By Rosemarie North, IFRC
Six months after two terrible earthquakes rocked Nepal, disrupting the lives of 5.6 million people, the Nepal Red Cross Society and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies have completed a massive emergency response operation that reached more than 620,000 people.
In any disaster, local people are the first to respond. The Nepal Red Cross had been preparing for a big earthquake for years, says Secretary General Dev Ratna Dhakhwa.
“In the Nepal earthquake response, the biggest achievement by far has been the speed and the coverage that the Nepal Red Cross had within days of the first event.
“Our volunteers provided emergency services such as search and rescue and first aid, and we distributed pre-positioned relief supplies to thousands of people. At the same time we suffered our own losses. Some of our own buildings were damaged and destroyed. Some of our staff and volunteers and their family members lost their houses and were injured or even killed. Yet we were still able to help 620,000 people.”
International Red Cross and Red Crescent partners from around the world supported the emergency operation with specialist teams including field hospitals fully equipped with operating theatres and surgeons, mass water treatment equipment and mobile clinics.
This was no mean feat in country where many people live in remote mountain hamlets that were cut off from the outside world by the earthquake. During the monsoon which arrived shortly after the earthquake, treacherously narrow and winding roads were prone to frequent landslides. The Red Cross assessed on an hourly basis which routes were safe enough to transport emergency aid.
To add to these challenges, many people left their villages because their houses were damaged by the earthquake or they feared landslides. Relief efforts needed to be sufficiently agile to deliver services to where people were now camped.
With the emergency response completed, the focus is now on meeting longer term recovery needs in four key sectors – water, sanitation and good hygiene; support to livelihoods; rehabilitating health posts and improving community health; and the rebuilding of permanent homes.
As winter looms, the most pressing humanitarian concern is how families living at high altitudes will survive. Many have lost their thick-walled homes and are living in temporary shelters that will not protect them against the biting cold. Now the Red Cross is making plans to give cash grants to families so they can buy warm clothes and stock up on food and fuel.