In earthquake-devastated Nepal, aid boxes pile up as victims despair

For the past five days since a killer earthquake flattened his two-storey mud house, Tham Bahadur has had only one mission – to retrieve the family ration of rice, maize and lentils in what used to be the first floor kitchen.
Hindustan Times | By Krittivas Mukherjee, Sindhupalchowk, Nepal
UPDATED ON APR 29, 2015 11:05 PM IST

For the past five days since a killer earthquake flattened his two-storey mud house, Tham Bahadur has had only one mission – to retrieve the family ration of rice, maize and lentils in what used to be the first floor kitchen.

During the day he digs through the rubble with a spade while his three little children and old parents watch hunched from across the road. The family has so far survived by eating once a day rice borrowed from neighbours.

“No help is in sight,” says the 36-year-old farmer with a sinewy body, a deeply furrowed forehead and a large hole in one ear.

“There is a limit to how much one can borrow -- after all it’s more or less the same story with the others,” he says, waiting for emergency supplies that he has been told will arrive soon to this district about 100 km northeast of capital Kathmandu .

The first aid flights, mostly from India, began delivering rescuers and relief material within hours of the deadly earthquake, but five days on Nepal is still struggling to reach supplies to millions of people in its remote countryside where the scale of devastation is still unfolding.

While some aid began flowing to towns and villages along motorable roads on Wednesday, aid workers and government officials said it could take days to reach relief to Nepal’s far-flung mountainous villages, some of which can only be accessed by days of arduous trekking.

The country has received substantial amounts of food and medical supplies as well as tents and clothes from across the world. What has held back faster distribution is the lack of coordination and a clear picture on who is in need of help.

There have been other logistical hindrances. For instance, Indian pilots unfamiliar with the topography have been unable to land their supplies-laden helicopters on many occasions.

So, piles of boxes of supplies continue to sit in the stores of the government’s logistics and management division, which is coordinating the relief efforts, as well as at the Tribhuvan Airport, where flights from the United States and Israel could be seen holding aid material.

At the health ministry, funding agencies and aid workers held rounds of meeting with officials on Wednesday, many seeking advice on how they could deliver supplies. One source with knowledge of these meetings said aid agencies want the government to hand over relief distribution to the Nepali army.

“It’s a huge challenge for us, you have to appreciate,” says Rameshwar Dangal, a government joint secretary who is coordinating therescue and relief operation.

“The speed of relief distribution has picked up and it will get better we hope.”’

For Buddha Tamang, however, such official explanations hold little meaning. The 47-year-old labourer, whose stone-and-mud house was razed in the temblor, has been waiting for a proper tent and enough food for his family of five.

“It has been raining sporadically since that day,” says Tamang, referring to last weekend’s earthquake. His family has been huddled under a leaky white plastic sheet and no warm clothes.

Such scenes are now common across much of Nepal, although aid agencies say things could have been better managed.

“The whole operation is chaotic, no one knows who is running the show,” an official with a German funding agency says on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to journalists.

“Kathmandu and the urban areas as coping but it’s the villages that are in real crisis.”

Tham Bahadur and his family would bear that out. The farmer says he has given up hope on official help, so he will keep looking for the family ration.

“There was enough for two months,” he says, wiping the sweat off his brows. “I think I will find it today.”

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