Nepal: ‘What I saw was shocking. Villages flattened. People huddled, looking to the sky’

It’s six months since a series of earthquakes devastated Nepal. Irish aid worker with Plan International, Dualta Roughneen, reflects on his time there

Dualta Roughneen heads towards a waiting US Marine cargo plane delivering supplies and aid in Nepal

Dualta Roughneen heads towards a waiting US Marine cargo plane delivering supplies and aid in Nepal

 

[Part of the Inside:Out series marking the European Year for Development 2015]

Six months. It has gone by in a flash. My life is only now back to normal after my month working in Nepal, immediately following the earthquake that hit on April 25th. Admittedly, my heart still skips a beat when the floorboards shake when sitting at my desk here in Ireland. Despite being back for the last five months, the residual effects of thirty aftershocks a day remains.

The effects for me are minor. A fleeting flashback to the second earthquake on May 12th that hit the country, a physiological reminder of being woken every hour when trying to catch a few hours’ sleep, deciding whether I needed to make a run from the house we were staying in. But still they linger.

For the people of Nepal – the millions that are homeless, the millions that saw their homes collapse, the effects are lasting. As the Himalayas moves into its first winter since the earthquakes hit, most of the people who lost their homes are living under makeshift emergency shelter, built from a few pieces of timber, tarpaulin, and if they are lucky, some sheets of corrugated iron.

Yes, aid got in and is getting in. Yes, we at Plan International provided shelter for over 46,000 families. Yes, we have got thousands of children back to school and supported thousands more to cope with the effects. But, as winter looms, challenges remain.

Arriving in Nepal the day after the earthquake hit, I travelled to Dolkha – an area we had heard was badly hit – but away from the areas that were receiving all the media attention. On the drive there, I was not convinced that this was an area that was badly hit.

After cadging my way onto an Indian helicopter, and travelling two hours by air, I changed my mind. What I saw was shocking. Villages absolutely flattened. People huddled together looking to the sky. It was evident that help was needed up here. And by air was the only way to get there.

It was obvious what needed to happen. Get food and shelter to Charikot, a small regional hub. Our biggest challenge would, however, be getting food, shelter and medicine from Charikot to remote and isolated villages inaccessible by road. With the support of local community workers, we opened an office and started trucking what we could. The US Marines moved helicopters to Kathmandu and agreed to help us fly high into the mountains.

Two weeks of flying food and medicine with the marines to the mountains, and bringing shelter by road where possible. My initial assessment from the air was wrong. As an engineer, once I got into some of the houses it was clear that while still standing, they were not safe. One large shake and they would all come down. On May 12th, this is exactly what happened.

Luckily many stayed away from their houses. Unluckily, the second quake managed to hit the areas across a valley that the first quake had spared. The second quake also brought tragedy to the US Marines we were working with. Right after it hit, the Marines immediately started flying casualties to Kathmandu. On one of these flights they hit heavy cloud over a mountain ridge, the helicopter lost control with the loss of six US Marines, two Nepalese Army members and five civilians.

Six months on, the recovery continues. There are no quick fixes to a tragedy of this scale. For the millions left homeless, basic shelter, food and medicine come first. Temporary schools and health centres are set up. Now that winter is coming, children and families in their temporary homes need help to get through the winter – blankets and kerosene are vital.

But it doesn’t end there. The international aid effort cannot rebuild the homes that generation after generation worked to improve. Every stone lifted by someone’s hand. Imagine this being taken away. Multiply it by millions. This is Nepal six months on.

Each family will rebuild what they can, with whatever they have. Plan International will work with them. This means providing cash to buy materials. It means working with local traders rather than undermining them by bringing in our own housing materials.

It means working with the national and local ministries of health and education to transition back to normality – if that is ever possible.

The teachers are there and the children want to be in school. Plan International has 282 temporary schools in place. These can last only a year, two at most. This will keep 18,000 children in class, we hope, until their schools are rebuilt. However, we are only working in 16 districts of over a hundred that have been devastated.

Plan International has been in Nepal since 1978. We are there for the long haul. However, the context changed drastically six months ago. There is a new business as usual. The new normal.

See plan.ie for more

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.