A Kathmandu family at a tent campBy: Ashley Ann Day and Suman Parajuli, Accountability Lab Residents.

The destruction caused by the Nepal earthquakes is staggering: 8,676 dead, 21,952 injured, and almost 500,000 homes destroyed. Millions of people have been affected by these natural disasters, and the trauma is far from over. Displaced citizens living in tents and temporary shelters are facing a host of issues, including corruption and insecurity.

At the Accountability Lab, in partnership with our friends at Local Interventions Group, we’ve set up Mobile Citizen Helpdesks across the ten most-affected districts to identify these challenges and fix problems. Groups of five to seven volunteers have been working day and night – from larger towns to the most remote villages – speaking with victims, collecting information, and coordinating with the government and donors. These efforts are helping to ensure that issues are dealt with effectively and transparently.

The Nepali people have shown incredible resilience and strength in the face of this disaster, but the challenges are significant. A month out from the first earthquake, here are what citizens across the most-affected districts are telling us are their top ten problems.

  1. Shelter

There is a massive need for shelter and an insufficient supply of tents, leading to overcrowding in camps. Citizen Laxmi Narayan Khagi, a resident of the Maheshwari village of Kathmandu, describes the problem as follows: “I have two daughters above the age of 20 and one adolescent son. Another family sharing the tent has a 25-year-old man, who lost his wife in the earthquake. My daughters have problems changing their clothes, sleeping and studying.” Even in places where citizens have received tents, these tents are not designed to keep out the rain and food cannot be kept dry. This will be a huge issue with monsoon season quickly approaching.

  1. Information

In many areas, volunteers find that citizens are not receiving critical information about government decisions, relief packages, entitlements, structural reports, or support for victims. In the Salkhatol village, for example, oral communication has been prioritized due to high rates of illiteracy, but citizens still remain unaware of policies and decisions. Common communication methods – such as local FM radio – are often not utilized effectively. In Madhyapur Thimi, engineers conducted inspections but did not mark houses, leaving citizens with no knowledge of the findings.

  1. Finance

The government has offered loans to victims at 2% interest, but these loans are not accessible for many citizens who do not have anything to offer as collateral. Their homes have collapsed, and many have been living in cooperatives on communal land – land to which they have no claim. Repayment is also a great concern. Daya Laxmi Bhattacharya from Salkhatol told us that she fears living in a tent forever as she has no income or savings to repay a loan.

  1. Inequality

In some areas, relief is given on a “first come, first served” basis, without assessing people’s needs; in other places, aid is distributed based on the level of damage, going to those whose homes are rubble but not to those with homes beyond repair. Distributions are occurring along the main roads but not in more remote villages, leaving many communities overlooked and unreached. Homeowners are favored in receiving relief, while rental tenants are told that there are no provisions for them. We’ve heard reports that city-dwelling family members are returning to their original homes in the most-affected areas, claiming compensation for out-of-use damaged property and demanding their own relief packages.

  1. Safety

Citizens face many risks inside the tent camps, including disease, sexual violence, and theft. As Laxmi Narayan Khagi from Maheshwari described, “There is a high chance of transmitted disease and even sexual violence. My daughters are really afraid of anything bad happening. We asked the camp coordinator but he responded very badly.” In addition to this, citizens in Chitrapur report instances of theft, as well as issues with snakes and pests. The earthquakes have increased the likelihood of landslides, and as monsoon season approaches, people fear for their well-being in the camps.

  1. Water and Sanitation

Water supplies are contaminated, and sanitation – including the availability of common health and hygiene products – is lacking. In the Byasi village, organizations have been using privately owned machinery to purify water, but as responders begin to leave, citizens are worried that they will no longer have access to a clean supply. In Maheshwari, people report a shortage of latrines, as well as many common health and sanitation products, including soap, sanitary pads, mosquito nets, and basic medications.

  1. Healthcare

Healthcare coverage is incomplete and insufficient. In Byasi, citizens are only able to access certain forms of care. Medical workers are treating fractures and earthquake-related injuries, but are not caring for people suffering from disease. Some people are visiting hospitals and are forced to pay for treatment. In many areas, landslides have blocked the rivers, and camps are flooding as a result of the rain. This is leading to contamination and diarrheal diseases, a problem that will only worsen as the rains become heavier.

  1. Corruption

Communities report a lack of government presence and assistance, and there is strong suspicion of corruption. Households have received cremation expenses for deceased family members, but there is a delay in providing funds for rebuilding. In Chitrapur, citizens feel that officials are giving priority to their home communities and not helping other areas under their authority. In Pikhel, the municipal government turned citizens away, claiming that funds were distributed to local administration offices; however, when citizens reached their localities, they were told no funds had been disbursed. According to a municipal officer, 200,000 rupees were distributed to each local government, which indicates a clear misuse of funds.

  1. Trauma

Citizens are experiencing emotional disturbance in the wake of the earthquakes. Since the original quake of April 25th, not a day has passed without an aftershock. In Maheshwari, counseling is available through Transcultural Psychosocial Organization Nepal, but these services are not offered in all affected areas. In Dhading, there has been a reported 50% increase in alcoholism as citizens struggle to relax and to sleep – a trend that is true for both genders, though typically women are excluded from drinking. In Madhyapur Thimi, people report feeling insecure and distressed, with the ongoing aftershocks and piles of rubble serving as daily reminders of the disaster.

  1. False Promises

As hundreds of relief organizations have descended upon affected areas, some citizens are being exploited for marketing purposes. In Harisiddhi, villagers had to stand by relief materials while photographs were taken, assured that they would receive this aid. But with insufficient supplies, distributions went to those who could argue for them, while many people were photographed and left with nothing. These false commitments raise expectations and ultimately create distrust. Furthermore, these images are being used for social media and marketing without citizens’ permission.

As citizens continue to struggle with the ongoing impact of the earthquakes, the Mobile Citizen Helpdesks will be there to help them. So far, the Helpdesks have been working in 111 communities, reaching over 2,500 citizens and directly closing the loop on over 100 community or citizen problems. We are coordinating our work with the international relief effort through UN-OCHA to ensure adaptation to changing realities on the ground over time. To learn more about our efforts, and how we are working to hold responders accountable, visit quakehelpdesk.org.