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'Nepali Times' Editor: After Quakes, Nepalese Surprisingly Upbeat


It's hard to go about life when you can't trust the ground beneath your feet, and that's a fact of life right now in Nepal where two large earthquakes have killed more than 8,000 people, destroyed entire villages and left millions of people without food, shelter or security. Kunda Dixit is editor of the Nepali Times, and he joins us from Kathmandu. Mr. Dixit, thanks for being with us again.


SIMON: You've had this first quake on April 25 then what's technically an aftershock - I gather it felt like an earthquake - just a few days ago, May 12. How do people go about their lives every day?

DIXIT: Well, the first one was, of course, a really bad jolt that brought down all the buildings; things were swaying. The second one for some reason was - people panicked even more because I guess the memory of the first one was so fresh. Although it didn't kill as many people, and it was technically supposed to be an aftershock of the first one, still it sent people back to the shelters. People were sleeping out in the open again. And then just as things were starting to get back to some sort of normalcy, the panic level suddenly went up again.

SIMON: Is the ground still shaking every now and then?

DIXIT: Oh, yeah, this is a roller coaster. I mean, it just - we haven't had any big aftershock today, but last night, yesterday morning - and we don't know if the aftershocks are just merging into one, you know, of the first one and the second one.

SIMON: We're talking you on Skype. Has the world media left at this point?

DIXIT: (Laughter) Yeah, most of them have left. And I think what's happening now is a lot of the emergency rescue teams that have come in from all over the world, they're also leaving as this turns from a search and rescue mission into, you know, a delivery of relief supplies. And that has meant that Nepal, as usual with every disaster around the world, you know, it sort of drops off the headlines. But the hardships, I think, are just beginning. We've been through the shaking, but now we're going to be entering very soon into the monsoon season. And with people sleeping out in the open - and more than that, it's actually going to be quite dangerous in these mountain districts because the earth and the slopes are now very unstable. And with the heavy rains, there's going to be lots and lots of landslides. So there's going to have to be a lot of relocation of villagers immediately in the coming weeks to keep people out of harm's way.

SIMON: I gather the government goes around and puts stickers on homes. There's some kind of color code according to the level of destruction.

DIXIT: Yeah, there's either red, orange or green. And actually, the sticker code, at least in the capital, saved a lot of lives in the second earthquake because the red stickered buildings didn't have anyone in them and they all came down. So this was actually a very prompt move by the government to - to do this. But, of course, we don't know what's going to happen in the coming weeks and months and years because there's tremendous challenge of reconstruction. Six hundred thousand homes were destroyed, so first you need emergency shelters for people to cope with the coming rainy season as well as the winter. And then you need more semi-permanent structures so that they can sleep out in the open. And the lesson from Haiti is that, in many cases, the emergency shelters then go on to become permanent shelters unless there is really good support from the government and from relief organizations to help with housing.

SIMON: In part, that maintains the rest of the world paying attention for the long haul.

DIXIT: Yeah, and I think that's where the challenge for us in the media lies is to keep the story alive to bring out the humanitarian side of this. Not stories of hopelessness and bereavement only, but also how we are helping ourselves. You know, the inherent self-reliance of Nepalis is coming out and the community spirit. And then, of course, the international help is extremely critical, not just in cash, but in kind, in organizational support. I think very critical in these first few weeks after the earthquakes was the logistical support provided by the militaries of the U.S., India, China and - because to reach these remote villages there's just no other way except a helicopter. But now roads are being opened again because they were blocked by landslides. So at least to some of the bigger towns you now have a way to reach your supplies. But you now have to take them from these towns to these really remote villages and it's almost - you have to go house to house in a helicopter because they're so scattered across the mountains.

SIMON: Kunda Dixit - editor of the Nepali Times - thanks so much for being with us.

DIXIT: Yeah, thank you, bye-bye. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.