It is time for Niraj Lamichhane’s new session at school, a time for horsing around in the dorm, fun-in-the-sun and rousing sing-alongs with new classmates.
Instead, the second-grader is curled up under a tattered tarpaulin, preparing to rough out the cold night on a narrow sidewalk outside what used to be his home until last week’s earthquake. The boy is grouchy from a fever and a stomach bug.
“We are getting by on little food. We are not in the camp, so we don’t get any aid,” says Prakash, the boy’s father, who ran a mobile phone repair shop in the basement of his single-storey house.
“We have given medicine to him but the temperature has not subsided.”
At least 15,000 children with acute malnutrition require therapeutic feeding. Parents sleeping outside are reporting fevers, outbreaks of diarrhoea and the risk of pneumonia, aid workers say.
“Besides, the challenge of shelter, food and sanitation, the bigger goal is to get these children to bounce back, to get them back into their routine as soon as possible,” Rupa Joshi of UNICEF, Nepal, tells Hindustan Times.
Joshi says volunteers are still collecting disaggregated data on children, so it is yet unclear how many have been orphaned or separated from their parents – a highly vulnerable group often exposed to abuse and trafficking after a disaster.
About 5,000 schools are estimated to have been completely destroyed – which is expected to have a devastating long-term impact on the lives of children.
In Gorkha alone, the epicentre of the quake, Save the Children estimated that 90% of the district's 500 schools were destroyed or badly damaged, affecting 75,000 children.
Also, setting up orphanages is almost the default response to dealing with lost children or those with dead parents, instead of using resources to develop community-based care and family support, experts say. This can prevent unnecessary separation of kids from their extended family.
With the monsoon just a month away, children will be at heightened risk of diseases like cholera and diarrhoeal infections, as well as being more vulnerable to the threat of landslides and floods.
"We have a small window of time to put in place measures that will keep earthquake-affected children safe from infectious disease outbreaks," says Rownak Khan, UNICEF Deputy Representative in Nepal.
“That’s why it’s so crucial to get essential medicine, medical equipment, tents and water supplies out to these areas now.”
(Photos by HT's Gurinder Osan, at the refugee camp in Tundikhel grounds in Kathmandu)
Full coverage: Nepal Earthquake