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The Double Trouble: From Disaster to Disability in Nepal

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By Neha Basnet

The Nepal Earthquake of 25 April, 2015 with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale, followed by another strong one, not only damaged peoples’ lives and livelihood, it also brought them long-term disability.

Thirty-seven-year-old Jamuna Gautam, from Bandegaon Sindhupalchowk 8, was living an ordinary life just like other housewives in the village. She worked on their fields, looked after the cattle, and took care of the children. During a conversation, she told me, “I was working inside my house when suddenly it started to shake. I grabbed my younger son and ran. However, while just coming out of the house, the whole house collapsed on us. My husband was out working in the field and my two elder sons were also out with friends. I was brought down from Bandegaon to Bansbari on a stretcher. Then from Bansbari to Kathmandu in a bus.”

“I had no idea what to do at that time. I thought I have lost both of them; my wife and my son Nabin,” says Bharat Gautam, Jamuna’s husband. He continued, “I got some help from the villagers who were equally traumatized and devastated at that time. I had to bring them both to Kathmandu. There was no way I could let them go just like that from my life.”

Jamuna’s journey from her village to Kathmandu’s Nepal Orthopedic Hospital was not easy. Her husband Bharat recalls, “I had to run from Taxi to Taxi to request for help. The Taxi drivers were asking for so much money to drop us at the Nepal Orthopedic Hospital, Jorpati, that it made me completely helpless. It actually made me frustrated. I did not have enough money to pay them. I then asked few people on the road to help us with the money so that I could take my wife and son to the hospital. People helped and I could finally take them to the hospital.”

The story doesn’t end for Jamuna and Bharat here. Jamuna did get better treatment at the Nepal Orthopedic Hospital. However, Jamuna’s lower body from the hip-joint didn’t respond. The doctors at the hospital said she needed a plaster of iron rods to fix the fractures. She won’t be able to walk again.

“I was in shock. I could not believe what I heard. But I had to be strong for her and for my children,” says Bharat with tearful eyes.

“Why did this happen to me? The pain of losing our shelter is already too much for us and this (long-term disability) is not fair…,” Jamuna stopped talking and started crying.

We take certain aspects of our life as granted, such as taking our own life decisions, managing our personal care, choosing where to go for a walk. However, people with long-term disability are deprived of these freedoms. Considering that many people with disabilities in Nepal, like Jamuna and children, are treated inhumanely, and are isolated and forgotten, one wonders how the Government of Nepal and the organizations are going to help people who became disabled after the quake.

Although there are centers for persons with disabilities in the country, we have been witnessing abuses against the disabled people inside their own house as well as in the public places. Apart from abuse, institutionalization seriously deters people from participating in society and deprives them of the rights proclaimed in article 19 of the UN Conventions on Rights of People with Disabilities (UNCRPD), the international human rights treaty ratified by Nepal.

The most important change that UNCRPD is supposed to bring is a shift of perspective towards persons with disabilities: from seeing them as society’s burden to considering them as valuable resources.

Although the Government of Nepal, the Disability Center Nepal and the Handicap International have incorporated principles of UNCRPD in its goals, their success in implementation has varied greatly across Nepal.

For both the government and the non-governmental organizations, the first priority should be to find a way to rehabilitate the injured with the disabled friendly temporary shelters. Then, they should support them in getting back to their normal life, create conditions so they can live independently, and provide them access to trauma relief centers at the same time to improve their quality of life. Also the Government of Nepal should evaluate and redesign their employment policies in order to reassure active participation of persons with disabilities in society.


Neha Basnet is a graduate from the International Institute of Social Studies at Erasmus University, The Netherlands. She writes about development, child rights, and youth.

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