Three weeks after a major earthquake struck Nepal, aid efforts have yet to reach many remote communities. Now those still living amid the rubble of their villages must survive the monsoon due in the next few weeks.
“The rains have already started,” said Orla Fagan, spokesperson for the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. “There are people in villages in the high mountains we’ll not be able to access because the monsoon will weaken the mountainsides and cause further landslides.”
The monsoon will dump 80 percent of Nepal’s annual rainfall in a three-month period, grounding the helicopters needed to ferry supplies to the worst-affected districts of Sindupalchowk, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Kavrepalanchowk, Gorkha, Dolakha, Ramechhap, Makawanpur and Sinduli.
The 25 April earthquake killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed or damaged 742,334 houses. It left 8.1 million people, a quarter of the population, in need of humanitarian assistance.
A subsequent 12 May quake claimed at least 65 more lives, flattened yet more homes, and shook the confidence of people who thought the worst was over.
“The true picture of the disaster won’t be clear until we know what’s happening in the remote villages,” said Unni Krishnan, the head of Disaster Preparedness and Response for Plan International, a child rights NGO.
Finding those in need
What is clear is that few of the mud-brick homes in the poorer villages withstood the impact of April’s 7.8-quake. “That means a lot of the injuries are fractures of the lower limbs, spine and hip bones. People will have lost mobility, they won’t be able to reach the aid they need, we need to reach out to them,” said Krishnan.
“We need to go deeper and higher up into the mountains, so many communities are still not reached yet,” noted Michel Rooijackers, Save the Children Response Team Leader in Nepal.
“These are villages of 100 to 200 households, a two-hour or more walk apart along footpaths – you can’t get much more challenging than that,” he added.
Getting as many people as possible under tarpaulin and supplied with aid before the monsoon is a race against time. And just a few months after the rains, Nepal enters its winter.
“The window of opportunity is so small right now. We have to start now thinking about winter; how to insulate the tarps and shelter material, bring up blankets and mattresses,” Rooijackers told IRIN.
The sheer scale of the emergency operation, and the rebuilding of infrastructure in a country that was already the poorest in the region, is enormous. “This is not going to be a sprint, it’s a marathon,” said Krishnan.
“We are now in the process of helping to rebuild the homes of displaced families by providing additional support with construction materials,” the head of Nepal’s National Disaster Management Division, Rameshwor Dangal, told IRIN.
Nearly a million children will not be able to return to class when schools re-open on 29 May, according to the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Nine out of 10 schools have been destroyed in the districts of Gorkha, Sindhupalchok and Nuwakot.
“We need to kick-start education to provide a sense of normalcy for children affected by the quake,” said Krishnan. “Schools are a shock absorber, they provide psychological first aid.”
Farmers who miss the planting season for rice, due at the end of this month, will be unable to harvest again until late 2016, the Food and Agricultural Organization has warned. The loss of crops will compound food insecurity and further drive down rural incomes.
Despite the scale of the challenge, the UN’s US$423 million “flash appeal” is only 14 percent funded - just US$58 million has been committed so far.
“The low funding rate is quite surprising. I’m not sure what the big bilateral institutional donors are waiting for,” said Rooijackers. “I’m sure the willingness is there, and they are just waiting for a clearer picture before fully funding.”