There's a humbling truth about the Nepal earthquake response, explains Peter Walton from Australian Red Cross. The sheer scale and the treacherous terrain makes delivering aid a nightmare.
Thursday April 30, 2015
Nepal Red Cross volunteers were active from the first hours of the quake. Photo: Finnish Red Cross/Aapo Huhta
First published in The Daily Telegraph on 30 April 2015.
Aid agencies have launched urgent appeals to raise desperately-needed funds and send disaster response teams and planeloads of relief supplies. Families are sleeping on the streets in the bitter cold, four days after the earthquake while they wait for aid to arrive.
Meanwhile, survivors are still being pulled from the rubble, alongside thousands of the dead who must be buried safely, and with dignity.
The destruction hinders relief efforts at every turn. Landslides block the roads, keeping rescuers from reaching devastated towns and villages closest to the quake's epicentre.
There are few safe places for helicopters to land. Relief supplies - including drinking water - must be carried up mountains by volunteers and sherpas on foot, a ten-hour journey in many cases. Meanwhile aftershocks continue, sparking further landslides, more deaths and more evacuations.
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We're estimating, and this changes hourly, that more than 5,000 people have died, 10,000 people are injured, 35,000 homes are gone and over five million people are affected. This is around 20 per cent of the population.
So how do you respond?
Well, with great urgency, human endeavour, sweat and determination.
We received a report from a 22-year-old named Sammeer Bajracharya. As soon as the tremors subsided from the first terrifying quake, Sammeer - a Red Cross volunteer - was checking on his neighbours. He worked side-by-side with government teams to rescue people and administer life-saving first aid.
With hospitals overflowing, Sammeer and his fellow Red Cross volunteers are treating people on the streets.
Many of the Red Cross volunteers are sleeping in the streets as well and dealing with their personal grief and loss.
Like Bijay Dahal, who is caring for his elderly father and son with a disability, while trying to help his neighbours.
He told us: "My son is distressed at having to sleep outdoors in the cold every night under plastic sheeting. We can't take much more of this but everyone's in the same situation."
With support from Australia, Nepal Red Cross has been training thousands of people in first aid for many years, so they can do exactly what they're doing now. But the size of the disaster defies a quick response for all who need help.
The task ahead is enormous and there is no quick fix.
We're sending a few specialist emergency response aid workers but not large numbers of volunteers to Nepal, because aid is best delivered by people on the scene, at the time; those who know their neighbourhoods and have the trust of their communities.
We see this time and time again, whether it's in Nepal or in Australia during floods, fires or cyclones.
We must do more to support our friends in Nepal and other countries in the region, to plan and deliver services according to needs in their own communities. When a disaster hits, they should call the shots and direct international assistance to where it's needed.
To all those who remain cold, homeless, deprived and waiting for help in Nepal, we share your frustration but we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you on the long, hard road to recovery.
Peter Walton is Head of International Programs at Australian Red Cross.