Massive aid operation for Nepal as death toll reaches 4,000

Almost one million children in urgent need of assistance, says Unicef

Thousands of residents take shelter in an evacuation area set up by the authorities in Tundhikel park in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Omar Havana/Getty Images

Thousands of residents take shelter in an evacuation area set up by the authorities in Tundhikel park in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photograph: Omar Havana/Getty Images

 

A huge international aid operation is being mobilised to help the victims of the earthquake in Nepal, which has left tens of thousands of people homeless and raised fears of food and medicine shortages and an increased risk of waterborne and infectious diseases.

As the death toll from Saturday’s quake passed 4,000, the Nepalese government said it was struggling to cope with the aftermath of the disaster and reach those cut off in remote areas.

“We are overwhelmed with rescue and assistance requests from all across the country,” said Deepak Panda, a member of the country’s disaster management agency.

Many Irish people listed as missing or unaccounted for in recent days have since made contact with their families. But the family of Ciarán Sands has expressed concern over his whereabouts.

He had been trekking in the Annapurna region of the country when he last made contact with family members.

Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs Seán Sherlock said contact has been made with the “vast bulk” of the 100 or so Irish citizens in the region. Communication lines have been badly affected so the process of contacting people may take time, he said.

Lila Mani Poudyal, the Nepalese government’s chief secretary and the rescue co-ordinator, appealed for more help from the international community, saying Nepal was short of everything from paramedics to electricity.

“We are appealing for tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses, and 80 different medicines ... that we desperately need now,” he told reporters. “We don’t have the helicopters that we need or the expertise to rescue the people trapped.”

Hospital beds in Kathmandu are already full, forcing other sick and injured people to seek makeshift treatment in the street alongside thousands of displaced survivors whose homes were destroyed or are in imminent danger of collapse after being weakened by the 7.8-magnitude quake.

Massive operation

World Food ProgrammeWorld Health Organisation

The UN children’s agency, Unicef, said at least 940,000 Nepalese children were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, adding that those left homeless by the earthquake were particularly vulnerable.

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“There have been reports of dwindling supplies of water and food, power outages, and downed communication networks,” it said in a statement.

“Hundreds of thousands of people spent the night sleeping in open areas, out of fear of more tremors. Heavy rain is now also reported, which can further worsen the conditions. This crisis leaves children particularly vulnerable – limited access to safe water and sanitation will put children at great risk from waterborne diseases, while some children may have become separated from their families.”

The British government, which has pledged £5 million towards the disaster relief effort, said it would dispatch an RAF transport plane to Nepal carrying a team of Gurkha engineers, more than 1,100 shelter kits and over 1,700 solar lanterns.

India flew in medical supplies and members of its disaster response force, while China sent a 60-strong emergency team. Pakistan’s army said it was sending four C-130 aircraft with a 30-bed hospital, search and rescue teams and relief supplies.

A US military aircraft with 70 personnel was due to arrive in Kathmandu yesterday. Australia, Britain and New Zealand said they were sending specialist urban search and rescue teams to Kathmandu. Britain was also delivering supplies and medics.

Death toll

Officials said on Monday the total number of dead and wounded in Ghorka was still unclear but, having had contact with most of their outlying administrators, they thought it would be “in the hundreds, not the thousands”.

By late afternoon, the overall confirmed total across the country was 3,922 dead and nearly 7,180 injured. An avalanche triggered by the quake killed 18 people at Mount Everest’s base camp, while 85 people were killed in India and China.

More than 1,300 of the fatalities were from the heavily populated Kathmandu valley, while another 944 were from the district of Sindulpalchuk, east of the Nepalese capital.

Mountainous areas to the west of the epicentre – such as Manaslu, Dhaulagiri and Annapurna – had experienced only light damage, officials and trekking agencies said.

In Kavre district, as elsewhere, the growing problem is the huge number of homeless people. Of a population of 380,000, not more than 250 have been killed and around 900 injured, said the chief administrator, Sudarshan Parsad Dhakal. But, he added, about 100,000 people had lost their homes.

Uninhabitable

In Kathmandu itself remains are still being brought out of the rubble. In one outlying district, Bhaktapur, about 30,000 people are thought to be homeless, officials say.

The earthquake – Nepal’s worst in more than 80 years – has left thousands sleeping in the open while authorities battle against time to rescue anyone still alive beneath the rubble.

On Mount Everest, the evacuation began on Monday of hundreds of climbers trapped after a huge avalanche flattened the base camp, killing 18 and injuring 61 in the worst disaster to hit the mountain. The death toll on the mountain is likely to rise.

While survivors wait for aid, rescue teams are continuing the frantic search for survivors, despite being exhausted by two nights of ceaseless work. “The rescue workers are in a really bad shape. We are all about to collapse,” said home ministry official Laxmi Prasad Dhakal.

Rescuers used their bare hands, with no protective gear or heat detectors, in their search for survivors in what remains of the Dharahara tower. The narrow alleys would stop cranes, earthmovers or diggers reaching most of the houses that have collapsed, even if the aftershocks had not scared workers out of even trying, said the local police chief.

“Anyway, there’s not much point. There are some entire families buried. We know because no one reported them missing. No one is alive under the rubble,” he said.

– (Guardian service)