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Nepal's earthquake: The things they carry

Survivors share the precious possessions that give them strength today.
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Apr 25, 2016
I was buried for about 30 minutes. I had so much dirt in my mouth, in my nose, I could not breathe. When I was rescued I did not think that I would survive, I could not breathe, and I could not stand.

From science textbooks and favorite dresses, to religious items, necklaces and wedding gifts, Nepal earthquake survivors supported by WaterAid share the personal possessions that mean the most to them since losing their homes, water supplies, toilets and more in the April 25, 2015 earthquake that rocked Nepal to its core.

One year on, people remain profoundly affected by their experiences and a year’s worth of relentless aftershocks. Rebuilding processes have been slow, financial resources insufficient, and living conditions difficult. Hundreds of thousands of families now live in single-room, wood and corrugated metal huts that lack the size, insulation and protection of the two- and three- story brick houses they once called home, and reliable access to water and sanitation has again become a challenge in villages that had previously enjoyed ready access to water and Open Defecation Free status.

Yet in the face of unimaginable loss and continuing hardship, ordinary people are finding strength and hope in the small things. “The Things They Carry” by WaterAid and photographer Miguel Samper, includes powerful images of the physical items that people have been grateful to recover, along with images of people’s homes—both those that were destroyed and those where they are living today.

Thirty-one year old father of two, Prakash Parajuli, lost nearly everything that day.

“My dad’s father build the old house. He grew up there. I just felt like crying. Everything was destroyed. I was thinking about how we could possibly care for the kids. For the first five to seven days, I cried. All the responsibility was on me. It was such chaos. But life could not be spent in temporary shelters. I had to do something. I could not just sit under a tent. We were afraid of disease. Everyone was going to the bathroom outside.” 

The Parajuli family was not able to recover much from the decimated ruins of their home. But they did salvage a small figurine, a statue of the Pashupatinath Temple. “It was crushed and is broken now, but I think it’s a symbol of God. I want to repair it and put a glass case over the top.”

It’s a similar story for Laxman and Hari Maya Gongaju.

They were buried beneath their five-story home in Bhaktapur and felt certain they would die that day. They now live with 60 families in the Libali Ganesh Internally Displaced Persons Camp in Bhaktapur, where access to water is a challenge and permanent solutions seem bleak. “For nearly one year now, we have gone back to the rubble of our house to search for our worshiping items. Finally, last week, while we were preparing for the New Year celebrations, we found them. We have been looking for them so many times, but they were buried in the clay. Finding them is like a small glimmer of hope.” 

The individuals featured in the “Things They Carry” series have benefitted from WaterAid’s earthquake recovery and relief efforts. During the early relief response from May-July 2015 alone, WaterAid and its local partners reached 160,000 earthquake survivors with immediate relief. One year on, WaterAid continues to work with communities in four districts of Nepal to rebuild damaged latrines, restore water tanks, taps and pipelines, identify alternative water sources and learn about the importance of handwashing and other hygiene practices critical for warding off disease.

These efforts have contributed to what may be Nepal’s greatest untold post-disaster success: the country succeed in heading off any outbreak of cholera or illnesses related to poor water, sanitation and hygiene. The fact that a major public health outbreak did not occur in these conditions is a triumph credited to fast-acting and far-reaching sanitation and hygiene awareness efforts by the government, community health workers, volunteers and organizations like WaterAid.

Find out more of WaterAid's work with Nepal >