My first visual impressions of the damage in Nepal was on the BBC website. I was astonished and horrified to see a place I recognised totally devastated. In front of the Annapurna guest house, where PHASE volunteers often stay in Kathmandu (KTM), is a huge traditional sink where water is collected and local people do their washing and bathing. This beautiful deep terracotta sink was entirely filled with the rubble of the 6 story budget hotel next door but one. In the top corner of the BBC’s photograph I noticed that the window boxes on the roof garden of the Annapurna Guest House still looked fresh and unscathed.
The complete destruction of the areas where our clinics are is devastating. The bombing of Dresden was my thought when I travelled to Sinduphulchowk. There is barely a building or a wall of the beautiful old Newar and Tamang houses remaining. The huge roof slates, which were often piled up neatly to await reuse, are now amongst a jumble of old wooden spars and stone, sometimes with pieces of furniture breaking the surface. The landscape is completely changed with the bright blue and yellow of International Aid tarpaulins. The sun reflects off the galvanised zinc roof sheets that are now being distributed for shelter.
Much has been done in the months since the earthquakes and every family in Sinduphulchowk now has some sort of temporary shelter, although space to build these shelters is at a premium. Every flat piece of land contains a shelter (or is a terraced field too narrow to construct a dwelling on). Shelters stand right up next to the ruins and terrace edges.
At our health post in Fulpingkot our lovely blue Chinese government tent, worthy of any Guide camp, is so close to the edge of the drop down the next terrace that rolling up the windows to let air and light in is quite treacherous. The PHASE nurses, social motivator and myself are lucky to also have tents (from World Vision and Caritas) that are quite resistant to the monsoon rain (which is now a daily occurrence!). Many of our neighbours live in makeshift sheds, with tarpaulins that stretch and pool the rain, or beneath tin roofs where the nail holes provide an unwanted shower, and stay less dry.
Most toilets will have to be reconstructed, not only because their structures have collapsed but because the underground cess pits have also been damaged. This has contaminated the water supply which is now no longer safe for drinking, and we must walk for about 10 minutes to a location well away from previous sanitation for our drinking water.
So what about the people? Fulpingkot is village of around 4000 people. 34 of these people died in the earthquakes and some 200 were injured. Some required helicoptering out to KTM. The progress made in Fulpingkot in a little over 2 months is astonishing. Temporary shelters from tarpaulins are now being replaced by wooden constructions. Tin roofs with tarpaulins mostly cover just the animals and wood piles.
Schools are up and running (albeit in tin shelters with the remains of twisted school benches) and the children still play noisily with hoops reminiscent of the Victorian era. They chat to me eagerly to practice their English. There is still a constant buzz of sawing and hammering when there is a break from farming. Rice planting, ploughing terraces knee deep in muddy water, and harvesting maize are the priorities just now. Last night we were caught in a storm that flattened much of the maize and brought down trees, sadly one came down across the roof of the newly built tin school. This was run by the monastery at the top of the hill.
Our clinic has surprisingly few patients who are traumatised by the events, and complaints such as traumatic backache (as a result of falling rocks or being trapped during a quake) are not spontaneously volunteered. However our clinics are full of the seasonal problems of diarrhoea, pneumonia and child malnutrition.
Walking to clinics we are cheerfully greeted by folk who will chat and offer their fruit to us and still seem prepared to give away their last grain of rice. The Nepalis are still living, laughing, loving and sharing! Nepalis have hearts as big as the mountains where they live and an acceptance of the vagaries of the weather that is legendary.
PHASE Nepal has been able to adapt from a small NGO with specific remits in health, education and livelihood enhancement to a highly respected disaster agency as well. After the earthquake they were able to deliver relief in the form of tarpaulins and food, before the major aid agencies arrived in Nepal, and provided tool and hygiene packs soon after. Albeit this was only in the areas where we work.
A number of factors enabled PHASE Nepal to facilitate this support- not least the large amount of unrestricted funds that PHASE Worldwide makes available to PHASE Nepal which allowed for the immediate bulk purchase of necessities. Most of our grants and trusts funds are very tightly attached to the running of specific programmes and cannot be diverted to humanitarian aid in other districts of Nepal. As a result PHASE Nepal is a respected partner in ongoing disaster work and recipient of major funds from international agencies such as Caritas and Diakonie . These funds are tightly ring fenced for rebuilding and are short term (several million euros to be spent by December 2016). The priority in Fulpingkot, just one of our villages, is to build 15 houses for single women with no family support, and the school.
The office in KTM has naturally had to expand in order to deliver this work, but this is only temporary. In the meantime our core work of improving health, education and livelihoods in remote Himalayan communities needs to continue, especially in the road-less districts of Humla and Basjura (both of these regions were unaffected by the earthquakes and will now be at the bottom of the list for international or government aid) and Ghorka (Manaslu valley) where supplies and personnel still need to be helicoptered in and out.
So, on behalf of PHASE Worldwide, I would like to say an enormous thank you to all our donors (large and small) who have run marathons, cycled up hills, rowed for hours, baked cakes, blown their trumpets, or just put their hands deep into their pockets. THANK YOU! Your continuing support is much needed.
(thank you in Nepalese)
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