CHAUTARA, Nepal—Cries of anger rose above the din of military helicopters and wails of the injured, as men banged their fists on the metal gate outside the town’s government offices. But it was fruitless: Local officials had fled the building shortly after Nepal’s earthquake, leaving the windows open and a truck—its windshield smashed by the crowd, creating a spiderweb-shaped crack in the glass—parked outside.
“No one from the government has come to speak to us, they’ve just left us,” said 52-year-old Netra Kc. In a soiled green T-shirt and jeans, he swayed back and forth with the seething crowd. “We will protest until they help us,” he pledged.
The town of Chautara is green and lush, connected by winding dirt paths that decorate a cliffside with a magnificent view of the Himalayan foothills. Much of Chautara was flattened in Nepal’s April 25 quake, which has killed at least 6,200 people.
Six days on, and international relief operations are only now reaching rural areas; the sole road going north from Kathmandu to Tibet, on which Chautara is located, has been repeatedly blocked by large crowds accusing the government of stealing tents and blankets provided by aid agencies and destined for those who have lost their homes. The Nepali prime minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, set up explicitly for the earthquake, reported on Friday that it had raised $1.5 million but only distributed 1 percent of that money so far (the United Nations, by contrast, has allocated $15 million in emergency funding). The authorities have also promised $1,000 to each family that lost someone in the disaster, over a third more than the average Nepali’s annual income. “The government is trying its best, but it’s not enough, not nearly enough,” Basant Maharjan, chief of community health development at the NGO Phect, told me. Foreign aid agencies have complained of severe delays in getting their cargo planes into the country’s sole and tiny international airport. Nepal’s communication minister, for his part, has admitted that there “have been some weaknesses” in the government’s relief effort.