Chief District Officer of Sindhupalchowk, Krishna Prasad Gyawali, just abandoned his post. It’s not “dereliction of duty”, he explains, but a call for help! On Wednesday, four days into the earthquake aftermath, one of the worst hit districts had still not received the most basic relief aid – like tents, food and medicine supplies. Thousands of locals are without homes, many have lost their food granaries, and all Gyawali could tell them was: “I can’t help you – come back later”. Scores of villagers who just lost everything started protesting, and now Gyawali refuses to return until the government delivers.
In Dolakha protesters are surrounding the CDO’s office too. Ananda Prasad Pokharel, Constituent Assembly Member of the district, says 90 percent of the houses have collapsed, leaving up to 45,000 homeless. Numbers are not always certain, but in one VDC – Laminanda – the count stands at 53 out of 55 mostly traditional mudhouses, leveled by the earthquake. In several VDCs, food is running out, most of it buried under the rubbles. So where’s the emergency aid? Well, an army helicopter was scheduled to bring a first shipment out on Monday but little has reached.
Associated Press writes: “The first supplies of food aid began reaching remote, earthquake-shattered mountain villages in Nepal on Wednesday… Helicopters finally brought food, temporary shelter and other aid to hamlets north of Kathmandu in the mountainous Gorkha District near the epicenter…” But still, over 200 seriously injured locals from at least 26 remote villages in Gorkha had not been rescued by Wednesday. Fog kept delaying helicopter missions and landslides still make many roads unusable. Local authorities – headed by the CDO – are still waiting for relief aid to distribute!
In Kavre, badly hit too, even villagers living next to the highway are waiting in vain for help. MyRepublica.com met one local, Purna Bahadur Gharti of devastated Karki Gaun, just a one hour ride from Kathmandu: “Not a single government official has come to our village since the earthquake. Relief packages is a far cry. Even the government doesn’t care about us.” Meanwhile, the CDO explains that since the central government has not provided any relief materials to hand out, they have nothing to offer: “It makes no sense for us to visit the victims without any relief materials to give away. For now, we’re instead making efforts to collect whatever relief materials we can.”
With no aid coming from the government in Kathmandu, the District Natural Disaster Rescue Committee in Kavre – headed by the CDO – has in fact collected something. They bought 5,000 tents out of the DDC and municipal budgets and handed them out. Kavrepalanchowk Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), and Transportation Entrepreneurs of Kavre, contributed with 250 sacks of dry food. Raj Bhakta Shrestha, director of a local company, sent 300 tents which went to four remote VDCs. In solidarity, even Biratnagar Chamber of Commerce donated 600 packets of relief food items, buckets and mugs!
The local effort in Kavre illustrates how the crisis is handled in several other districts. Indeed, helicopters have air-lifted many injured out by now; the Chinese have built a medical camp in Dhulikel; tents and blankets, food and medicine, are being distributed to some villages. Countries from around the world have sent relief missions. But in the meantime, countless villages see little aid reaching their areas and are left with only one option: to “pool” local resources, and to look for help on their own. It’s often the only way ahead even inside the Kathmandu Valley where many outlying areas are left without help too!
In Bara district, self-help is the solution even according to the CDO. In response to local protests, that he and the District Natural Disaster Rescue Committee are doing nothing to help local NGOs, companies, chambers of commerce, and other volunteers reach and coordinate their activities, this CDO explained that so far no instructions had come from Kathmandu to re-allocate and spend the budget – and without permission from the central government he just can’t! In Lalitpur inside the Valley, locals are not wasting time, either. With donations from local clubs and schools, they’ve made a local camp.
Self-help is indeed only an option where local resources are available to pool together. In hundreds of remote villages out in the districts, off the main roads, cut off from the district town by landslides or damaged roads, houses and granaries destroyed, there’s little locals can do. Says Rashmita Shashtra, a health worker in Swarathok in the hills of Sindupalchowk, where there used to be 71 houses – now there are none: “No one has come. I walked to the police post and told them we were here. They said there was no plan and they had no orders and told us to stay where we are and wait. So we are waiting.” How to make a tent camp and procure food when the whole village is in ruin?!
The massive scale of the task of not only providing relief to villagers who lost everything but also to rebuild communities is standing out by the hour. Official UN statistics now suggest that in addition to over 5,000 killed and 10,000 plus injured, over 70,000 houses have been destroyed and more than 2 million people are displaced, one third of them with no home to return to at all. Schools and other public buildings are badly hit too. In Baglung, a hundred local schools are damaged, fifteen of them have completely collapsed, and roads across the districts need to be repaired. In all likelihood, the need for pooling resources at local level is greater than it ever was.
This is how things have been done out in the districts too for decades, also when there was no earthquake. Getting funds and materials from all kinds of sources – local government, local chambers of commerce, businesses, well wishers, foreigners who start a charity, local NGOs – is often the only way ahead when help from Kathmandu is not coming or accessible. That’s how many schools, roads, electricity and water projects, have been funded! However, as it’s now homes and whole communities that have to be build, who knows if even such efforts will be enough.
The districts will recover! We feel villages – though perhaps not all – will be rebuilt. But the way its’ looking right now – if locals are so much on their own – reconstruction is bound to take years.