Seven days after the earthquake in Nepal, it’s a race against time to provide food, shelter, and water to those affected. An ADB staff member in Kathmandu describes how they are still coming to grips with the devastation, and they take it one day at a time.
It’s been a full seven days since "the big one," but it feels like it happened just a few seconds ago.
It was a lazy Saturday around noon and I was sitting with my eight-year-old son in the living room of my house when the ground started to shake. The windows were shuddering so violently that I thought the house was going to explode. My first instinct was to stay put in the room but as the shaking continued, I just grabbed my son’s hand and ran—barefoot—out of the house to a vegetable garden next door where most of my neighbors had also gathered.
Just when we thought the shaking had stopped, there was another tremor, and yet another. I held my son tightly and murmured my prayers. A tin-roofed house in the neighborhood collapsed right in front of our eyes. A woman was struck on the head by falling debris. There were cries for help, and the lady was taken to a nearby hospital by a passerby in his vehicle. We were told later that she had sadly died on the spot.
We would learn of the magnitude of the devastation only later – a 7.8 magnitude earthquake had hit Kathmandu. The big tremor was felt for almost 2 minutes, and we were lucky to have survived. Many people had succumbed under crumbling buildings. The quake has caused more than 6,000 deaths (and that number is rising), thousands of injuries, and widespread property damage. Many ancient monuments in Kathmandu have been destroyed.
As I drove to my mother’s house later that day, we saw collapsed houses, damaged walls and broken water pipes. A tall apartment building had been deserted. Who in their right mind would continue to live in buildings with visible cracks? I could not help but think of a close friend who had bought an apartment in that building with his hard-earned wages. He was so happy when an expatriate rented his apartment. Now the building is empty, padlocked, its future uncertain.
Many newly built buildings in Kathmandu also suffered. Quite a number of them, built on weak foundations and with weak structures, collapsed like houses of cards. Many homes in the most densely populated parts of the city have developed cracks. Thousands of people have been displaced and are now living in tented camps. It is difficult time for everyone, but more so for small children and new mothers.
In the worse affected villages, though, collapsed houses have killed many. Bodies are yet to be taken out of the debris. We can hear rescue helicopters and planes in the sky throughout the day. Weather hampers operations now and then, but rescue efforts continue.
I heave a sigh of relief every time realization dawns on me that the disaster occurred on a Saturday, a national weekly holiday. So many school buildings have collapsed, I dread to think what would have happened if children had been in school that fateful day.
The communities are at the forefront, providing help to neighbors, distributing much-needed food and water, managing relief material, and just being there for each other.There is a long list of what Kathmandu could do better in terms of preparedness for a natural disaster. But the priority for now , of course, is providing immediate relief to those affected. Organizations like ADB have provided grant support to the Government of Nepal for immediate relief. Aid agencies and individuals both inside and outside Nepal are helping with both expertise as well as relief materials.
It’s a race against time to provide food, shelter, and water to those affected. And it will be a long and challenging road ahead to reconstruction and rebuilding. Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said Nepal will need at least $2 billion to rebuild homes, hospitals, government offices, and historic buildings.
We are still coming to grips with the devastation. But our community spirit is stronger ever than ever. We are taking it one day at a time.
By Binita Shah Khadka, External Relations Officer at ADB’s Resident Mission in Kathmandu, Nepal.