I had been to Nepal just once before. Five years ago, after major flooding had inflicted serious damage on Nepal’s low lying border with India I was dispatched to help co-ordinate the relief effort.
However, when similar flooding occurred last year, I stayed at home. Plan’s office and local staff in Nepal had learnt from five years previous and were able to respond effectively and independently.
But the earthquake was different. For starters, the team in Kathmandu and in Plan regional offices took a heavy personal toll. Over 50 staff members’ homes were damaged, some completely destroyed. In the days and hours after the quake their attention has understandably, been on their families rather than the condition of the country.
So when I heard the news of the earthquake, I knew quickly that I would likely be travelling to Nepal to support.
Anyone who’s been to there will testify to Nepal’s beauty. The Himalayan peaks, panoramic trails and temples. Its people are friendly and unassuming. That such a disaster which has killed more than 7,365 and destroyed almost 200,000 homes is heart-rending.
When I first arrived in Kathmandu last week and travelled into the city. I was surprised. There were only a few people on streets. No mass crowds sleeping in the open air, no swathe of people huddled under plastic. My surprise didn’t last.
It was only from the air, in a two seat helicopter, dropping bags of food to remote mountainous communities that I began to fully appreciate the scale of the devastation. The view from above powerfully illustrated how more than 80% of houses in these cut off regions had been levelled; rendering them totally uninhabitable, leaving tens of thousands homeless as the rainy season looms.
When we landed in one remote region called Ulumpu, only a few buildings were still intact. These are also in the areas that were poorest even before the earthquake struck. Now, they have nothing.
The villagers I met seemed relieved to finally receive some food. Everyone I spoke to said, the same thing:
“Overnight, our lives have changed. We have lost everything. Shelter is vital at the moment. We need tents and tarpaulins, anything that can help protect us from the rain.”
This lack of shelter is the most pressing need. With the rainy season imminent, and nights freezing approaching, people need a roof over their heads to keep warm. Plan Ireland has been working in Nepal since 1978 and has existing field offices very close to the epicentre, so have been able to use this strategic position to reach the worst impacted zones.
This is how with generous supplies from the Irish government’s aid programme, Plan Ireland has airlifted 63 tonnes of life-saving items such as tents, tarpaulins, kitchen sets and blankets into some of these inaccessible areas.
The remoteness of these communities means that airplane and helicopter are the only viable means of supply. The lack of paved roads and the sheer mountain terrain means that getting supplies in by road can take days or even weeks. Time which these towns and villages simply don’t have.
We have flown over some of the most cut off areas and dropped these essential items to those most in need. This distribution will ensure those who were sleeping without shelter in sub-zero conditions, will at least have some protection from the elements tonight. Thousands of tents and blankets have been distributed, but more are needed. This isn’t a long-term solution, but it’s something.
The monsoon season is fast approaching and the weather will only get worse, so additional resources are desperately required. Plan is working with local organisations, village committees and authorities to make sure those communities that are suffering get emergency assistance as quickly as possible.
Plan will be a part of the recovery and rebuilding work in Nepal for the long term–not just during the immediate emergency response. The recovery will take years and billions of dollars, meaning the journey ahead for Nepal as a country will be a long and arduous one.
For each family, that road begins with survival right now and then tentative steps to rebuild their houses and rebuild their lives and livelihoods.