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The earthquake devastation in Nepal's remote villages

Anil and family on the site of their destroyed home
Relief aid arrives at remote village in Nepal

21 May 2015 As Christian Aid emergency relief workers and our partner agencies walk high into the foothills of the Himalayas taking relief supplies to the more remote settlements, the true scale of the devastation caused by two earthquakes has hit them. They warn that once the monsoon starts, heavy rains and landslides will make many communities almost impossible to reach. Here are their accounts.

Humanitarian Programme Advisor Vicky Murtagh, an engineer by profession, in Gorkha district, north west of Kathmandu

"Arriving in Kathmandu after the second earthquake I was struck by how many houses were still standing, some without any obvious damage at all. But on closer inspection, the situation is more serious; The external shell of many was in reasonable condition, whilst the interiors had collapsed, others have serious cracks in the walls that are beyond repair, meaning that before reconstruction can start, the dangerous process of demolition will have to take place.   It is the traditional houses made from clay, brick and mud that were worst affected. Out in rural areas, the situation is even worse.

Most of the buildings are not earthquake resistant so many villages have been flattened completely. In these hilly, remote areas concrete ring beams (the concrete structure you might see in a multi-storey car park) that help keep buildings together in an earthquake are near impossible to build, so people instead rely on large rocks or boulders, closely fitted together with mud mortar and covered with either rough slate roofs or galvanised sheeting.

In many cases, however, the boulders rolled inwards during the earthquakes, destroying lives and property.
In one such community, Danda Beshi, a small cluster of 29 households,  every property was destroyed, and an 11-year-old girl Manisha killed when her home collapsed inwards.  
Adding to the community’s misery, it rained heavily for four days following the first earthquake, meaning that any food supplies that might have survived were unsalvageable.

Christian Aid partner PGVS has provided each household in this community with emergency rations of rice, pulses, two heavy duty tarpaulins and chlorine treatment tablets.  They were due to follow that with hygiene kits consisting of items such as soap, toothpaste, sanitary items, nail clippers and comb over the past few days.
Aarugaha Field Hospital in Gorkha district was set up (in record time) by Christian Aid partner PGVS.  Dr Bhanu and his team arrived in Nepal from India less than 24-hours after the first earthquake and immediately set to work in setting up the small tented hospital in this remote location, after discussion with the local authorities.  Since then, he and the team have been supplying essential life-saving goods and services to the local population.

The hospital camp is located on the site of a small ‘old people’s home’, one of the few places with enough flat land to place a number of tents.  The setting is beautiful, with the river in front of us, but there are constant reminders of the power of the quake.  Ruined houses surround the area and over the river a large hill has been virtually sliced in half by a landslide.

The morning after we arrived, Nick and Ram (my male colleagues) went down to the river to wash, but this was not an option for me as the place was crowded and there was no private space to wash with dignity.  Some of the women were washing in the latrine, but the queue was long and the local men kept barging in. 

When I finally managed to get behind ‘closed doors’ the children kept looking in through the unglazed window; trying to observe the strange foreigner.  This personal situation reminded me about how essential it is to ensure that women have some access to private space.  They are already in shock, so lacking security and dignity just compounds the situation.

In discussion with the communities, it is clear they are deeply traumatised. In addition, they told me they didn’t know how to rebuild their homes to be earthquake resistant.  

At present we are working with local partners to provide essential items that will simply help people survive. The next step then will be to work with them providing training in building techniques to make safer homes." 

Regional emergency programme officer Yeeshu Shukla in Sindhupalchowk district, north east of Kathmandu.

"As an aid worker, I have never before seen this kind of destruction from a natural disaster where entire localities or villages have suffered almost 100 percent damage. It looks more like a war zone that has just been bombed.
People have lost loved ones, homes built with their life savings, livestock and livelihoods. The pain and trauma is enormous, particularly for parents whose children were killed.

Shubha Lama, from Gumsakot village, lost all three of his children when the external wall of a neighbouring home fell on them while they were playing outside. His sense of loss and helplessness was palpable when we met him in a temporary shelter where he was lying with a broken leg.  In all, his village lost some 45 of their own, mostly women and young children.

The morning after the second earthquake, we came across deserted villages in the epicentre district – Doulkha - that had the air of ghost towns. Almost all the buildings are either destroyed or badly damaged making them uninhabitable. The few remaining standing were empty, the frequent aftershocks forcing the inhabitants to stay outside for fear of another earthquake.

The Arniko highway, which leads to Namche Bazaar (the last major settlement before Mount Everest), had subsided with landslides obstructing several stretches.

Distributing shelter kits and food support to the remote villages has involved walking for hours in constant fear of landslides from the aftershocks which have been frequent. The coming rains will make life more difficult still.
As Christian Aid and partners enter into the next stage of response providing shelters, critical water and sanitation infrastructure and rebuilding livelihoods, a philosophy of 'building back better' aligned with disaster risk reduction and resilience will guide our actions."

Further information from Andrew Hogg on 0207 523 2058 or 24 hour duty press phone: 07850 242950

Notes to editors:

1. Christian Aid works in some of the world's poorest communities in around 40 countries at any one time. We act where there is great need, regardless of religion, helping people to live a full life, free from poverty. We provide urgent, practical and effective assistance in tackling the root causes of poverty as well as its effects.

2. Christian Aid’s core belief is that the world can and must be changed so that poverty is ended: this is what we stand for. Everything we do is about ending poverty and injustice: swiftly, effectively, sustainably. Our strategy document Partnership for Change explains how we set about this task.

3. Christian Aid is a member of the ACT Alliance, a global coalition of more than 130 churches and church-related organisations that work together in humanitarian assistance, advocacy and development. Further details at http://actalliance.org

4. Follow Christian Aid's newswire on Twitter: http://twitter.com/caid_newswire

5. For more information about the work of Christian Aid visit http://www.christianaid.org.uk

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