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Agencies rally round as Nepal death toll rises

01 May 2015


In ruins: a monk walks amid the collapsed monastery and shrines at Swoyambhunath Stupa, a UNESCO world heritage site, after Saturday's earthquake in Kathmandu

In ruins: a monk walks amid the collapsed monastery and shrines at Swoyambhunath Stupa, a UNESCO world heritage site, after Saturday's earthquake in...

CHRISTIAN agencies are among those racing against the clock to help victims of the worst earthquake in Nepal in 80 years. On Wednesday, rescue teams were still struggling to reach thousands of people stranded in remote regions.

The Dean of Nepal deanery of the diocese of Singapore of the Church of the Province of South-East Asia, the Revd Lewis Lew, confirmed on Thursday that an Anglican priest, the Revd Laxman Tamang and 17 of the 340 members of his church in the village of Choke had lost their lives. 

The village had been "completely destroyed", Dean Lew wrote in a pastoral letter. "The people are displaced without medical aid, food, supply and temporary shelter." 

Dean Lew spoke earlier in the week of his concern for churches near the epicentre of the quake in Gorkha, Bhaktapur and Dhading district, which he has struggled to contact. In the latter district, buildings, houses, and schools have collapsed. "Nothing is standing," one local priest had told him.

"The survivors are badly shaken," Mr Lew told the Anglican Alliance on Tuesday. "They are waiting for aid. There is a shortage of clean water and food, and electricity has been cut off."

The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck between the capital Kathmandu and the city of Pokhara on Saturday. The RC Vicar Apostolic of Nepal, Bishop Paul Simick, described how he ran for his life, watching houses in the capital "falling like a pack of cards".

The number of reported deaths - 5000 at the time of writing - is expected to rise. The Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, told Reuters that it could double. His country was "on a war footing", he said.

Within 48 hours of news of the earthquake, Christian Aid had raised £145,000. Its partners on the ground include Lutheran World Foundation Nepal, which will help co-ordinate emergency supplies at a government-run camp that has started to provide temporary shelter. Thousands of water purification kits have been delivered.

More than a quarter of the population - up to eight million - has been affected by the disaster, believed to be the country's worst earthquake since 1934, when 8600 people died. Tens of thousands of people are living in makeshift camps and open areas, despite the rain, because of damage to their homes or because they fear further aftershocks.

Christian agencies already at work in the region include CAFOD, which has deployed a specialist team to provide technical expertise in water, sanitation, and hygiene management. Its humanitarian director, Matthew Carter, said on Tuesday that "the great strength of the Catholic Church in an emergency is its ability to reach remote areas and to work with local volunteers on the very front-line of the crisis." Before the earthquake struck, World Vision had identified Nepal as "very vulnerable" to earth-quakes, and had been implementing "earthquake-preparedness training", reaching about 65,000 people in two districts.

It is now planning to provide aid to 100,000 people, supplying first-aid kits, sleeping mats, blankets, and jerry cans, as well as temporary shelter.

"Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the region, and has one of the least capacities to deal with an emergency of this scale," Christian Aid's regional emergency manager of South Asia, Ram Kishan, based in Delhi, said on Sunday.

"Medical services and hospitals are facing an immense strain at the moment. In Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded, running out of room for storing corpses, and also running short of emergency supplies. . . Those affected will have immediate and long-term needs emerging in the coming days."

The Oxfam country director in Nepal, Cecilia Keizer, said on Monday that it had been "extremely difficult to provide support on a larger scale to the most affected areas. A lot of the main roads have been damaged. . . At the moment, all the death-count reports are coming from Kathmandu Valley. Sadly, I fear that this is only the beginning."

Two flights chartered by the Department for International Development - which has announced £15 million of aid - carrying UK aid and engineers, were still waiting for clearance to land in Kathmandu, The Independent reported on Wednesday.

On Tuesday evening, a joint medical team from the International Nepal Fellowship and the United Mission to Nepal filed a report from the army base in Gorkha. In many villages, between 70 and 90 per cent of houses had been completely destroyed. Helicopters struggling to land were using air drops to deliver food supplies and materials for shelter.

"With each day that passes, it may be too late for such teams if survivors cannot be pulled from the rubble soon," the report said. "Locals here are desperately pleading for more helicopters to be despatched to Gorkha, to ensure villages still cut off can be reached, and their loved ones rescued."

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