Scope: Nepal | THE NEPAL ISSUE

Ground Reality

Zishaan Akbar Latif

On the 25th of April 2015 at 11:56 Nepal Standard Time, a massive earthquake (7.8 magnitude) struck Nepal. Subsequently nature’s fury unleashed many landslides that caused a three metre shift in the plates at key regional fault lines, and dropped the earth by 1.4 metres in other places. On 12th May, another 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit the Himalayan valley causing widespread pandemonium – the constant after shocks left people psychologically shattered, driving families into tents in parks and streets – anywhere they felt safe from the deadly collapse.

Both the earthquakes caused immense destruction with over 8,800 dead, more than 20,000 injured and almost 4, 50,000 displaced. Over 6, 00,000 houses, including many important world heritage sites and cultural relics of ancient cities like Bhaktapur and Patan, were destroyed in a matter of 2 weeks leaving Nepal shaken. I arrived in Kathmandu on April 28th. Entering the city, I was immediately struck by the smell of corpses, an overwhelming sense of grief, desperation and disturbed wailing at the Pashupathinath Temple cremation ghats where hundreds of bodies were being prepared for their last rights. The pyres had not stopped burning since the 25th. I had never witnessed a mass cremation and this harsh awakening set the tone for what was to come while I took photographs for the next 10 days in Nepal.

The only way I knew I could help was by visualising untold stories and talking about the situation through unreported aspects. I went to Nepal not knowing what I was meant to do there beyond taking photos. This situation was solved in the form of an assignment for SOS Children’s Village Int., an NGO for child rehabilitation. I was assigned to photograph and film their relief work and interventions focusing on mothers who were affected by the devastation around the Kathmandu valley. Stories of hope and courage emerged amongst this deluge of sadness that made me wonder about the Nepali psyche and their fortitude. Their silent courage came to the fore and is continuing till date as they still wait for relief and restoration.

After I was relieved of my duties for SOS Children’s Village, I went to Pokhara the very next day. Upon my arrival, I was greeted by a local photographer, Kishor K. Sharma who was assisting the great American photojournalist and war photographer, James Nachtwey, as he was covering a story for Time magazine. They were waiting to hitch a ride to Barpak in an Indian Air Force chopper – as luck would have it, I too got the opportunity to go with them to where it all began, the epicentre.

This is the first time I have covered a disaster so closely. At Barpak, I walked through an entire village perched on a hill devastated beyond recognition – the whole village was reduced to rubble. Every few meters, people were excavating valuables they could salvage from what used to be their home. To be witness to and document these moments was overwhelming – and yet, foremost was the urgency to be a responsible storyteller so people everywhere could know and see the truth, even though it was from my own perspective.

All images from the series Ground Reality, April 2015

An overview of the devastated hilly village of Barpak that was at the epicentre of the massive earthquake.

A toddler looks at the extent of destruction as the father rebuilds their home atop the devastated hilly village of Barpak.

A new car is badly destroyed under heavy rubble at Sankhu, an ancient heritage town in the Kathmandu valley.

A boy is intrigued to find an abandoned open bank locker of what remains of the Jaleshwori Savings & Credit Co-operative Bank Ltd. in Balaju in Kathmandu valley.

Villagers react to an Indian Air Force helicopter taking off after having dropped off food supplies and plastic tarps to remote villages affected by the massive earthquake in Gorkha district.

An elderly lady along with her family are airlifted by the Indian Air Force from the devastated village of Barpak for better medical care at a government hospital in Pokhara.

A South Korean rescue team member takes a breather after long spells of a meticulous ‘Drill and search’ operation for a body that was buried under thick rubble of a local restaurant in Gongabu Naya Buspark in the Kathmandu valley.

The main bus stand at Kathmandu opposite Pashupathinath temple where hundreds of residents boarded buses to cross over into India.

Local bystanders wait and watch a South Korean rescue team during a rescue operation for a body buried under thick rubble.

The Indian army provided battery operated charging stations to the villagers of Barpak as they were completely cut off from the rest of the country due to a complete blackout.

A villager from Barpak takes a breather from the chaos surrounding him and his picturesque village, Barpak.

Groom, Arun Raut and bride, Sabina Karki got married on the 8th of May 2015 in Kathmandu. Their wedding date fell exactly on the 13th day after the devastating earthquake struck Nepal.

Groom, Arun Raut and bride, Sabina Karki got married on the 8th of May 2015 in Kathmandu. Their wedding date fell exactly on the 13th day after the devastating earthquake struck Nepal.