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Nation remembers quake victims

Kathmandu, April 25, 2016: The country marked the first anniversary of the devastating Gorkha earthquake by remembering thousands of people who lost their lives and symbolically inaugurating the reconstruction of several damaged structures. The biggest quake in eight decades left nearly 9,000 people dead, more than 22,000 injured and three quarters of a million families homeless last year.

As anger boils over the government’s slow pace of reconstruction, a group of youth activists demonstrated at the southern gate of Singha Durbar in Kathmandu demanding accountability from the National Reconstruction Authority. Out of the 770,000 families rendered homeless, only 700 have received the first instalment of the Rs200,000 cash grant for building houses.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli attended a wreath-laying ceremony at Sundhara where the iconic Dharahara tower stood before the magnitude 7.8 earthquake reduced it to rubble on April 25, 2015.

In Barpak of Gorkha district, the epicentre of the earthquake, President Bidhya Devi Bhandari laid the first stone for rebuilding the house of Gopal BK. She also laid the foundation stone for an earthquake memorial park in Barkpak and inaugurated the construction of a memorial in the same VDC.

More than 800,000 houses were destroyed, mostly in the Hills, due to the tremors.
Around 500 demonstrators—quake survivors who arrived from 11 worst-affected districts—tried to enter the government’s main administrative centre in the Capital insisting that they wanted to put their demands before the authority.

A banner with the names of all the 8,856 killed in the disaster was displayed at Bhugol Park in New Road after a candlelight vigil. Other neighbourhoods and communities across the country observed silence and took out rallies to mourn the dead and press the government to provide aid to the survivors without further delay. Speaking live on television on Saturday, PM Oli pledged that the government would distribute the promised Rs200,000 rebuilding aid to homeless families before monsoon. “The government is developing joint settlements as soon as possible,” he said.

Of the 602,000 destroyed houses and 185,000 damaged ones in the country, less than five percent of the displaced families have rebuilt their homes while the rest are still living in makeshift tents of tarpaulin, zinc sheets and bamboo.

One year on, survivors are forced to live out in the open, said Mingmar Tamang, the protest coordinator who came to Kathmandu from Sindhupalchok.

“How long do we have to wait?” he expressed his frustration. After observing a minute’s silence and remembering the dead, the PM laid a wreath on Sunday morning at the bottom of the Dharahara, the only part that remains of the nine-storey tower which stood majestically in Kathmandu’s skyline. Around 180 people were crushed dead there.

At Basantapur Durbar Square, people reorganised a blood-donation programme, as on the day last year when the earthquake struck. A memorial ceremony was held for the ten people who were killed while donating blood. Elsewhere in the country, people marked the day by attending silent rallies and distributing relief materials.