June 23, 2021

Praveen's Webspace

writing, mostly, on contemporary issues of human rights, politics & social justice

Devastating Earthquake of April 25: Desperate times

I originally wrote this for Republica.

All of a sudden, all electronic gadgets in my room were automatically turned off Saturday noon. I had been working on my laptop at the time. At that inauspicious time when the clock showed 11:56, my bed started to shakeand the TV set almost jumped at me.

I rushed to the door and stood between the pillars from where I could see and hear other people in my neighborhood yelling and running helter-skelter. I shouted at them not to run but stay inside safely till things were settled. Nobody listened to me, and I was scared.The earthquake continued for two minutes, and nobody was inside. I had never experienced continuous tremors and it made me lose hope. I was at wit’s end.

I came out in the open after it stopped. Hundreds of people had already gathered outside. I saw parts of some buildings and boundary walls nearby collapse. I tried to contact my family, friends and colleagues, but in vain. I browsed the net,which was luckily available. I tweeted about the earthquake and also posted a status on Facebook.

Immediately after the first quake, no Nepali media covered the news, except Radio Nepal. But I could read Facebook posts and tweets about earthquake from different parts of the country. Though there were reports about damage and loss of properties and lives in Kathmandu alone, at first,nationwide reports soon followed.

Through social media, I could learn that Saturday’s devastating earthquake measured 7.9 in the Richter scale with its epicenter was in Gorkha district. Thereafter, international media was not only quick but also active in reporting the incident. Nepali media became active only after news spread through international media.

A series of aftershocks followed. According to National Seismological Centre, over a hundred tremors measuring more than four Richter scale were felt in different parts of the country at different times.

Human casualties and loss of properties caused by the devastating earthquake and its aftershocks across the country cannot be figured out now. Four days after the disaster, the Home Ministry has so far recorded over 5,000deaths,and twice the number of injured. Based on human casualties, Kathmandu valley and Sindhupalchowk district havebeen the hardest hit.

Likewise, Dharahara and Basantpur Durbar Square, among other historical and cultural heritages of Kathmandu valley, were turned into rubble after the earthquake.

Immediate rescue was limited to the capital for the first two days. Foreign countries, however, were quick to send in their rescue teams. With their help, rescue works started outside the capital after the third day.

Despite extreme challenges, Nepal Army has been coordinating search and rescue operations teams from India, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey, Netherlands, Poland, Germany, France, Israel, Malaysia, Britain and Japan in various affected areas. They have been doing a wonderful job to save people. Some victims were rescued alive from the rubble.

Had foreign rescue teams not reached the country in time, rescue would have hit a snag. Nepali authorities alone could not carry out operations. In fact Home Minister BamdevGautamhas accepted that the country was underprepared for such a massive disaster. Even locals from remote areas are complaining about delays in rescue and response. The rescue and relief distribution to the affected locals are underway.

Continuous tremors after the first quake haveinstilled fear in people that they hesitate to enter their homes even after the government has appealed them to do so. They have been compelled to live in tents in open spaces. Though some people in Kathmandu whose houses are not damaged have returned home starting yesterday, many are still spending sleepless nights in temporary camps. Rainfall has added to the woe of displaced locals.

Fearing aftershocks and consequences of food and water shortage, thousands of people have already fled the capital and returned to their villages; some are on the way; and others are planning their journey back home. Health and disaster experts warn of water-borne diseases and other infectious diseases in the absence of pure drinking water and hygienic food.

Following the recent disaster, governments and NGOs from other countries have intensified their help. Effective and timely distribution of relief materials in remote areas is a big concern.

Mismanagement in distributing donations from foreign governments has exposed certain people’s vested interests and lack of coordinated strategies. Amid such a situation, NGOs play a crucial role in distributing relief materials without bias.

It is high time for both aid agencies and government to strictly monitor use of funds and relief materials meant for earthquake victims. We should all pitch in for the benefit of those in need.

The author is associated with Republica