I got up to a strong tremor on 25 April 2015. My father who was with me in Delhi was speaking over the phone to my mother, in another corner of India. She had felt the tremors too (approximately 2000 km away from Delhi and 900 km from Gorkha, Nepal). The tremors were the impact of one of the biggest earthquake in last 4 decades measuring 7.8 on the richter scale with epicentre in Gorkha, Nepal killing more than 8,800 people and injuring 23,000. The Kathmandu airport was soon shut down.
The countdown for my emergency deployment had started and I was on the plane to Kathmandu the very next day. The plane was flying with the media. It was a long memorable journey of almost 12 hours against the normal 2 hours full of anxiety and frequent media interviews onboard on the potential impact of the earthquake. We failed to land in the first attempt around 12.00 noon when another major aftershock hit Kathmandu resulting in the closure of airport but hats-off to Captain Khan of Indigo airlines who was determined to help us reach Kathmandu safely.
Finally we landed in the evening, and as I came out of the airport, it was pouring. Hundreds of people were queuing to be evacuated. My first impression of Kathmandu city was a spine chilling one- it appeared like a dark bombed city with an eerie of silence spread all over and hundreds of cars parked on the road with not a single person visible on the road. The rarely open spaces and parks in Kathmandu were flooded with make-shift tents and only some noise of crying children could be heard in the dark night.
Almost each night at Kathmandu was full of uncertainty where I including my colleagues and other humanitarian aid workers had to get up fast from the bed in the middle of the night and evacuate the hotel room in fraction of seconds with mobile phone and emergency grab bag in hand already pre-positioned near the door following every aftershock. It was interesting to see the commitment of Dr. Unni Krishnan, Head of Emergency Preparedness and Response of PLAN International being interviewed by several international media houses in the middle of night amidst series of aftershocks. The shaking continued at regular intervals until a series of 8 strong tremors (of this 7 hit during the night) hit Dolakha and Sinduplachowk on 10 and 11 June 2015 in a span of 36 hours when I along with ECHO Consortium Manager were accompanying Rehmat Yezdani, Regional Food Security Expert from ECHO Pakistan for conducting Food security assessment. Rehmet says “ It is very scary and I would prefer to stay in the tent than sleeping inside the hotel room in Dolakha”.
The devastation was huge. Villages appeared as if they had been bombed by nature with more than 95% houses collapsed and all the families were living in the makeshift tents in the open spaces with a big question mark of “uncertainty” on their future life.
Padma Kumari Adhikari, aged 65 years from Lapilang VDC, Dolakha recalls “The sudden thunder sound of earthquake appeared like a helicopter crash when I was cutting green fodder for my cattle. My children thought I had died in the collapsed house and they were looking for me until they saw me coming alive from the forest” . Her house was completely collapsed and has been living in a makeshift tent. She still seems to be in trauma and gets horrified with the shaking earth with rattling and cracking noise from the hills and the left over damaged infrastruture. Tears flow down her cheeks when she narrates her experience of that horrible day. She survived on the food and non food relief items (tarpaulin and hygiene kit) distributed by PLAN but gets embarrassed when her 20 kilogram of rice was taken away by someone whom she doesn’t know. She, being a senior citizen had kept it with a shopkeeper in the downhill but an anonymous person pretending to be her relative, took away and he never handed over to her. She says “why am I being tortured by nature so frequenty” but she is very happy to receive the 2 bundles of Corrugated Iron Sheets (CGI) with tool kit from PLAN funded by the Humanitarian Aid Department of European Commission (DGECHO). She gleefully says that “I will now have a roof on my head and my children will help in making me a transitional shelter” . She is also a beneficiary for Unconditional Cash Transfer (UCT) of NPR 10,000 (EURO 92) funded by Disaster Emergency Committee (DEC) where she plans to repay her debt which she had borrowed for food and construct a makeshift shelter. She is extremely happy with the CGI sheets and receive the cash transfer support since it provided her flexibility and choice to cover her basic needs.
Similarly, Maya Badri, 85 years old widow from Suspasemawati VDC of Dolkaha breaks down when she recalls her experience of the deadly earthquake. She is still shocked to have survived the earthquake since it struck while she was sleeping inside her house and exclaims “ I am alive because of the angel (referring to neighbour) who rescued me from the damaged house without a single scratch on my body. I am highly indebted to my neighbour for the rest of my life and God bless the saving soul”. Her husband died long back and she stays alone. She has only one son who lives with his family in another house and does not look after her. Maya used to survive on the community support and also used to get physically harassed by his son whenever she espressed to live with them. Maya is extremely happy to have received the same package of CGI sheets and UCT and feels she would not have survived without support from the community.
The CGI sheets were being carried by able bodied beneficiaries identified under cash for work activities funded by DEC. She is confident that the neighbours will support her shelter reconstruction and will utilise the cash to cover her food, shelter and health needs. She also received relief support from PLAN including Food, Tarpaulin and hygiene kit
The emergency shelter and NFI activities are funded by DGECHO from April to August 2015, led by PLAN International with partners Save the Children and World Vision in a consortium being implemented in Gorkha and Dolakha districts. PLAN is implementing the response activities with an integrated approach where the initial response were covered through food, emergency shelter (tarpaulin) and non food items. The second phase response includes shelter complemented with multipurpose cash transfers covering the basic needs of the affected population. In addition, PLAN is also implementing health, child protection and education in emergencies activities in the same VDCs.
I still get goosebumps whenever I experience any noise/vibration due to passing of heavy truck or shaking of window panes but nevertheless I am happy to see some children, who have started to smile but there are loads of work to be undertaken and reach thousands of children who are yet to smile. Thus the life continues after the shocks amidst “uncertainty”.
Reminds me of these lines…….by Robert Frost…
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.