In soon-to-be transit route between Nepal and China, business is boomingBusiness booms in Singati. New concrete houses are being built despite government assessment reports of increased landslide and flood risks in this idyllic hub devastated by the earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the massive landslide triggered by the powerful aftershock on May 12.
Business booms in Singati. New concrete houses are being built despite government assessment reports of increased landslide and flood risks in this idyllic hub devastated by the earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the massive landslide triggered by the powerful aftershock on May 12.
More people are pouring in to explore opportunities in this commercial centre of Gaurishankar, Kalinchok and Bigu rural municipalities in Dolakha. From masons, porters, carpenters and construction workers, traders and barbers, everyone is busy and excited about the future in the Rolwaling Valley.
“There are opportunities here,” said 30-year-old Bisham Chaudhary as he effortlessly made pillar rings on the Tamakoshi riverbank. “Everyone is building new houses here. The pay is good. Lunch is free.”
Some 40 kilometres from the district headquarters Charikot, Singati is the new transit route between Nepal and China in the making. Pickup trucks are already making several daring off-road trips, carrying everything from cement to alcohol to and from the new hydropower plants, including the 456-MW Upper Tamakoshi Hydropower Project.
“If it weren’t for the delay in disbursement of housing grants and complicated paperworks, Singati would have long risen from its rubble. There is even a boarding school now,” said Bigu Ward-4 Chairman Buktam Tamang, adding that 1,299 people are rebuilding their houses after receiving aid.
“We have received 35 applications for final inspection from people who’ve collected all three instalments of the reconstruction aid. The engineers will oversee their houses for structural analysis before we certify them,” Tamang said.
But nearly four years since the earthquake, there are some quake survivors who are yet to be enrolled in the National Reconstruction Authority housing reconstruction aid, which in fact started from Singati itself.
Singati is one of the 56 vulnerable settlements in five hill districts that needs immediate relocation. (Photo: Arpan Shrestha)
“I spent a lot of time and money moving from pillar to post for the reconstruction aid. I’ve given up now,” said 60-year-old Sangaman Tamang, who has hired two relatives to build the house of his own design.
“It’s a four-room house that cost me 7.5 lakhs. It will be completed in a fortnight but I am in huge debts. Labour charges are high. Lunch and chhyang (local alcoholic beverage) must be served. Interest rates are 25 percent. I am not sure if this will stand another earthquake but I can’t live under a tarpaulin forever.”
In August, landslides and floods, following torrential rainfall affected dozens of houses and obstructed the Lamabagar Road and the foot trails, cutting off Singati from the rest of the district.
“The guidelines haven’t been followed so risks remain. People are required to build houses 15 metres from the river and 25 metres from the road as the geological
structures are fragile,” said government engineer Suman Kumar Prabhakar, who added that there are 25 more cases similar to Sangaman Tamang’s.
“This settlement was identified as vulnerable and should have been relocated after the earthquake, but socio-economic reasons superseded the technical recommendation.”
In 2015, Singati was identified as one of the 56 vulnerable settlements in five hill districts that needed immediate relocation. A pilot geological study had also recommended retaining walls to mitigate damages.
“The hill has been trimmed for now as it was posing great risks, but geologists can tell more,” said chief district engineer Nirmal Darshan Acharya.
(This report was produced after a field trip to Singati organised by the National Reconstruction Authority with support from National Democratic Institute for International Affairs and the USAID.)