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The year that was

Kathmandu, April 24, 2016: It’s April again, the time when dry winds pick up and blow roofs away. As the winds twirl little circles of  dust and the sky crack-les with a flash of  lightening, the heart starts pounding. Not far away from here, someone’s home will be destroyed again.

How many times have they had to move in a year? How many times have they sat under their flimsy shelter and held on to the end of  their tarpaulin sheets, or run with buckets to catch the rain? And in this daily struggle to survive, how many times have they wished they too had died in the earthquake?

From the day the quake happened, I’ve been reporting on it for Al Jazeera English. From that moment, all the Nepali reporters I know rose to the challenge of  reporting the most momentous event in our lives–while after-shocks shook us. Disasters are times when the basic fabrics we so carefully stitch together in lives, fall apart. The memory of  the shock and the visions of  the dead, the endless broken houses and the expressions of  people have become indelible in each of  us.

I was lucky I was reporting for a big, inter-national media house. The availability of  resources makes reporting so much easier. But it is not only financial resources that count — reporting this past year has been a sharp learning curve.

Before the dust settled, #backoffIndianmed-ia became a twitter trend. Then #Fergusson happened and Nepal trended down the news schedules. The entire nation seemed to respond to both. Even during the quake, Nepalis went on to say #Blacklivesmatter. It was heartening.

The donors and their aid became a point of  contention, and contributed to unexpected con-sequences. The donor conference’s promise of  $4.1bn was followed by a massive political aftershock in the form of  the constitution, leading in turn to the protests, dozens of  deaths, and eventually the blockade. Things fell apart spectacularly. The larger story of  the quake, and the media’s responsibility of  mak-ing the government accountable–all these somehow took a backseat. A different set of  aftershocks rocked our lives, and it was per-sonal for all of  us. As a Nepali woman I was particularly disturbed not to be given equal cit-izenship rights in my country’s constitution. There were three places that one needed to be to see what Nepal was doing.

The first one was among the ever so insular Kathmandu political parties–they were busy playing their games to access the promised $4.1bn. The government promised a recon-struction authority, and eight months later it appeared. A year on, not one house has been built. At the rate this nation is progressing, one can only imagine how long it will take to build eight hundred thousand homes.

The second was the Tarai. Many in our nation’s southern plains said that the constitu-tion did not fulfill their aspirations, and pro-tests started. Protestors killed police in one corner of  the country. In another, police react-ed. 57 Nepalis lost their lives. Media presence was scant. While #blacklivesmattered, Madhesi lives did not have the same impact. When the blockade took effect, chauvinistic nationalism got a further boost. Many of  us don’t want to hear about Nepal’s problems with the exclusion of  marginalised castes and communities. As the national leaders directed their wrath towards India, the crowd followed. Politicians from the Tarai failed to be the lead-ers their followers deserve.

Going through my year’s news pieces just now, I’ve found a piece from back in July, where I warned the Terai was going to burn. In August, it did. The ashes of  those who died have dissolved but the scars will remain forever.

The third and the most important place to visit for me has been the quake districts. Every month, I’ve been going to at least one area–reporting on the lack of  food, shelter, livelihoods, the biting cold and the indescriba-ble sadness. We experienced rain in the mon-soon, hunger, and exhaustion. In winter in Laprak, we decided to stay in the cold over-night. Many people there told me–once again–that wished they had not lived. For them be left to survive with very little help, without one small place to stay warm, and one small place of  comfort, is criminal.

By now, a feeling of  hopelessness seems to hang over this country like a cloud. As Kathmandu-based journalists, we spend a long time in the city  – our own lives have hardly been affected. But every trip back to Sindhupalchowk or Gorkha, makes me realise, however swollen our egos are, life is fragile. And the events that followed have made me wonder–what momentous happening would it take for Nepal to change? How many people would have to die for the government to care? And then the question that begs an answer would be, whose death would matter?.


By Subina Shrestha, Reporter at Al Jazeera