, I am more frustrated than ever to see my house turn into debris in front of my eyes. My house is destroyed; my family dispersed. How many days will this tent shelter my family and me? How much food will be provided? I have no idea how we are going to make another house.”
Already, I’ve heard reports of rape and assault. It is known that following natural disasters the risk of gender-based violence increases. During the terror of the earthquake, a woman in Kathmandu was raped on a bus on Monday. I heard murmurings of two cases of sexual violence in the camps, though these were not reported to officials.
Efforts must prioritize women like Dibya, Bina, Krishnamaya, and the teen girls I met. They are at the heart of the devastation and must be given special care and attention.
The Department of Women and Children under the Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare have been striving to bring together development agencies like the UN, local NGOs, and private institutions to determine how best to reach survivor women and children and facilitate long-term, lasting relief services.
Still, the government has been heavily criticized for its slow response. And while the international community has provided hefty relief materials, they are not reaching the neediest in the most remote areas of rural Nepal.
It is important that relief materials include sanitary pads, baby food, nutritional food for mothers, warm clothes, shoes/slippers, along with other relief materials. Many rural women may not be aware of using sanitary pads, hence cotton clothes can be sent for immediate relief in rural parts.
With the devastation of its ancient temples and Devals, cultural heritage, and the deaths of thousands of men and women, my homeland is suffering in pain like never before. As I mourn the deaths of those valued lives and pray for their departed souls, I humbly urge all of you to come in solidarity to support my country and help those still alive.
Let’s join hands to rebuild my beautiful land and make the dreams of these homeless women come true. Let’s take steps together to bring back the smiles of these survivor women. Let’s hear their voices. Let’s help them overcome suffering. Let’s raise hope.
Dive Deeper: You can connect directly with Sangita Thapa on World Pulse. If you are interested in donating to relief efforts in Nepal, you can visit World Pulse's Resource Exchange, where several World Pulse members, including Sangita, have shared opportunities to contribute.
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