Hike in labour wages and costs of commodities makes reconstruction costlier 

Tshering Palden

Farmers in Yangneer, the worst earthquake-hit gewog in Trashigang, continue rebuild- ing their homes in the midst of growing hurdles.

It is a busy farming season and the farmers have to split their time between farming and rebuilding homes for which they face labour and timber short- ages along with rising prices of essential commodities.

While houses that suf- fered minor damages have been repaired and restored, a majority of those that col- lapsed during the September earthquakes last year have yet to take shape.

Farmers have received the royalty free timber and the corrugated galvanised sheets (CGI) for roofing that His Majesty the King granted them as kidu during his visits in the affected areas.

His Majesty the King dur- ing the visits last year had said the royalty for timber and CGI sheets would be waived to help hasten the process of re- building homes.

However, the villagers and the gewog representatives said they could not build their homes until September this year.

“The timber had to be seasoned,” Ugyen Phuentsho from Shokang village said.

Two houses, each belong- ing to him and his wife, suf- fered major damages. While his house suffered major damages, that of his wife’s col- lapsed all together.

“I’m going to dismantle my house and build a single storied one,” the father of three said.

The earthquakes damaged more than 60 households in his tshowog, of which, three were rebuilt and one is under construction.

The villagers said hardly any labour was available for recon- struction works and the allocated timber was insufficient.

Most villagers collected their timber some time in April.

“The six standing trees the government issued are not enough,” Pema Thinley of Durung village said. “Harvesting timber at this time of the year is unfeasible, because the trees are rich with sap and prone to insect or termite infestation.”

He added that even if they felled trees, they would have to move it quickly, otherwise insects would damage them. “But labour shortage does not allow us to do that,” he said.

Of about 13 houses in Durung village, six, including five built by the office of the Gyalpoi Zimpon are complete.

Like all his neighbours, Ugyen Phuentsho said he was waiting to fetch timber some time in September, following which they would have to be dried for seasoning.

“We should be able to re- build our new homes only by end of this year or early next year,” Ugyen Phuntsho said.

There are more serious dif- ficulties for those, who are already rebuilding their homes. The wages and prices of even locally produced goods have increased.

Carpenters and masons demand Nu 250 a day for the work, a hike from Nu 160 last year. Helpers’ wages also shot upbyNu50adaythisyear.For those unable to build their own houses, farmers said, contrac- tors charged more than Nu 80,000 to Nu 200,000.

In absence of labour to help him build his own house, Karma Chedup in Shokang has asked a contractor to build his house.

“We can’t find labour even to prepare the wooden frames and gather stones, how can we manage to build a house?” he said. It has been two months since he started work on recon- struction of his house.

He has to prepare the wooden frames, collect stones and CGI sheets himself.

“Contractors only build house,”hesaid.“LookslikeI‘ve to do the interiors of the house myself.”

Farmers admitted that the cost of building a house rose by far after the earthquake.

“Labours demand beer in- stead of ara nowadays,” a farmer from Gungthung under Yangneer, Sangay said. “The traditional houses we built for Nu 100,000 then has doubled today.”

The lists of troubles go on.

The prices of locally available products like meat and dairy products have also shot up.

A kg of cheese and butter increased by Nu 30 and Nu 50 respectively this year. Beef comes for Nu 150 a kg from Nu 120 a year ago. Even egg has gone up by Nu 5 a piece.

“With such an increase in the prices of the products and wages, it has almost become impossible for us to rebuild our houses,” Ugyen Phuentsho said.

A villager in Durung said the insurance money was just enough to pay the sawing and carrying charges for timber. “We’ve only the soelra money to rebuild our homes now,” she said.

Farmers in the gewog, many of whom practise subsistence farming, fear the recent jump in fuel price might further cause the costs of products to incline.

Yangneer Gup Duptho said all damaged houses, which required minor repairs, were completed.

“More than 30 homes re-quiring total rebuilding have been completed,” he said. “Most of them had secured timber ready.”

Over 385 houses were damaged during the September 21 earthquakes last year.