As I’m sure was clear from my last post, the situation in these rural, high-altitude villages is quite desperate, in terms of infrastructure damage and acute relief needs. The two villages we were able to reach, Keraunja and Rumchet, are likely representative of the many others that still remain beyond access. From information we gathered, they offer the following insight into the situation:
- 100% structural damage: literally, not a single building that we saw was left standing and usable in either village.
- Large-scale capital losses, largely in the form of loss of livestock: 90 sheep/goats and 20 cows, which appeared to represent all livestock in Keraunja, were lost in a series of landslides as they grazed on a mountainside high above the village; the shepherds tending them all perished as well.
- Extensive infrastructure damage to health posts, schools, municipal buildings and private shops/ lodges, as well as loss of all roads and overland access: in addition to being a giant step back for the already slow development in these regions, the world beyond these villages is also now totally inaccessible except by helicopter due to large landslides, rockfall and subsidence.
- Death tolls from the initial impact were estimated as high as 5-10% from the limited data we collected (20 confirmed dead in a village of 330; 5 in neighboring village of 1600), but we remain concerned that the death toll will increase rapidly if health and food needs remain unaddressed, and if road access to supplies in the long term is not restored quickly.
- Significant humanitarian needs, including:
- Shelter & Blankets – Quickly surveying the number of devastated homes from views higher up, it’s clear that the number of blue and orange emergency tents we saw was nowhere near adequate, especially when you consider that a typical rural household is seven people living in a one- or two-room stone & thatched roof hut. We observed multiple families crowded under a single large tarpaulin, and other people that didn’t seem to have even that luxury, huddled instead under hemp sacks at the edges of their terraced fields.
- Food Supplies – Keraunja (the same village with all its livestock lost) has food for 3 or 4 more days; they are literally on the brink of starvation. After that, there will be nothing left for this group of several hundred villagers to eat, and undoubtedly that is the case many times over for rural, geographically isolated villages like it across the country. Fortunately, it seemed that water access was not a primary concern, as that infrastructure was virtually unaffected in the villages we encountered.
- Massive numbers of displaced peoples, starting with the nearly 440,000 people that have already fled the KTM valley thus far according to yesterday’s Kathmandu Post. We encountered a group of Nepali men and women trekking up over the mountain as were descending it on our way to assess the next village, and learned that they were the front end of an entire village that had left two days earlier. They were making their way to the larger town of Arughat, another 2 to 3 days’ walk under normal conditions, and they were attempting this despite significant risk of ongoing landslides that had already claimed the lives of hundreds in the area. The earthquake has created a major refugee crisis that will require intensive aid from the international community.
Happily, there appears to be little concern so far of rioting/ looting/ violent crime in these more rural areas, due (I suspect) to preserved village and extended family structures there; however, I’m less informed about the situation in urban centers like Kathmandu.
At this point, multiple international humanitarian groups and governments have partnered with the Nepali government to arrange food and supply drops to these villages. From what I saw at the helipads, government officials are going about relief efforts in an orderly way, proceeding systematically through each VDC [Village Development Committee, a unit of local government] in the district. It seems, however, that if the government is perceived by the general populace to be distant from the situation and ineffective in its efforts to organize relief, this could lead to general civil unrest and further destabilization of the still-fragile government.
From a medical standpoint (the reason, of course, that we were called in to start with), there do not appear to be major acute medical needs at this point in the more rural regions; our assessment was that any deaths were quick, due to crush injuries from falling structures and burying in landslide rock. We did not encounter large numbers of surgical/ trauma cases in our time, though we were prepared to treat them to a degree if so.
As relief workers, we were loathe to place further burden on their already taxed resources, obviously; although we had brought all our own food in, it is not the Nepali custom to refuse food to guests no matter how dire the situation. Such is the gracious and hospitable nature of the Nepali people, virtually without exception. In return, we left with them all the food we’d brought, and tried to help the injured among them, evacuating ten of the more serious cases for further treatment in Pokhara. We advocated our Indian Army helicopter evacuation troop on their behalf, alerting them to the desperate situation so that they made plans to return with additional food drops later that day. We conducted a needs assessment and reviewed their burden of casualties, infrastructure damages and capital losses.
But most of all, as the first responders in all four villages visited, our team represented the promise of hope, aid, and recognition: their situation was known to the world beyond, and that world cares about their suffering. At each village we came to, the people expressed their heartfelt thanks for coming, for our solidarity with them in this crisis.
Friends, let’s now follow through on that promise.
Next: Three Ways You Can Help