By Juliette Rousselot, in Kathmandu
In Nepal, which was shaken to its core by a 7.7 magnitude earthquake on Saturday followed by almost 100 significant aftershocks over the past 72 hours, the situation for millions of people is becoming increasingly dire as the weather deteriorates and basic supplies are becoming scarce.
Afraid that their homes are not safe to return to, hundreds of thousands of people in the capital city, Kathmandu, and in neighboring towns, have been spending the past couple of days and nights camped out in makeshift shelters in any open spaces that they can find. Although some are lucky enough to be sleeping under tarps donated by local and international organizations, adequate shelters are increasingly in short demand and many people are finding themselves taking cover under little more than umbrellas.
Early Tuesday afternoon, heavy rain, thunder and lightening began to hammer down on the Kathmandu Valley, making an already dire situation even worse. These poor weather conditions are only going to exacerbate the existing water and sanitation problems faced in these places, says Matt Graydon, a public information officer for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Jean-Jacques Simon, Regional Chief of Communication for UNICEF South Asia, adds, “We are working before anything else on providing shelters. That’s the priority, because of the impending rainy season. We had a preview of it this afternoon and it will create a lot of problems with health, sanitation, etc. and especially for children.”
Despite these conditions, people are afraid to go back to their homes, which they feel are not safe. “How can we go home? It’s too dangerous still,” says 23-year-old Susan Shrestha. “Hopefully we can go home soon but not yet.”
Yet as people are starting to run dangerously low on supplies, people have nevertheless been forced to start re-entering their homes in order to get more clothes, blankets and other basic necessities. “We have been sleeping on the sidewalk near our house for the past three nights,” says Surya Tamrakar, as he carries bags with more clothes and blankets out of his damaged house with the help of his wife. “The situation is hard for us but the damage is too extensive in our house and the foundations can’t support the weight of too many people,” he explains.
Some shops are also slowly starting to re-open, allowing people to buy drinks and snacks, and street vendors are selling a few fruits and vegetables on the street. Others are also starting to clean up the mess that the earthquake left behind in their stores, in the hope that life will return to normal soon enough. But many people worry that these supplies will not last long, especially food and water.
According to Peder Damm, regional disaster management delegate in Asia for the Danish Red Cross, the biggest priorities at the moment are not just saving lives and rescuing people still trapped underneath the debris of collapsed buildings and monuments, but also access to water, food and shelter. He adds that it will take time to set up the needed water purification systems and that some will have to be brought in from outside, as Nepal does not have the capacity to address needs of this magnitude.
But with only one runway and very limited parking space at Kathmandu’s airport – the only international airport in the country – flying aid into the country is a problem in and of itself.
“There are a lot of logistical challenges in getting planes [and aid] on the ground,” says Graydon of IOM, which is trying to fly in specialists in health, emergency shelters and camp coordination from across the region to help with the humanitarian response.