Flooding and landslides across Nepal

تم النشر: 8 سبتمبر 2014 17:28 CET

It is a month since the landslide which claimed Ram’s home and 13 members of his family, but the shock, trauma and confusion remain etched on his face.

There is a look in his eyes I recognise only from photographs: the ‘thousand-yard-stare’ that war correspondents often saw in troops who have seen too much on the front line.

The prospect of interviewing him fills me with unease.

This is a man who went out to work one evening and came back the following morning to find thousands of tons of rocks, marking a deep and dark scar across his green picture-postcard valley. His home, family, neighbours – his entire village, everything – had been obliterated. And now I have arrived to ask him about it.

Thankfully, there is little for me to say. Despite the clear emotional strain, Ram is a willing narrator.

He tells how he went out to work as usual as the hospital night guard in the next village along the valley, how casualties started arriving in the hospital at about 3am, how he initially thought his family were safe and how, after finishing his shift at 6:30am, he went home to find his house and his family gone.

How he spent the next days living under a Red Cross tarpaulin, but, for now, lives in quarters at a nearby quarry along with his one surviving son – a bus driver who was away when the landslide happened.  

How he does not know how long he will be allowed to live there, how he has to wait and see what the government will decide about rebuilding.  

And he tells how none of the bodies of his relatives have been found, or are ever likely to be.

It is a stuttering stream of information, facts and events, but it’s when I ask how I should explain his situation to other people that he reaches his most eloquent.

“My mother and father were killed, my wife and four of my children, my brother and his family, so many of my friends. They have all gone,” he says quietly.  “I feel like I’m in a foreign country, everyone I know has gone.”

Despite the tragedies already recounted, it is this brief description of his own personal feelings of isolation that really hits home.

None of us who has not experienced loss on this scale can begin to imagine what it must be like, but we all know how it feels to be lonely.

Amidst the horror of a disaster it is all too easy to view those affected as different from us, to set them apart and somehow – often through our own selfish discomfort at their loss - forget their humanity.  

It is so obvious it feels ridiculous writing down, and yet it is so easy to forget; all those affected by disasters – by floods and landslides in Nepal, Ebola in West Africa or fighting in the Middle East – are people.

They do not want to be viewed as rare specimens, set apart by grief and tragedy, but understood as fellow human beings.

Traumatised by loss and in need of support Ram may be, but he is not someone to be intimidated by or scared of speaking to – he is a man in his 50s, lonely, seeking to rebuild.

He wants empathy, understanding and a little help to restart his life. It is the least we can give.

Severe monsoon rains have triggered flooding and landslides across Nepal over recent weeks causing widespread devastation. Scores of lives have been lost and at the peak of the flooding over 200,000 people were affected.

The Nepal Red Cross has been on the ground responding since the rains began and has already reached thousands of people with shelter, food, clean water and other relief, but with thousands still homeless, more help is needed.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has launched an emergency appeal to help 50,000 people rebuild their lives.

Mark South is a Beneficiary Communications Delegate for the British Red Cross. He is currently based in Kathmandu, Nepal.