Nisha Agrawal, CEO of Oxfam India, has just returned from a visit to Nepal after two devastating earthquakes hit the country. Here, she describes the situation on the ground, the challenges for the relief effort, and what we are doing to help the communities affected.
It has now been close to three weeks since Nepal was devastated by a massive earthquake. The death toll has passed 7,600 and is still rising. Thousands more are severely injured.
Oxfam is on the ground and is providing relief supplies. An Oxfam team from India has set up base in Gorkha district, which is one of the worst affected.
As I travel to the remote areas of Gorkha district and visit small, scattered and mountainous villages, the true face of the destruction emerges.
Deragaon under the Phinam village development committee (VDC) has two clusters: Muslim basti and Dalit basti.
A woman and child in the Dalit cluster of VDC Phinam. Credit: Nisha Agrawal
The Muslim cluster – one of the few Muslim villages in the country – housing 76 families, has been left in ruins. Of the 76 houses in the village, some have collapsed completely, whilst those remaining have been damaged to the point of needing to be rebuilt from scrap.
Access to relief supplies is a big challenge for all remote regions in Nepal. But Oxfam is making sure that remote villages in Gorkha district and members of all communities get relief materials.
Most of the houses in the village are partially or completely collapsed. Credit: Nisha Agrawal
Water pipes are damaged, toilets are broken and schools are gone. Any resemblance to a normal village has completely disappeared.
Oxfam is providing tarpaulin sheets, hygiene kits and water to 13 of the 77 villages in Gorkha district. Relief materials are being bought in India and transported overland to the district.
Oxfam’s team in Gorkha distributing relief supplies. Credit: Nisha Agrawal
Monsoons will add to the woes
But people in the villages want transitional shelters to withstand the monsoons, expected to arrive next month.
For those three months of monsoon, the tarpaulin sheets will not be enough. Communities need corrugated metal roofing sheets, which will give them cover from the harsh rains. We are thinking of buying these metal sheets and providing them to the community. Currently, people in Gorkha district are living in temporary tents.
This earthquake and the relief work in Nepal present a whole new set of challenges for Oxfam: tough terrain, remote and difficult to access communities, huge devastation, and the start of the monsoon season.
No access to water and toilets
Water is a big problem, especially for women. All the pipes in the village, which supplied water for drinking, washing and bathing, are no longer functional. Toilets are also a big issue. All the toilets have been completely destroyed and there are serious safety concerns. Women are forced to look for private spaces in the open.
Toilets in the district have been destroyed. Credit: Nisha Agrawal
The World Food Programme (WFP) has been distributing food in villages that can be accessed by road. In more remote regions, food is being dropped by helicopter.
In Gorkha district Oxfam is working with a partner who has been operating in the area for many years, which has helped in the distribution of relief materials. The partner has been working in five of the 13 villages Oxfam is responding to in Nepal. But we want to extend their support to all 13 villages. The support of our partner and local volunteers has really boosted the distribution process, as they know the local language and the community.
The tremors are not yet over
In my interaction with the local community, I met a man who worked in Qatar. He rushed to Nepal, to his home in Gorkha district, after hearing about the earthquake.
‘My house is gone. Me and my family are sleeping in the open. It will now take another 10 years to rebuild my house. All my life savings were spent on making this house. I cannot leave my family and return to my job in Qatar,’ he said.
It will take me another 10 years to rebuild my house, said this man working in Qatar. Credit: Nisha Agrawal
Another moving thing to see was the children running around in the village, because the school building has collapsed. I asked one of the children, ‘Why don’t you go back to school?’ He replied, ‘I will go back to school, when the earthquake stops.’
There have been over 100 aftershocks following the April 25 quake. The tremors are coming everyday. Today there was a tremor, yesterday there was a tremor. For the locals the earthquake has not stopped.
Just as this piece was being written, another massive earthquake hit Nepal last week, measuring 7.3 on the Richter Scale, this time close to Mount Everest. The death toll from the May 12 earthquake is over 110.
The road ahead
Oxfam is in Nepal for the long haul and it will take a lot of time and effort to rebuild the country. ‘Of the requested US$ 415 million to support immediate humanitarian interventions, only US$ 22.4 million has been received. This needs to be dramatically ramped up,’ Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Resident Coordinator for Nepal, told reporters in the capital Kathmandu.
People in rural Nepal have no savings left; their whole life’s savings have been wiped out. There are no schools, no infrastructure, no housing and no assets. It’s very hard to imagine a scene like this.
We must rebuild Nepal together.
Header image: A woman at a relief camp in Khokhana area of Karyabinayak Municipality expresses anger at the Nepal Armed Forces Police because of the chaotic water situation. Credit: Sharbendu De