Survival and shelter in Nepal

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Parvita and her grandsons stand in the ruins of their home, which was badly damaged in the earthquake which struck Nepal’s Sindhupalchowk district on 25 April 2015. Picture: Russell Watkins/DFID

I’ve just recently returned from a deployment for DFID to Nepal, in the aftermath of the earthquake which struck the country on 25 April.

It’s hard to know what to say about such a destructive heart-breaking event. I spent 3 months in Nepal back in 1999, and had always hoped to return one day. I didn’t ever imagine that I would do so under such awful circumstances. Back then, I’d spent a few weeks trekking to and staying in the beautiful village of Langtang, which has been so tragically completely destroyed. But then as now, the hospitality and resilience of the Nepalese people is absolutely extraordinary –  as exemplified by Parvita, the woman in the photo above – who was just one of many people I met whilst there a few weeks ago.

Like so many others, Parvita had lost her home in the earthquake, and was living under a make-shift shelter with her family and livestock, a few metres away from the remains of her house. I met her in the queue for a distribution of shelter materials a couple of miles down the valley in the district of Bhotechaur, Sindhupalchowk – one of the worst affected areas, a few hours drive east of Kathmandu. She kindly agreed to talk to me and be interviewed about her experience – which, with help of the Swiss NGO MedAir, I’ve put together as a multimedia piece over on Storehouse – please take a look.

Part of the challenge of covering events like the Nepal earthquake is to demonstrate that aid does get through to people in need. The day I met Parvita was 10 days after the quake, and 2 days after her village had been reached and assessed for its needs by aid agencies. Yes, that’s over a week that they had to wait before outside help started to arrive. But almost any country in the world would be almost overwhelmed when faced with such a widespread, destructive natural disaster such as this. Criticism and media reporting that aid isn’t getting through is quick to appear, but these are complex, chaotic situations, and there are many sides to the story.

Kathmandu has a relatively small international airport, and it was almost inevitable that there would be some congestion there in terms of getting aid in. But in fact lots of aid materials, shelter and sanitation kits etc – had in fact been pre-positioned across the Kathmandu valley in anticipation of precisely this kind of event. And, as luck would have it, just 3 weeks before the earthquake, the World Food Programme had opened a specially designed humanitarian aid staging area just outside Kathmandu airport – designed to expedite the transit of aid that would need to be flown in if an earthquake struck. I visited it on the day that I arrived there, and saw pallets of tents and plastic sheeting literally being cleared through Nepali customs, loaded onto aid agency trucks and being dispatched with a couple of hours of being unloaded from planes. That part of the system seemed to me to be working almost exactly as it was designed to do.

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It was by following one of these consignments of aid that I met Parvita. From plane to truck to village to people in need in the space of little more than a day – and ultimately onto Parvita’s head, as she carried the heavy bale of plastic sheeting, ropes, and basic household essentials such as plastic buckets and soap on her back for the couple of mile walk up a steep mountain trail from the road to her house.

It was a truly humbling experience to be back in Nepal. This beautiful country is going to need a huge amount of international help to recover from the earthquakes. Luckily, it has lots of people like Parvita who I know will help it prevail – but they do need our help. Please donate if you can to the Disasters Emergency Committee appeal.

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About russellphoto

Photographer and multimedia producer/editor working in international development. Also on Twitter @russellphoto
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