By Patrick Fuller
Red Cross National Societies from three countries have joined emergency relief efforts to bring aid and medical care to the survivors of the deadly earthquake that struck the Himalayan region bordering north India and Nepal on 18 September. The earthquake which struck at 6.10 pm Indian time, measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and was felt 800 kms away in the Indian capital, New Delhi. 100 people are known to have died but the death toll is expected to rise as rescue workers move into areas that have yet to be reached.
Teams from the Red Cross Societies of Nepal, India and China have been mobilised and some are working on the ground, providing emergency relief and medical support to survivors in their respective countries. The epicentre of the earthquake was 64km north-west of Gangtok, capital of Sikkim but widespread damage has been reported across the borders with Tibet, Nepal, China and Bhutan.
John Roche, head of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) India office said the location was one of the biggest challenges. “This is an extremely remote and mountainous area,” he said. “Getting a clear picture of the scale of the disaster isn’t easy. We’ve had heavy rains in Sikkim and a lot of landslides which have blocked roads. It’s going to take a few days for rescue teams to reach some of the communities that are still cut off.”
In Sikkim, army personnel have battled torrential rain, mist and landslides to reach isolated villages. So far, it has been estimated that 15,000 houses were razed to the ground and more than 100,000 partially damaged. An Indian Red Cross disaster response team has reached Gangtok and there are plans to help up to 5,000 people with emergency items such as tarpaulins, blankets, and shelter kits. The team will also help provide first-aid services to the injured.
A national disaster water and sanitation response team is also en route to the area and planning is underway to airlift relief supplies in the coming days
Current reports from Nepal Red Cross Society district chapters reveal that over 12,000 people have been affected across 17 districts. The earthquake caused structural damage to nearly 2,000 houses and more than 7,000 people have been displaced. Many remain fearful about returning due to the aftershocks that have been jolting the region. 172,417 Swiss francs have been allocated from the IFRC’s Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the National Society assisting some 9,000 people. Relief materials including blankets, tarpaulins, cooking sets, water buckets, and clothing were dispatched to Illam, Pancthar and Taplejung and Red Cross disaster response teams on the ground have been involved in search, rescue and first aid.
The earthquake also affected 13 counties in Tibet where 1,000 houses are reported to have collapsed. The Red Cross Society of China National headquarters allocated RMB 200,000 (CHF 28,037) to the Tibet Red Cross Branch for the purchase of essential materials urgently needed by survivors. Teams from the Tibet Red Cross branch have already distributed quilts, clothing and tents to survivors in Yadong county, the area in Tibet worst hit by the quake.
The Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan didn’t escape the earthquake unscathed. According to a report from the Bhutan Department of Disaster Management, about 4,000 houses were damaged and assessment teams are attempting to reach remote and scattered villages. The IFRC’s regional office is in close contact with the Department of Disaster Management and will continue to monitor outstanding needs of the affected population as the situation unfolds.
“This is a critical time,” said John Roche, “Search and rescue remains the priority but we also need to get medical treatment and supplies in to people who have been left homeless and in a state of shock.”