Tri-Service

Former Gurkhas Fighting To Survive In Nepal

Photography by Ram Nath Ghimire Last year two massive earthquakes shook Nepal, the country that traditionally provides the British Army with...

Photography by Ram Nath Ghimire
 
Last year two massive earthquakes shook Nepal, the country that traditionally provides the British Army with its legendary Gurkha soldiers.
 
Nearly 9,000 people lost their lives in the disasters in April and May. But hundreds of thousands more were made homeless after entire villages were flattened and centuries-old buildings destroyed.
 
Now, it's estimated that around 1,140 former British Army Gurkhas and their families are facing humanitarian crises created by the earthquake.
 
The epicentre of the first earthquake, which measured 7.8 on the Richter scale, was the remote village of Barpak in Gorkha district, where almost 460 people were killed.
 
 
Barpak, known as the hometown of the late Captain Gaje Ghale, who won the Victoria Cross in the Second World War for his service in Burma, used to be a tourist destination with 1,500 houses, 24-hour electricity, internet and medical services. Now only rubble remains.
 
The earthquake completely destroyed many of the village's small houses. Many have been living in temporary makeshift shelters made from plastic sheeting and tarpaulins, with the temperature dropping into minus figures overnight.
 
When BFBS Gurkha Radio reached Barpak earlier this month, it was snowing constantly. The villages were lashed by hailstorm, rain and snow. Local residents were clearing the snow day and night without any sleep.
 
People wear all the clothes they have available and light firewood to stay warm. Veterans and their wives, many of whom are already frail and in their 70s or 80s, live in grim conditions after the earthquake. The number of ex-Gurkhas in the district is estimated to be around 160.
 
Former soldier Paltan Ghale, who served in the British Army in the 1960s and is now in his 70s, said:
"It is very frosty and cold. The snow melts and water drops inside the hut. The rainy season is going to be more difficult. Frogs, snakes and rain will come inside these tents".
His wife is more worried about her grand-daughter. Budhuni Ghale said: "It is a real problem keeping the children warm. If I try to burn firewood inside, the tent is filled with smoke. It will harm my grand-daughter".
 
But even in suffering the former Gurkhas do not forget to remember their days in the British Army. Paltan remembered the 1963 war when he got trapped in an ambush. He proudly said:
 
"I killed around nine enemies and survived. We did not have anything to eat for around three days."
 
 
The situation in the nearby village of Laprak, meanwhile, is no better. The threat of landslide triggered by the earthquake forced the locals to abandon the village and move around a mile away to the high-lying area of Gupsepakha.
 
They've erected around 650 makeshift huts that lack all basic amenities. The whole village is covered with snow. 69-year old Kanchi Gurung told how she almost lost her life after the constant snowfall ripped away her makeshift hut.
 
Kanchi Gurung
 
"These tents are useless. They cannot hold the endless snow. If other people had not arrived on time, I would have died", she said.
 
Most villagers are falling sick due to increasing cold. There is a shortage of drinking water, with tap water having dried up after the snow froze its source. Villagers have to drink frozen water and there has been no sun for days.
 
Living in flimsy tents has made life even more difficult. Most of the sick in the villages have been suffering from coughs, colds and diarrhoea. Children and the elderly have been affected the most.
 
The Nepalese government, the Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT) and several national and international organisations have all provided assistance. But more needs to be done.
 
The GWT, which supports ex Gurkha servicemen and their families, says it has many years of building work ahead to help communities affected by the earthquake.
 
John White, who is overseeing the GWT's earthquake response, said: "Building work is underway but recent fuel blockades have hampered progress." Forces TV's Carla Prater spoke to him about the challenges ahead - just click below to watch:
 
 
The Nepalese Ministry of Agriculture estimates that 48,000 families from the earthquake affected districts are in danger of hunger. Harvest is expected to decrease, adding to post-quake distress.
 
The Nepali rupee has devalued by 8% in one year and prices of goods and commodities have soared dramatically due to the blockade in the southern border. Looking at the scale of this natural disaster, it will take some time to sort things out. 
 
Prativa Raut, a representative of People in Need stationed in Laprak, said: "It was a big earthquake. The situation cannot be managed within days. It will take time.
"Other organisations are also at work. Care International, Oxfam and several others are also distributing aid. But this is a huge disaster."
But time has moved on. It's been nine months since the first tremor shook Nepal.
 
The government has been criticised heavily for not coordinating the relief and assistance properly. The National Reconstruction Authority recently launched a large campaign to rebuild earthquake-ravaged infrastructures. But the actual work is to start only after three months. 
 
So, it is likely that the victims will have to endure this whole winter mostly on their own, shivering in their temporary shelter, waiting for the sun.