Bhaktapur, Nepal (May 1, 2015) -- Squatting on the mud by the quake-shattered chimney of the brick kiln where she works and lives, 21-year-old Samjana Pariyar cradled her one-year old, whose forehead bears a crusted wound from the bricks of the shack that collapsed in the earthquake.
During the quake, the workers at this Bhaktapur kiln were fortunate. No one was hit by the towering chimney as it split and fell, and they dug their children alive out of the piles of bricks that had been their shacks. But as a shell-shocked Kathmandu struggles with catastrophe, the kiln workers, who come here from distant mountain villages and India, are stranded and afraid. “People will die here of disease and hunger,” Pariyar told the Global Fairness Initiative team that came to Shree Sarswoti Brick Industry after the quake to assess the situation.
Two hundred brick workers have been living in the kiln since the earthquake without access to food, water and proper shelter. The team returned to feed all the workers and their children with water purifying tablets, ready-to-eat noodles, beaten rice, and dalmat, a high-protein pre-packaged lentil snack. Workers were also provided with chlorine tables to purify drinking water by GFI and first-aid supplies by Nepal GoodWeave Foundation.
Brick workers are already the poorest of the poor, living at the kilns in low shacks of piled bricks and often in debt to middlemen, which can leave them in bondage and take years to repay. GFI has been working to break the cycle of bonded labor and child labor that keeps so many workers in poverty.
All around Kathmandu, which is circled by brick kilns, the tall chimneys have fallen, their stubs still towering into the sky. The earthquake has left many kilns with so many damage that workers don’t feel safe in the firing zone. The cracked chimneys and quake-shifted walls of the firing zone pose safety hazards, and GFI has offered to make arrangements for workers to return to their homes and unite with their family members.
Photo Credit: Sally Acharya
The brick-firing team from India, fearing a possible health epidemic and scarcity of food and water, are looking to return to their villages. GFI has informed the Indian Embassy about their situation and has provided the firing team with information on how to contact the embassy.
While the impact of the earthquake was comparatively minor in the Midwestern hill region of Rolpa and Salyan, home to many of this kiln’s migrant workers, they report that their own homes in the village have suffered damage. After a year of frequent unseasonable rain that reduced brick production, capped off with the devastation of the earthquake, their earnings are unlikely to enable them to sustain their families and repay the debt to the middlemen who brought them to the kiln. One worker, Muna Pun, 21, said it may take her family as long as three years to repay the remaining debt.
As the brick season has mainly ended, molders had already returned to their villages before the earthquake. They are from the districts hardest hit by the earthquake, particularly Sindhupalchowk and Kavre, and GFI will follow up to learn their situation and the condition of their villages.
Write up by Sally Acharya in Nepal