Nepal asks foreign rescue teams to return home as hope of finding quake survivors fades

  • Utpal Parashar, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: May 05, 2015 02:30 IST

Nepal has asked other countries to wrap up rescue operations as there is little hope of finding survivors in areas affected by last month’s earthquake, prompting nearly half the foreign teams to leave the country by Monday.

Seventy-five teams with 4,050 personnel from 34 countries were involved in search and rescue operations in the 14 districts that were hit hardest by the 7.9-magnitude quake on April 25.

"Since search and rescue work is over, we had requested the foreign teams to leave the country and till Monday nearly 50% of them have done so," said home ministry spokesperson Laxmi Prasad Dhakal.

"Our request was only for the search and rescue teams as there is almost no chance of finding any survivors now. Foreign teams doing relief work can continue their work," he said.

The head of India's National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), among the first foreign organisations to arrive, said it had been asked by the Nepal government to conclude its operations.

"All the search and rescue teams, not the relief (teams)...have been asked to return," NDRF chief OP Singh told the media.

A man takes care of small oil lamps that Buddhist devotees light as part of Buddha Purnima celebrations outside the Boudhanath stupa in Kathmandu. (AFP Photo)

The worst earthquake to hit Nepal in 81 years killed more than 7,200 people, injured 14,300 and left tens of thousands displaced. It devastated infrastructure and flattened homes across the country.

According to latest government figures, over 200,000 houses -- 190,996 belonging to the public and 10,742 to the government --have been completely destroyed in the quake.

Dozens of rescue teams had fanned out across Nepal to look for survivors but Nepalese officials now believe search and rescue work has been nearly completed.

India had sent the biggest contingent (962), followed by China (370) and Israel (286). There are also nearly 700 foreign medical workers in Nepal.

Clarifying that India will remain engaged in the rehabilitation process, Nepal ambassador to India Deep Kumar Upadhyay said, "We have full commitment of Indian government. We told them our priorities."

As Nepal's sudden decision led to speculations, he asked the media to take the situation positively and added the rescue work in Nepal was about to be completed.

Aid needed

However, foreign minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey said on Monday that Nepal will need more relief materials and funds from the world community.

"We need huge (amounts of) relief material to address the woes of thousands, including funds for rebuilding, reconstruction and relocation of thousands of structures and displaced people," he told a gathering of Kathmandu-based diplomats, including the ambassadors of India and China.

He thanked the world community for assisting Nepal in the search and rescue operations and urged them to focus on the rebuilding and reconstruction process.

Pandey also expressed concern that aid announced by the global community had not been deposited in the Prime Minister's Relief Fund.

A Nepalese man walks past the rubble of a damaged building in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu. (Photo: Gurinder Osan/ HT)

The UN has said 8 million of Nepal's 28 million people were affected by the quake, with at least 2 million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.

On Monday, police and volunteers in a remote district found the bodies of about 100 trekkers and villagers buried by an avalanche set off by the earthquake.

Praying for peace

At the Swayambhunath shrine, located atop a hill overlooking Kathmandu, hundreds of people chanted prayers on Monday as they walked around the hill where the white iconic stupa with its gazing eyes are located.

Some of the structures around the stupa, built in the 5th century, were damaged in the quake. Police blocked off the steep steps to the top of the shrine, also called "Monkey temple" because of the many monkeys who live on its slopes.

"I am praying for peace for the thousands of people who were killed," said Santa Lama, a 60-year-old woman. "I hope there will be peace and calm in the country once again and the worst is over."

Speaking in New Delhi on the occasion of Buddha Purnima, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the situation in Nepal is "beyond our imagination". He said he was sad that the land where Lord Buddha was born was in serious trouble following the quake.

"I pray to Buddha that the earthquake victims should not suffer any more," he said, adding this was an opportunity for everyone to follow the Buddha's message of "karuna" (compassion) and wipe the tears of those suffering in Nepal.

Led by Modi, the participants at the function offered a special prayer for the quake victims.

A USAID officer watches as a US military C-17 cargo plane taxis to a stop at Kathmandu's international airport on May 3, 2015. (AFP)

Bottlenecks removed

Authorities had to temporarily close Kathmandu's main airport to large aircraft delivering aid due to runaway damage on Sunday, but UN officials said the overall logistics situation was improving.

The airport was built to handle only medium-size jetliners, but not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying in aid supplies, food, medicines, and rescue and humanitarian workers, said Birendra Shrestha, the manager of Tribhuwan International Airport.

There have been reports of cracks on the runway and other problems at the only airport capable of handling jetliners.

"You've got one runway, and you've got limited handling facilities, and you've got the ongoing commercial flights," said Jamie McGoldrick, the UN coordinator for Nepal. "You put on top of that massive relief items coming in, the search and rescue teams that have clogged up this airport. And I think once they put better systems in place, I think that will get better."

He said the bottlenecks in aid delivery were slowly disappearing, and the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid following complaints from the UN.

(With inputs from agencies)


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