By John Roche, Head of International Department at Irish Red Cross
Earthquakes bring to mind the ground shaking beneath one’s feet; the earth cracking and homes being damaged and destroyed. But in Sindupaulchowk,the destruction caused by last week’s earthquake in Nepal was of a different order; homes were simply swept from the earth, including the ground on which they stood.
It takes the most resilient of people to look to the future when they no longer even have the plot on which their home rested. Our first job in situations like this is to provide immediate aid for finding victims and treating survivors.
When questions arise over aid agencies appealing for funds rather goods, it should be borne in mind that our responsibility is to do what is most effective. How does one send a window or a roof … or a mountainside? That’s why the Irish Red Cross has sent €150,000 to support the efforts of our colleagues in Nepal – and we will send more.
The relief effort at the moment is still a battle against heavy rains and subsequent landslides; poor aerial and road infrastructure; a broken sewerage system and the threat of disease spreading.
These are the issues the Red Cross Movement is addressing. The donations of the Irish public are being used to buy water purification tablets, tarpaulins, blankets, oral rehydration solution, hygiene kits and clothing.
We had a great deal of this stockpiled in safe locations but now we need to replenish it. As part of the preparedness plan that I helped develop, we had experts primed to assist.
The objective of the Irish Red Cross in making a financial contribution is to provide goods but also to support those best-placed and most experienced in dealing with the situation. This ensures our donors get the optimal impact for their donation.
As soon as the quake struck, regional expertise to support local expertise, such as the Indian and Philippine Red Cross were ready to send in experts who have experience from their own countries of dealing with disaster in specialisms such as medical aid, logistics and water andsanitation.
A matter of time
During my time in South Asia as disaster management specialist in the region for the Red Cross (2010-2014) we knew that a serious earthquake was coming and that it would decimate Nepal’s overpopulated capital and cause untold damage to the Kathmandu Valley which is home to six million people.
Adesh one of my Nepalese colleagues spent his life prepared for a worst-case scenario. He told me that when he was young, children learnt that the country was on the brink of untold destruction and that it would happen in their lifetime.
He spoke of how the beautiful valleys and temples were threatened in the wake of the inevitable. “It is only a matter of time,” he told me.
After last week’s devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, a former colleague – still in Nepal – texted me saying that, “physically and geologically, what happened is exactly what we thought would happen.”
Part of my job in South Asia was to work with governments and agencies on a disaster preparedness plan. We had stocks of the items we knew would be needed when the quake struck strategically placed in safe zones in India, Malaysia and Dubai.
We, the International Red Cross Movement,helped the Nepal Red Cross develop a nationwide network in all 75 districts of the country, comprising almost 1,500 sub-chapters and 6,000 junior and youth circles.
We worked on strengthening physical, financial and personnel infrastructure. This involved volunteers in community’s responding within moments of the earthquake, which they did, despite the loss of their own loved ones and property.
Noting runs smoothly in the aftermath of a disaster but within days the Nepalese government said there were enough volunteers. Getting the stockpiled goods in was slow but they were available.
The earthquake damaged roads and bridges, power and telephone lines, and the landslides that followed left many villages effectively cut off from the rest of the world, reachable only by helicopter. In the days following the quake, heavy rainfall, coupled with dense fog made flights into the two small airports impossible, frustrating efforts to get aid on the ground.
“Getting a clear picture of the scale of the disaster isn’t easy. We’ve had heavy rains and a lot of landslides which have blocked roads. It’s going to take a few more days for rescue teams to reach some of the communities that are still cut off,”my friend told me.
The transport situation is improving by the day which will help get supplies out to remote areas and give us a better picture of what is happening on the ground.
In the meantime, the best support any of us can be at this difficult time for the Nepalese people is to fund the agencies who will be there long after the cameras have gone, rebuilding the infrastructure and the homes – and finding new plots for those that don’t even have that.
Donations to the Red Cross Nepal Quake Appeal can be made at redcross.ie or on 1850 50 70 70