By Patrick Fuller, IFRC
As the relief operation increases in areas of central Nepal devastated by Saturday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake, hundreds of thousands of families face the prospect of another night in the open air, fearful of returning to their homes due to aftershocks. A priority for the Nepal Red Cross Society has been to distribute emergency tarpaulins which provide basic shelter. Kathmandu is home to 2.5 million people and distributing emergency relief has its challenges.
“The difficulty we face here is that everyone is in need,” said Dev Ratna Dhakwa, Secretary General of the Nepal Red Cross Society. “Every day we have had crowds coming to office asking for tarpaulins, it’s a supply and demand problem, we simply cannot help everyone. Hopefully when the aftershocks subside many people will be able to return to their homes. We are planning the next phase of the response. Thousands of people have no homes to return to, and will need to be moved into tents.”
The scale of this disaster is still unfolding and assessing the humanitarian situation in rural areas of the 11 most severely affected districts is not easy. Of the estimated six million people affected by the earthquake, three-quarters live outside the Kathmandu Valley.
“We have a presence in every district and some pre-positioned relief stocks, but reaching these areas is extremely challenging. Some of the high altitude regions in the Himalayas close to the border area with Tibet are only accessible by helicopter,” Mr Dhakwa said.
In Sindhupalchok district, considered to be one of the worst affected areas, there are reports that thousands of homes have been destroyed. One Red Cross volunteer, Drishya Gurung, who was in a village in the district had a narrow escape when the earthquake struck. Despite being injured, she managed to reach safety and later sent a Facebook message: ‘I know that many rescue teams have been mobilized but I haven’t heard of any team reaching Sindhupalchok. The village I was in is totally destroyed; people are in dire need of help.’
Due to Nepal’s mountainous terrain and poor road infrastructure, reaching affected villages often means using Sherpa’s to carry the materials on foot up narrow mountain paths.
In Kathmandu itself, everyday life for residents isn’t easy. While much of the city remains undamaged, everyone is feeling the effects of the earthquake. Many shops remain closed and supplies of dried food staples such as rice are running low. Moreover, water supply is erratic and there is no electricity in many areas.
Bijay Dahal, a staff member of the Red Cross, is struggling to cope with the demands of his day job while also looking after his father and disabled son. “The water tank in our house is empty and our food supplies are running out,” he said. “My son is distressed at having to sleep outdoors in the cold every night under plastic sheeting. We can’t take much more of this but everyone’s in the same situation.”