Resilience in the face of chaos: A first hand account from Nepal
It's been just over two weeks since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, killing over 7,500 people and leaving many more homeless. Insiya Salam, Programme Coordinator at Human Appeal, has just returned from delivering humanitarian aid in the country. Here she shares her first hand experience: from a packed airport to bricks not made to withstand movement, she found resilience and optimism in the face of devastation and chaos.
Landing at Kathmandu airport it was quite obvious that something wasn't quite right - the number of Emergency Response Teams and all the Red Cross who were constantly arriving; we were obviously in an emergency situation. Kathmandu airport, in a post earthquake situation, clearly did not have the capacity to deal with the influx of people and aid supplies pouring in. But, apart from one disgruntled passenger who was complaining loudly about it taking over an hour for our luggage to come out, it was clear that everybody was understanding of the situation.
Driving through the city it became apparent that most of the extensive damage must be in the more rural areas. Although damaged buildings and various structural damage was evident, it wasn't as obvious as what I had seen on the news before flying to Kathmandu. The next day when I visited the villages myself and walked over the collapsed buildings, the bricks literally crumbled under my feet. One person told me that the bricks used to build their houses hadn't been fired and so they were not as strong as the normal red bricks. These houses had no chance against such a strong earthquake.
The rest of our team had arrived the day before, and had spent the day visiting villages which had been badly damaged by the earthquake and doing needs assessments. Our priority was to find quick impact projects so that we could provide aid immediately and also find local partners that we could work with on a slightly longer-term basis. We used our networks in the country to find new potential partners; even though by this point it was 9pm, people still came to meet us. It was clear that since the earthquake civil society had mobilised itself and had begun doing assessments of villages, the extent of the damage and of the needs of the people. Nepali people were ready to help their fellow people.
The next day when we visited another partner it was obvious that this was mirrored elsewhere. The mosque had mobilised volunteers who were working tirelessly to organise the distribution of food, shelter and medical supplies in areas they had identified as being in need. And from what I observed over the following days, they started in the early hours of the morning and didn't stop until late at night.
The logistical issues faced by aid workers have been widely reported, both in the news and at UN Cluster meetings. Damaged roads, landslides and lack of helicopters has meant that many communities in the remote areas and areas close to the epicentre have had to wait a long time for aid to reach and feel like the government has abandoned them in their time of need. However, in the villages that I visited and the people I spoke to, there was a clear sense of community and of everyone working together to help each other.
In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake it was neighbours who were helping neighbours. In one village where we distributed food, one lady told me that a village 20 minutes away were in a more desperate situation – they had no access to food, so people in the village that we were in cooked food every other day to send up to the other village. People who have lost everything and are now living in the fields with their families and showering in public places are still grateful for what they do have and are surprisingly accepting of their situation. Teachers I spoke to plan to return back to teaching once schools open mid May and children plan to return back to school (at least for those schools which haven’t been damaged). When I asked one man what he will do next, he smiled and said he will wait for action from the government. In the meantime he is collecting data on his village and coordinating relief efforts in his community ensuring everyone who was affected by the earthquake receives some sort of aid.