Kathmandu: Thousands of children in remote northwestern Nepal will spend the five-day Festival of Lights in darkness this year after a 6.4 magnitude earthquake destroyed their homes and cut power supplies, Save the Children said.
About 250,000 people—half of them children—have been affected by the earthquake and following aftershocks that struck Jajarkot and Rukum West, about 500km (310 miles) west of Kathmandu, on 3 November, according to the National Emergency Operation Centre. Over 60,000 houses have been destroyed or damaged, forcing families to sleep in tents.
For many families this will mean no celebrations to mark ‘Tihar’, the Festival of Lights. Families are struggling just to stay warm as temperatures drop, with some children using straw for warmth as there are not enough blankets and warm clothes, said Save the Children.
Rajendar, 16, is now living in a tent close to the ruins of his family home. He told Save the Children: “I lost my mother, my two brothers and my house to the earthquake. There is no festival, no lights for us. What will I do now, where will we go? We have lost everything.”
The government said 82 children—more than half of the total fatalities—were killed in the earthquake. That also caused landslides in the mountainous region, making it difficult for the much-needed aid and food to get through to the remote villages.
Rajendar’s older brother, 19-year-old Laxman, is worried about the future of his family. The earthquake shattered lives and livelihoods. He will be returning to India for work soon.
Sapana, 15, will be spending the Tihar festival in the bitter cold. The tent she shares with her family provides little warmth as temperatures continue to drop. “This Tihar, there will be no song and dance. I lost many of my friends. We don’t have clean water; people are falling sick because of the cold,” she said. “Our schools are destroyed, books buried inside the houses, and we are forced to stay in this tent. I can’t help but worry about myself and my parents.”
Save the Children, in collaboration with partners and local authorities, has so far supported more than 700 households with shelters, blankets, baby and hygiene kits and cooking utensils. The aid organization has also built temporary toilets and washing facilities for women and is working with partners to broadcast messages on how to cope with aftershocks and raising public awareness about protecting children from harm. Next steps will include providing winter tents and temporary learning centers to replace destroyed and damaged schools.
Heather Campbell, Country Director for Save the Children Nepal, said: “Children in Jajarkot and Rukum West have never experienced a disaster on this scale. They have no idea what the future holds for them. They don’t know if they will have a home again or if their parents will be able to earn money to support them. This is a very worrying time for thousands of vulnerable children.”
“Sadly, disasters can lead to an increase in cases of child abuse, including violence and even trafficking. Children need our protection. They need pyschosocial support, safe spaces and places to learn to help them start the long and difficult process of rebuilding their lives,” she further said. “The dropping temperatures are increasing the risk of children contracting pneumonia. A temporary shelter is no substitute for a home. There is an acute shortage of tents, blankets and warm clothes. Our teams on the ground have seen families using straw to try to keep themselves warm.”
According to her, children are vulnerable to water borne diseases like diarrhea. “We’ve seen outbreaks of disease in Jajarkot before, so we need to urgently increase the number of toilets and washing facilities.”