Nepal earthquake – three months on: Thousands remain in need as monsoon closes in

Published: 23 July 2015 12:42 CET

By Rosemarie North, IFRC

Ujali Kumari, her mother-in-law Ses Kumari, Ujali’s husband and their four grown-up children, are camping in what used to be a goat shelter next to the remains of the family home near Kalikasthan, in Rasuwa district.

Their home was severely damaged by the earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April. At the time, Ujali was working as a day labourer on the rice harvest. She ran home as fast as she could in her bare feet. Her friend, working in slip-on shoes, was slower, and was killed by falling masonry.

The family’s temporary shelter made from salvaged materials and a tarpaulin from the Nepal Red Cross Society is hardly monsoon-proof.

 “We’re grateful for everything we’ve been given. The tarpaulin is the best thing because our shelter was open to the elements before,” says Ms Kumari.

After the monsoon, the family plan to build a simple structure of corrugated iron sheeting. It will be hot in summer and freezing in winter, but they’ll feel safer there than under mud or stone. In a corner of the shelter is a saw, hammer, nails and other tools provided by the Red Cross.

They’ll need to hire someone to help them rebuild and that will cost money. Labour costs have risen since the earthquake because of increased demand. The family might get a loan from a microfinance mothers’ group or Dalit (pejoratively known as untouchables) organisation. Her husband works in a traditional Dalit occupation, making knives and sickles.

Ms Kumari’s family is one of more than 800,000 households whose homes were damaged or destroyed. As a result, shelter is a crucial component of the relief and recovery operation being carried out by the Red Cross. The immediate threat is the monsoon. Then comes a bitter winter.

By mid-July, the Red Cross had distributed more than 105,000 tarpaulins and reached more than 30,000 people with relief kits containing tarpaulins, blankets, kitchen equipment and tools to build shelters.

It also distributed more than 2.8 million litres of safe drinking water, and more than 800,000 water and sanitation items like water purification tablets, soap and hygiene kits, reaching more than 500,000 people.

The earthquake injured more than 17,000 people and damaged or destroyed many health care facilities. Since then, Red Cross emergency medical  units and mobile clinics have provided services including surgical treatment,  basic healthcare, first aid and psycho-social support to more than 54,000 people. The Red Cross also carried out health promotion such as hygiene campaigns with schools, households and communities. Emergency medical teams remain active and the need for longer term psychological support to survivors is a priority. Over time, the Red Cross will work with local authorities to rehabilitate damaged health facilities.

Three months after the earthquake, the focus is on ensuring that aid reaches people in remote locations in the mountains before they are cut off by the monsoon.

Many roads are treacherously narrow and winding, and with the rains, they are now prone to frequent landslides. The Red Cross assesses on an hourly basis which routes are safe enough to transport emergency aid. To add to the complexity, many people have left their villages because their houses were damaged by the earthquake or they fear landslides. This means that relief efforts need to be sufficiently agile to deliver services to where people are relocating.

The Red Cross’ long-term recovery programme aims help people to rebuild their lives which will include support to rebuild livelihoods.

It is a massive challenge given the scale of the needs, the terrain and the huge task of rebuilding homes before the winter sets in.