Our colleague Surendra came back from his field trip to Gorkha yesterday, where he spent the last days with the Alliance2015-Team, to find out the needs of those affected by the earthquake and distribute relief material.
The Gorkha district is classified by the Government of Nepal and the World Food Programme as priority 1 among the earthquake affected areas. “It was quite an intense time,” he told us after his return to Kathmandu. “The road access is really bad, the weather was horrible and we were surrounded the whole time by desperate people asking for something, anything we could give them!”
In almost all villages, the earthquake destroyed up to 85% of the households.
While we in Kathmandu were reading appalling reports about the conditions of people in Gorkha, the Alliance2015 team witnessed them with their own eyes. In almost all villages, the earthquake destroyed up to 85% of the households. Everybody, including those whose houses are still standing, spend their nights outside, in the field or any safe open space they find. In absence of proper shelter, they use whatever they have to protect themselves from the strong sun during the day, and the heavy rain during the night – from bed sheets to locally woven mats. Neighbours huddle together, for security but also for convenience – most kitchens have turned into debris and 80% of the utensils are still buried underneath or so damaged that they cannot be used. Those with enough tools to cook, share their valued assets with the others. As of now there seems to be enough to eat, but the limited food is quickly deteriorating because of the constant rain. Thankfully, there are enough drinking water sources in the area, and so far no urgent water, sanitation nor hygiene issues. But many people are defecating in the open because of the lack of functioning toilets – if the rain doesn’t stop and the surface run-off increases, there is a very high chance of epidemics.
Shelter, shelter, shelter: this is what everybody wants – and what the team brought.
Food and health support is important too, but above all people now need to be able to protect themselves and to cover the food they already have. Children, old and sick villagers have been spending the night in the open since the earthquake struck.
The Alliance2015 team carried tarpaulins, oral rehydration packets and noodles. “Traveling to Appipal was not easy,” explains Surendra, when describing their drive to one village “on the way we were constantly stopped by villagers, who were looking for help and asked to get our tarpaulins. We were the first aid organization they had seen carrying them until now, and everybody hoped the plastic sheets were for them”. It wasn’t easy for the team to just drive through and ignore the requests for help; but the allocation of aid to the villages is coordinated with the UN, the government and other international and local NGOs, and done on a priority basis – according to who needs it most. All very reasonable, but not a line that Surendra could really use with the dozens of villagers gathering around the vehicle – the only response was to just keep driving…as painful as that was.
Those with a house completely collapsed came obviously first, followed by highly damaged households and partially damaged ones.
The distribution in Appipal was also based on the gravity of each situations’ family: those with a house completely collapsed came obviously first, followed by highly damaged households and partially damaged ones. The criteria had already been communicated to the Citizen’s Awareness Centre, who had prepared a list. Special consideration was given to Dalits (the so-called untouchables, according to the caste system still prevalent in Nepal), marginalized and economically very poor people. Understandably, things didn’t go perfectly smooth, as Surendra describes: “At the beginning the distribution was going quite well and people were following the list. But at a certain point, some people started protesting and saying that they were victims too, and needed tarpaulins! The news of the distribution spread also quite fast so all of a sudden we had all these people coming from neighbouring areas and demanding help!” Well, if I had spent 5-6 nights sleeping under the rain, beside my collapsed house, I would probably have very limited patience too… After some time of discussions and explanation, the team managed to peacefully conclude the distribution. “You could see the faces of people lighting up, when we gave them the tarps,” recalls Surendra “they were happy that someone was finally there for them“.
Our work is far from over. The quantity of aid arrived is not enough for the needs of the area. And there are thousands of other people, in other villages, who need our support as much, if not more. So off we go, getting ready for the next destination, the next distribution, and the next families in need of our help…
Alliance2015 members Helvetas, Welthungerhilfe, PIN, Concern Worldwide, ACTED and Cesvi are on the ground in Nepal responding to the devastation. Alliance2015 members are coordinating on the ground and are sharing information, especially with regard to places strongly hit. They are assessing the greatest needs throughout the affected areas and are preparing to respond, as needed, with critical and life-saving interventions.