A Challenging Response:
Concern in Nepal

A man stands in the rubble of what were offices and shops in Gongabu, Kathmandu one week after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake rattled the capital on April 25th. (All photos: Crystal Wells / Concern Worldwide)

By Kieran McConville, Contributor
May 8, 2015

Concern Worldwide has been responding to emergencies around the world since it was born amid the chaos of the Biafran war in Nigeria 47 years ago. Floods, famines, wars, and earthquakes all provide different challenges and test the skills and ingenuity of those who respond. The latest disaster, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake here in the south Asian nation of Nepal, will present its own unique set of challenges.

Concern’s emergency response team was preparing to deploy within hours of the quake, with team members converging from all over the world – Ireland, Canada, the U.S., the UK, India, and Germany. And straight off it became clear that the biggest obstacles to overcome would be logistical.

Our flight from New York brought us to Abu Dhabi and then onward to the Nepali capital, Kathmandu. Or at least to the skies over Kathmandu, where we circled for an hour before redirecting south to Lucknow in India and a long wait for air traffic congestion to clear. It wasn’t to be, and our flight returned to Abu Dhabi, to try again the following day. For us, frustration at a delay in getting to work, while for others onboard, heartbreak at missing the funerals of loved ones who perished in the earthquake.

Concern Worldwide's Humanitarian Coordinator, Ros  O'Sullivan, discusses the Nepal earthquake response plan with logistician Grahan Woodcok. Concern is working with local partners to reach some of the worst affected communities with relief supplies.

Concern Worldwide’s Humanitarian Coordinator, Ros O’Sullivan, discusses the Nepal earthquake response plan with logistician Grahan Woodcok. Concern is working with local partners to reach some of the worst affected communities with relief supplies.

Key to any emergency response are logisticians, or “loggies” as they’re known in this world. These are the men and women who make things happen, organizing everything from in-country communications to accommodation and enormous cargo planes of relief supplies. In the days after this disaster, their job would be frustrated by a lack of capacity at Kathmandu airport, a bottleneck in the supply chain of much-needed aid. Road convoys of pre-positioned supplies began to make their way from the Indian cities of Delhi and Mumbai, with traffic and border delays to overcome.

But in the midst of this great logistical web, it’s often easy to lose sight of what is most important – or more to the point, who is most important. Heartbreaking images of people desperately searching through the collapsed rubble of homes and ancient temples in Kathmandu served to remind us of the human cost. Over 7,000 people lost their lives on April 25th and hundreds of thousands of people were left homeless. The response from around the world was amazing, and the international search-and-rescue crews who joined local teams in those first few first days did an incredible job.

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Tulasa Aryal, 58, sits on the porch of her earthquake-ravaged home in Bakrang, a village near the epicenter of the earthquake. Roughly an hour’s drive from Gorkha, Bakrang is among the hardest hit villages in the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25. Out of 793 houses homes in Bakrang, 515 were completely destroyed.

 

But the scale and complexity of this disaster would soon become really clear. We bump and crash our way up a steep hillside, within view of the snowcapped Himalayas. This is the district of Gorkha, close to the epicenter of the earthquake. Here in the hills it’s strictly four-wheel-drive territory, and eventually even off-road vehicles are no use. Nepal has the lowest road density in southern Asia and nearly 90 percent of the population is rural. The communities here are among the poorest in Nepal, eking out a living by terracing the mountainsides and growing maize, rice, and potatoes.

The village of Bakrang gives us a good idea of what has happened here, far from the glare of international publicity. It has literally been flattened. People sift through the piles of timber and brick that were once their modest homes, hoping to salvage whatever they can.

Kamala Neupane, 54, Ayushma Singh, eight, Ayush Singh, five, and Pratap Neupane, 23.  Kamala Neupane lived in the home and was in Bakrang when the earthquake hit. Her husband passed away years ago and her children all live outside of Bakrang, so she spent the hours after the earthquake trying to reach her children. her son, Pratap, is student in Kathmandu and came back to Bakrang to help his mother recover what they can from the rubble.

Kamala Neupane, 54, Ayushma Singh, eight, Ayush Singh, five, and Pratap Neupane, 23. Kamala Neupane lived in the home and was in Bakrang when the earthquake hit. Her husband passed away years ago and her children all live outside of Bakrang, so she spent the hours after the earthquake trying to reach her children. her son, Pratap, is student in Kathmandu and came back to Bakrang to help his mother recover what they can from the rubble.

“Most of my things are buried under there,” says Chandra Kumari, gesturing to a pile behind her. “I can’t get at them – they’re buried.”

Of the 793 houses in this village, 515 have been destroyed. And virtually no house is undamaged. People are finding what shelter they can amid the ruins and under tarpaulins. Many are elderly and frightened.

“When the earthquake came… it was shaking us all around,” Kamala Neupane tells us, tears falling from her eyes as she sits in front of her shattered home. “Everybody was screaming.” Kamala is 54 years old and lives alone.

At the other end of the village, Tulasa Aryal takes a dented cooking pot from the makeshift tent that is now her home, and begins to prepare some rice. For now, food is not the priority problem. “How can we stay in that?” she says, pointing to the tent. “The monsoons are coming. We need shelter and we need clothes – then we will need food.”

Kieran  McConville standing in front of a collapsed building in Kathmandu. Kieran works in the Communications Unit of Concern Worldwide and travels extensively to document the organization’s emergency  response and development work around the world. He is originally from Limerick, Ireland and lives in New York City.

Kieran McConville standing in front of a collapsed building in Kathmandu. Kieran works in the Communications Unit of Concern Worldwide and travels extensively to document the organization’s emergency response and development work around the world. He is originally from Limerick, Ireland and lives in New York City.

This scene is replicated in hundreds of villages across rural Nepal, and in many cases the situation is much worse, with landslides blocking access to already remote communities. Concern worked here for five years up to 2010, and it is the local partnerships formed during that time that are now key to getting help for the people who need it most.

In some of the hardest hit districts emergency team members have embedded with local organizations and are working with them to figure ways of overcoming the obstacles this awe-inspiring terrain presents. Tarpaulins, blankets, hygiene kits, and water purification tablets are among the supplies that will be delivered in the initial response, reaching around 14,000 families.

Beyond all of that there will be other needs, and already plans are under way to see how the team can best put the generosity of Concern’s supporters to longer-term use for the people of Nepal’s mountain villages. Throughout this organization’s 47 years, it has formed a reputation for not just responding to emergencies, but for staying on to help communities rebuild, recover, and develop. It’s never straightforward, and in this case it’s logistically very challenging, but it’s also a humanitarian imperative. ♦

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UPDATE: A second earthquake hit eastern Nepal midday Tuesday, May 12, two weeks after a major 7.8 magnitude quake killed more than 8,000 people in the country. Kieran McConville, who wrote this article, was there with Concern and shared this video:

EDITOR: This article originally appeared in the June / July 2015 issue of Irish America. 

One Response to “A Challenging Response:
Concern in Nepal”

  1. Dirgha Raj Prasai says:

    After the massive earthquake 2015, April 25, Nepal has been receiving a great deal of support from various countries, international donor agencies, private organizations and even individuals following the April 25 Great Earthquake. As a least developed country, Nepal was/is too ill-prepared to cope up with the devastating impacts of as big tremor as 7.6 magnitude. Without the outpouring of financial, technical and other relief materials from all over the world, the scale of quake induced human tragedy and other losses would have been much higher.
    Two immediate neighbors- China and India- as well as other nations including Bhutan and the US generously came forward to rescue the quake victims here in Nepal. Specifically speaking, the Chinese rescue team has played a vital role to support the people of the most affected districts like Sindhupalchok, Gorkha and Rasuwa. After the quake, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) organized a special meet to chalk out financial packages to help Nepal while Japan proposed holding an international conference among the donors to support Nepal’s reconstruction within a few months. Social media like Facebook and even international celebrities have been working to raise funds for assisting the quake victims in the country.
    During the time of massive earthquake (7.8 magnitude-USGS, seismological department of Nepal claims 7.6 magnitude) April 25, 11.56 AM (local time), I was in my room at Kathmandu and my son Kangada and grand-daughter Kashwi were in their bed room upstairs. My house shook to and fro and up and down for about a minute. Mean time, although we were scared to death but manage to reach shadow zone (a safe place inside the house) .i.e. along the passage below the wooden door frame holding a pillow in our head. Then after the main shock, we rushed to our small kitchen garden to be safe from aftershocks. While rushing to the backyard, we saw, our boundary wall was already collapsed by main shock.
    This is the first biggest earthquake, I have ever experienced in my life time. We experienced several continuous aftershocks on that very day. The frequent aftershocks made us more terrified. After sometime- we heard very sorrowful news around Nepal (mostly Central Nepal).
    The next day, after 25 hours, me, my daughter Tista, daughter-in-law Divya and grand daughter were at Teaching Hospital- (Mahamohan Cardio Thoracic Vascular Transplant Center) where my wife Sanu Baba was staying at ICU after an aortic replacement type A (a major open heart surgery). My wife was very worried about us as she was at ICU. Although, the hospital building is designed to with-stand strong earthquake, it shook and terrorized us after a big aftershock (6.9 magnitudes). No structural damage was reported within the hospital territories.
    The effects of the Great Quake are too enormous to handle alone. In the face of such crisis, there has been a generous outpouring of assistance from all around the world to minimize the sufferings of hundreds of thousands of the Nepali people hit by the tremors followed by collapsed building. Various countries, international organizations, private organizations, and even individuals both Nepalese and foreign are doing their best to help in the rescue, relief, treatment and rehabilitation of the victims. Around eight thousand people have so far been confirmed dead and another 10,000 are injured, some critically. Thousands more are suspected to be under debris in worst-hit districts like Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, Dolakha and Kavrepalanchowk. If to believe preliminary estimates, the country’s economy has incurred as gigantic loss as US $9 billion (Rs 900 billion).
    Thank you
    Dirgha Raj Prasai

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