A 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25th April with the epicentre about 50 miles North West of the capital, Kathmandu. Tremors were felt across the region and aftershocks affected the area for several days. A second earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.3, struck Dolakha district, 100 miles east of Kathmandu on 12th May. Powerful aftershocks continued for hours, including 5.6 and 6.3 magnitude tremors. The area, already affected by the first earthquake, suffered additional casualties and further destruction to buildings and homes.
In several districts (Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot and Dolakha), more that 95% of people have had their homes destroyed, according to MapAction, 15th May 2015. Even in less affected areas people can’t shelter in buildings that are still standing, because of the risk of further aftershocks. Thousands are living out in the open, exposed to the elements both the cold and the rain.
According to a May 19 Ministry of Health and Population report, out of a total of 1,100 health facilities in the region, 427 are completely destroyed and 673 have been damaged.
An immediate priority has been for emergency shelter as the monsoon season begins in June and it is already raining. While over 175,000 tarpaulins and 8,000 tents had been distributed (UNOCHA 18 May 2015), communities in remote and hard to reach areas are still to be helped with high quality tarpaulins, tools and household items (including blankets).
The government has organised a district authority-led rapid multi-sectoral assessment across Village Development Committees (VDC) to learn about the situation in all affected districts. In addition to shelter, food, clean water and sanitation, household items and hygiene kits are top priorities.
UN World Food Program (WFP) report that the window of opportunity—just weeks before the onset of the monsoon—to deliver life-saving food, shelter and medical supplies is closing rapidly for people living high up in the mountains with no road access. Once the monsoon rains begin, access to the high-lying villages will be seriously curtailed.
WFP is racing against the clock to deliver food and assist other organisations in delivering shelter materials by helicopter, trucks, tractors and, starting this week, approximately 20,000 local porters who will trek into some of the remotest villages carrying food and shelter on their backs.
News from Deanery of Nepal
Rev Lewis Lew, Dean of Nepal, was distributing rice and supplies in Godarwari, 35 miles South West of the epicentre, Namche Bazaar when the second earthquake hit. He reports that “this second quake devastated the hope of many Nepalese who thought things were getting better and that the country was on the road to recovery, after the first quake… I could see in the eyes of the villagers; fear, frustration and in some the anger that so little has been done for them. Once again, they are plunged into great despair. Although the second quake had been smaller in scale, the people looked more affected. There are also more damages to buildings, roads, and to an already weak economy.”
“All over the place, we could see the people trooping out into the open, to once again set up tents and temporary shelters, getting ready for more after shocks. For many, they were just fearful of being caught in crumbling buildings, as many of the after shocks were equally sizeable to the quake itself, with some measuring up to 6.3. Some buildings that survived the first quake had unfortunately failed in the second.”
Once Dean Lew returned to the capital Kathmandu he said, “We could hear the sound of sirens filled the air. Ambulances from all directions were rushing the injured to the hospitals. We could also see the long lines of injured outside the hospitals. It was like a scene in the war movie; except that this is real. As the aftershocks continued through the day and night, the people began to camp out in the open braving the cold nights.”
He continues “with 8 million people throughout Nepal affected, 530,000 houses destroyed across 39 of Nepal’s 75 districts, the relief and rebuilding work is mammoth, and it will be for the long haul. Our deanery’s immediate response is to provide food supplies and temporary shelter to help the people cope with the monsoon that will last till mid September. After which, we will focus on helping with the rebuilding in the district of Dhading, where we have more than 50% of our Anglican members. This rebuilding phase could take between 18 months to 3 years.” The deanery is planning on rebuilding 8,000 homes, 18 schools and 18 church buildings, which will also serve as strong and secure shelters for the communities in the event of future earthquakes or landslides.
There is real concern that Nepal quake survivors face threat from human traffickers supplying the sex trade, according to a Guardian report. NGOs fear that criminal networks will use the cover of the rescue effort to target poor rural communities from which an estimated 15,000 girls are already trafficked a year.
Girls and young women in these communities have long been targeted by traffickers, who abduct them and force them into sex work. Some are taken abroad to East Asia, and beyond. But the majority end up in Indian brothels where tens of thousands are working in appalling conditions.
Sometimes, the enslavement of people impoverished by an emergency is portrayed as an act of charity, for example giving a child “a roof over their head” as a domestic slave; or the hope of already poor people for a better life is used against them with the deception of falsely offering decent work abroad.
There is great need at this time for awareness of these risks within the community to protect not just children but everyone who, already poor, have been made even more vulnerable to the danger of trafficking. This issue is looked at in depth in another recent Guardian report.
Dean Lew writes “In a sinister new development parents are being urged to protect children from roaming gangs of ruthless human traffickers, who, it is reported, can earn $570 for every girl or boy they supply.”
“At least 950,000 children in Nepal are in makeshift tents, on the streets or simply out of school and will not be able to return for months unless urgent action is taken.”
“With all classrooms closed until May 29, in a country, which in recent years has lost 200,000 girls to cross-border trafficking and exploitation, fears are now growing that children consigned to the streets or camps may be easy prey.”
Let’s pray for those affected by these earthquakes, the subsequent aftershocks and the landslides and avalanches these have caused.
Let’s pray for those working to rescue and support people affected by the earthquakes that have hit Nepal, particularly that they may reach remote communities before the full monsoon starts.
Let’s pray for those mourning family and friends, those injured and for the thousands who have lost their homes and are living out in the open.
Let’s pray for protection for those vulnerable to trafficking.
Let’s pray also for the government agencies working to coordinate the support being offered.
Here is an adaptation of Psalm 23, from Christian Aid
Lord, who is our shepherd,
We pray for the people of Nepal in this time of want.
Guide those who grieve to still waters; restore their soul.
Lead those who are searching to the right places.
Comfort those who are trapped in the darkest valley of fear.
May generosity and compassion overflow in response
so that goodness and mercy may follow all
who will live in the shadow of this earthquake.
May they dwell in secure houses and
know healing and protection all their life long.
Appeals for people of Nepal
Dean Lew says “I am extremely thankful for the support of our partners from other Dioceses, Mission Agencies, our Mission Deaneries and our local parishes. Thank you for giving to the Nepal Relief Fund. To date, we have received a total of $245,000 and we need more to meet the demand of the rebuilding before us.”
Information about how to support the Deanery of Nepal can be found on the Diocese of Singapore website, Nepal Earthquake: How you can help, including points for prayer. The Diocese of Singapore, through its crisis relief ministry: Anglican Crisis Relief, Outreach & Support, Singapore (ACROSS), has sent a medical team to Nepal and more are being planned.
Anglican Agencies are supporting the people of Nepal through the following appeals:
Photo credit: A village street destroyed by the earthquake in Gorkha district. Photo: LWF/C. Kästner