A week after a monster earthquake flattened large parts of Nepal, the country has all but given up hope of finding any more survivors. Instead, it seems to be preparing for its next fight — the one against disease.
“It’s already the eighth day and there is very little possibility of finding anyone alive under the rubble,” home ministry spokesperson Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said Saturday.
It’s been two days since any signs of life have been detected among the mountains of rubble in Kathmandu. However, the death toll has crossed 7,000 and fresh tremors continue to rock the country.
International agencies said a health disaster may be on Nepal’s doorstep, especially with monsoon rains just a few weeks away.
“Hospitals are overflowing, water is scarce, bodies are still buried under rubble and people are still sleeping in the open,” Rownak Khan, UNICEF’s deputy representative in Nepal, said. “This is a perfect breeding ground for diseases.”
The World Health Organization said it was focused on preventing the spread of diarrhoeal diseases in the capital’s 16 makeshift camps. So far, no camps have reported any outbreaks. A quick assessment by WHO of the worst-hit districts has also found some hospitals damaged or destroyed but most coping well. However, they are in need of medicines, equipment and materials.
Survivors are also in dire need of blankets, tents, food and warm clothes. “They have just provided us with one bottle of water,” said Phulmaya Lagun, homeless with her family of 10.
Angry residents took to the streets on Saturday, alleging relief material was finding its way to the black market and prices of essential items had been steeply hiked.
Dhakal said the focus now was on providing relief to those who have been waiting for days, while the government renewed its appeal to international donors to send tents, tarpaulins and basic food supplies. “We have received things like tuna fish and mayonnaise. What good are those? We need grains, salt and sugar,” finance minister Ram Sharan Mahat told reporters on Friday.
Though the focus has shifted to relief, the Nepal army believes some people may still be found alive. “There have been past instances when people have been found alive even after a week. Therefore, we have not given up hope,” said spokesperson Brigadier General Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel.
Relatives of the missing also refused to abandon hope. “I believe he must still be trapped and will be rescued alive,” said Suntali Tamang, whose husband Langte was believed to be in the same neighbourhood of Gongabu where the last survivors were found two days ago.
(With agency inputs)