Blog 2 - Nepal earthquake

تم النشر: 5 مايو 2015 21:31 CET

Monday 27 April

Merlijn Stoffels in Nepal

The humanitarian aid provided to the victims of the earthquake in Nepal is now in full swing. At least 300 Red Cross volunteers in Nepal have been mobilised to support the government in search and rescue operations. The Red Cross is also hard at work distributing relief supplies. The organisation has already handed out 1,200 tarpaulins, and in the coming days, they will be supplying kitchen sets, clothing, toiletries and mosquito nets. The Red Cross blood bank in Kathmandu is working overtime, supplying blood to the most important medical facilities in the capital city. Red Cross aid workers are also helping out with the search for the missing. At least this is what I’m hearing from my colleagues in Nepal; I actually didn’t arrive as scheduled. While only an hour away from landing in Kathmandu, the pilot tells us that there has been an aftershock in Nepal, and was therefore not been possible to land. The only option is to return to where we took off, the United Arab Emirates. We had been on the plane for nine hours, for nothing, without reaching our final destination. It is extremely frustrating. The pilot also tells us the airport will not be opening up anytime today.

I can also sense the frustration on the faces of my fellow passengers, who are trying to convince the flight attendant to look for another solution, but this is met with a negative response. One of the passengers looks at me with sadness in his eyes. I have to go help my family, he says, they’re still alive, but they’ve lost everything. They managed to get out of their home just in time, to an open space. He has been living in Saudi Arabia since he was 20, and tells me that very little is done in Nepal to prepare people for these types of disasters. ‘We don’t learn anything about this in school.’ Coincidentally, I had just read that the Red Cross holds regular disaster drills so that people know what to do both before and after an earthquake. In the article, the aid worker says that he believes that the earthquake preparedness project will at least ensure that there are less victims to mourn. An additional advantage is, according to him, that victims can get better help and faster, including the one provided by their own community. We arrive at the conclusion that these drills should be a standard, regular event from now on throughout the entire country. 

The airplane appears to be full of people who want to go help their families, as well as aid workers and journalists, from the Dutch NOS, for example, and the BBC. There is also a French rescue team on board. They are easy to spot; they are already wearing their bright orange work clothes and have their helmets and other equipment with them. Although they are ready to get to work immediately upon arrival, unfortunately fate has conspired against them. They too will have to spend the night in a hotel in Abu Dhabi, and their faces betray their extreme disappointment. They know that their chances of finding any survivors under the rubble decrease by the day. I arrive at the sad conclusion that people will die unnecessarily as a result of this delay. Hopefully we will be able to reach the disaster zone tomorrow morning so that they can also get to work. It is very important for the airport to reopen again and this as soon as possible. Since the roads have largely blocked, the airport is the only way to get relief supplies into the country. The Red Cross is working on mobilising additional relief supplies, bringing goods in from depots in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai in the coming days. These supplies will  help a total of 50,000 families. Preparations for the first flight transporting relief supplies to Kathmandu are on-going. 

Despite my disappointment, there is an advantage to spend some extra time in Abu Dhabi: I get a call from the leader of the Field Assessment and Coordination Team, which I am going to join. This Red Cross team will be studying those areas where the greatest need are, including the regions which have been unreachable up to now. He warns me that I must be prepared for severe conditions. It is raining right now in Kathmandu, and there is nowhere to spend the night. He says that the Red Cross workers are either sleeping in cars or in the rain. Due to the large number of houses that have been destroyed, there is a shortage of housing. It will take a while before decent arrangements can be made, he tells me, so I decide to go buy a tent after all. This appears to be no small feat in Abu Dhabi. In this fancy city full of glitter and glamour, the camping culture is non-existent, the man at the desk informs me when I ask about camping supplies. After a bit of online investigation, we manage to find a shop that sells tents. In the high-end shopping centre full of pomp and splendour, there indeed appears to be a shop with a tent. Mission accomplished. I have to hurry in order to be back in the hotel in time for my telephone interview with the Radio1 programme, Met Het Oog op Morgen (‘Looking Toward Tomorrow’). After that, I will have to get straight to bed; my alarm is set for 5:00 a.m.