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Kathmandu's modern families


The Nepal earthquake severely impacted some of the region's most vulnerable families. Jess Letch discovered that it also brought many of them together.

 

Wheelchair-bound with severe cerebral palsy, Dependra was unable to evacuate when the earthquake hit on 25 April 2015. His family home - built five storeys high on a patch of land the size of two car spots - collapsed immediately.

Dependra's mother Maya pulled him from the rubble, thankfully unhurt. Now homeless, the pair faced a very uncertain future.

While one in four people were affected by the earthquake, some families were left far more vulnerable than others. Australian Red Cross aid worker Jess Letch was assigned to work with these groups and help address their needs within the global Red Cross response.

"Maya had been Dependra's sole carer for many years," Jess says. "We've seen that aftershocks are really common, and she's terrified that she won't be able to evacuate Dependra in time if such an event happens again. But the other challenge is in that they're now essentially landless."

Working with local organisations, Red Cross helped Maya and Dependra to settle in a camp more suited to Dependra's needs. "People with disabilities really need tents in order to move around inside their shelters and also to receive the sort of care that they need. So we've provided tents to the disabled person's camp and we're also working on water and sanitation solutions to help them to make sure that they have adequate, accessible sanitation facilities for everybody."



Not all vulnerabilities were due to physical barriers. The stigma experienced by LGBT communities in conservative Nepal was greatly heightened following the earthquake, with transgender people often subjected to discrimination when using emergency communal facilities.

Red Cross supported the Nepalese LGBT organisation Blue Diamond Society when it set up its own camp, providing emergency supplies such as tarpaulins, water purification tablets, oral rehydration salts and blankets.

Donate to the Nepal Region Earthquake Appeal to provide humanitarian assistance.

The impact of cultural customs on emergency assistance was further highlighted in the case of the Dalits, a particularly marginalised caste of the population.

"The Dalits are very stigmatised and very disadvantaged," Jess explains. "People often believe that Dalits pollute water sources. So therefore, if we're setting up wells and pumps and hand-washing facilities, we need to be well aware of the makeup of people who are using those facilities, and to work with the community to find solutions."

Humanitarian agencies have a responsibility to support the most vulnerable to maintain their health and dignity, as well as recognising their own strengths and resilience. "People have really formed their own family," Jess reports.

Nonetheless, the task of the country's recovery remains formidable. Many Nepalese think it will take up to 10 years before normality is completely restored.

"There's a long road ahead for so many families that have been affected by this crisis," Jess says. "We can do things to ease the initial effects of the crisis, but it's the families themselves who are going to be rebuilding their homes and reconstructing their communities. We're there to facilitate that process."

Jess Letch shares her story on Nepal in our How Aid Works podcast. Listen now »