The drama of rescuing climbers injured or stuck up above the avalanches on Mount Everest have piqued attention in the West, but the tremendous need for and difficulty providing aid to the rest of Nepal is daunting. Getting aid efforts into the region is proving to be difficult and doing so quickly is critical.
On Saturday, a devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal that toppled buildings throughout the region, triggered disastrous avalanches in the Himalayan Mountains, and killed well over 2,500 people primarily in Nepal, but also in neighboring India and Tibet. The reported number of injured people is about 6,000 and growing. With aftershocks occurring regularly and more buildings on the verge of collapse, people are digging out survivors by hand, thousands are homeless and sleeping outdoors in the elements, injured people are everywhere, and the need for food and fresh water continue to grow hourly.
The airport in the capital of Nepal, Kathmandu, has been reopened for aid efforts, but the remoteness of the region makes access difficult. It also requires that crews and materials be transported long distances in mountainous regions that are not easy to traverse in the best of conditions.
Early reports say that, with hospitals also damaged or destroyed, doctors are treating hundreds of patients on the streets of the capital. Footage the first day showed hospital workers carrying people out of the hospital on stretchers and even sacks to lay them on the roadside. At the same time, injured people were arriving to seek help.
International agencies, relief groups, doctors, volunteers and equipment began arriving in Nepal in large numbers today. The aid workers report that there is still time to save lives and that some aid vehicles have been able to travel overland from India to stricken southern regions of Nepal. Experts caution, however, that the effort needs to be coordinated so chaotic conditions and competing aid agencies do not create a bottleneck as they try to bring in personnel and supplies in the coming days.
Today, Orla Fagan, a U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs spokeswoman, said on the CBS show Face the Nation, that the most serious challenge facing victims of the earthquake was worsening weather conditions. People terrified to go back indoors (if they have some place to go back to) will “be exposed to the elements. There are no temporary shelters set up yet. They will all be sleeping outdoors tonight in terrible weather conditions.” As time goes on, and water becomes more of an issue, there is also the serious threat of disease, Fagan noted.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that they already disbursed medical supplies to cover the health needs of 40 000 people for three months within hours of the temblor. “These supplies are in the form of inter-agency emergency health kits and were given to hospitals in Nepal,” according to Dr. Poonam Khetrapal Singh, WHO’s Southeast Asia Regional Director.
The U.N. children’s agency, UNICEF, is sending two cargo flights stocked with a 120 tons of humanitarian supplies including medical supplies, tents and blankets to Kathmandu. The agency estimated that 1 million children in Nepal will need some sort of help.
Saturday’s quake was the most devastating one the poor southern Asian country has experienced in about 80 years. As aid efforts arrive to deal with search and rescue, there will be the need for shelter, water and food.. Nepal faces a difficult road to recovery and aid efforts for months to come
By Dyanne Weiss