Blog 6 - Nepal earthquake

Publicado: 7 mayo 2015 14:23 CET

by Merlijn Stoffels

Today I will be travelling to Bhaktapur, a city not far from Kathmandu. Some 80% of the houses in Bhaktapur were levelled by the earthquake. Many people are living in makeshift tent encampments, which look different to those I am accustomed to. Here, shelter is nothing more than a tarpaulin attached to a fence. In other cases, dozens of families sleep under a large tarpaulin without any privacy; anyone can look inside.

The camp that I visit is packed to the proverbial rafters. I’m told people have to sleep sitting up because there isn’t enough room for all of them to lie down. Red Cross teams distribute hygiene kits containing toothbrushes, toothpaste and soap. “After six days, finally, I can brush my teeth,” a young woman about my age tells me enthusiastically as she looks at the contents of the kit.

At the camp, located on a pretty spot on the river and next to a statue of Buddha, Red Cross workers are setting up toilet facilities and a water pump. These are essential necessities here, where the smell of human faeces permeates the air. Apart from being extremely unpleasant, this type of living condition also increases the likelihood of disease. Medical services teams are already overwhelmed from the high number of injuries, so a disease outbreak is the last thing they need.

As the finishing touch, the workers hang signs to designate the men’s and women’s toilets. At least this is what I assume the signs indicate; I can’t read the letters. A young girl comes hurrying up to wash her hands, her face gives away the joy she’s getting out of this simple act. A ray of light like this in the midst of all the misery and sadness is so welcome.

On the way back to the Red Cross office, I strike up a conversation with a Nepal Red Cross worker. She is responsible for water and hygiene. I ask her if villages that have been cut off from the rest of the country by the earthquake are getting aid. Filmed from a helicopter, the video footage I saw on the news yesterday continues to replay in a loop in my head. It was the first time aid workers were able to reach this village near the epicentre. The footage shows people in a complete state of panic running to the helicopter, waving their arms as they shout for help. A few of the severely injured are hoisted up into the helicopter. The others will have to wait until help returns again. It’s a nightmare.


The Red Crosser tells me that they have found a way to supply clean drinking water to the people in these villages as well. They walk to the villages–a journey that often lasts several days–carrying rucksacks full of water purification tablets. It’s a simple solution that can save many lives. I ask her how her family is doing after the earthquake. Her eyes fill with tears. Yesterday, they found her aunt’s body in the rubble of her home, she tells me. I fall silent, at a loss for words. Everyone around her knows someone in their circle of family and friends who has died, she says emotionally.

Later that day, I hear that the Red Cross has received permission to land at the Kathmandu airport a few times a day. It’s good news, considering many airplanes full of relief supplies have been turned away, unable to land. I am buoyed by the sight of lorries being unloaded with relief supplies and happy to hear more is on the way. Once again, there is hope.