Nepal Quake: Relief Slow to Reach Rural Communities

By Altaf Ahmad

2015-05-01
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150501-NP-rural-620 A Nepalese earthquake survivor walks past deserted and damaged buildings in Melamchi, a rural area in Sindhupalchok district, May 1, 2015.
AFP

It will cost Nepal at least U.S. $2 billion to reconstruct structures, government offices and homes destroyed or damaged by last Saturday’s earthquake, the country’s finance minister said Friday.

"This is just an initial estimate and it will take time to assess the extent of damage and calculate the cost of rebuilding," Ram Sharan Mahat told the Reuters news agency.

As Mahat appealed for more aid from international donors, Information Minister Minendra Rijal said the government would provide U.S. $1,000 in immediate assistance to the families of people killed in the quake, as well as U.S. $400 for cremation or burial, according to Reuters.

Food and relief supplies, meanwhile, slowly began to reach remote areas of the country on Friday, amid reports of growing desperation among the rural population.

The 7.8-magnitude temblor killed at least 6,000 and injured more than 14,000, the government said Friday as it updated the quake’s death and casualty toll. The quake also was felt in India and Bangladesh, where at least 61 people lost their lives, according to the Associated Press.

Separately, the European Union’s ambassador to Nepal announced that as many as 1,000 Europeans – many of whom were tourists trekking in the country’s mountains when the temblor struck – were unaccounted for six days later.

Fears of disease spreading

In Kathmandu, cremations of many unclaimed bodies were taking place to prevent illness and reduce the odor of decaying corpses, Reuters reported.

On Thursday, thousands of people left the Nepalese capital, fearing an outbreak of disease there.

“The stench of dead bodies and garbage is emanating from most parts in Kathmandu, forcing people to leave the ravaged city,” said Basanta Dhakal, program coordinator of the DAV College of Management in Lalitpur, who was involved in the relief and rescue operations in Kathmandu.

“Rescue workers should first remove the dead bodies trapped under the wreckage and properly bury them in mountains so that survivors do not fall prey to [disease]. Coordination among various search and rescue teams can only help in proper disposal of bodies,” he told BenarNews.

Intermittent rains, followed by spells of bright sunlight, had worsened the smell of rotting corpses, he added.

A local representative of IsraAID, an Israel-based relief and rescue agency, which has been working in quake-hit areas since Tuesday, warned that the death toll could soar to 15,000 when rescue and relief teams finally reach other parts of the country cut-off by the quake’s impact. Bad weather has also hampered those efforts.

On Thursday, the ravaged capital seemed deserted as shops were shut and people stayed inside tents they had pitched in the streets.

“Food is fast becoming scarce. The government today asked the shopkeepers to open shops but due to the prevailing chaos, no one turned up,” Sudish Niroula, IsraAID’s national coordinator in Nepal, told BenarNews by phone on Thursday.

That morning, one of his group’s rescue teams found a 25-year-old woman, Krishna Devi Khadka, pinned alive beneath the rubble of a collapsed hotel.

“She was finally rescued with help from the Nepalese Army and Norwegian rescuers, nearly six days after the disaster struck,” he said.

However, such efforts to pull people out of the ruins can be harrowing for rescuers, Niroula pointed out.

“In some places, rescue efforts become a cumbersome task as survivors force workers to dig the bodies of their relatives, claiming that they were buried under the rubble alive,” Niroula said.

Limited reach

In Niroula’s view, rescue and relief teams largely have been confined to Kathmandu because of bureaucratic wrangling. As a result, they have been impeded in delivering aid to the hinterland, where public resentment and anger is growing.

“I must tell you lack of coordination among the aid agency workers here is complicating the rescue [operations]. Equal focus needs to be shifted to rural areas, where survivors, sadly, have been left to fend for themselves in these testing times,” Niroula added.

“People in villages are very angry with the government as not much is being done in these affected areas. There have been instances when villagers beat up local leaders for the government’s failure in delivering aid to them,” he said.

In some places in Gorkha district, near the quake’s epicenter, earthquake survivors reportedly have fumed over the slow pace of relief and rescue work.

“In one of the worst-hit hamlets of Lunzung and Nowakhut in Gorkha, survivors have been left at the mercy of God,” said Dhakal of the DAV College of Management.

“A relief and rescue team arrived in Lunzung on Thursday, but many hands, which rose in supplication for potable water and food, came down empty as workers fell short of supplies.”

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