Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Learning from Imperfections; 2015 Nepal Earthquake

Learning from Imperfections; 2015 Nepal Earthquake

USGS described the April 25, 2015 M 7.8 Nepal earthquake occurrence “as the result of thrust faulting on or near the main thrust interface between the sub ducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north.” The earthquake hit devastated the infrastructures with human and animal death toll rising. In the midst of scarier aftershocks we managed to sit in an emergency support meeting on 28th April and decided to take some stuffs for relief and do a rapid assessment of the needs. The road to Melamchi watershed area got clear only on 29th and we were through to Mahankal VDC of Sindhupalchowk.
When we started from Kathmandu the question on our mind was how to present oneself to the affected people.Before moving to the field we were able to contact with local red cross and our local partner. The entering of Melamchi area was a bit scary some white people were filming the toppled down house where as local people were around them and they looked at our packed vehicle in a peculiar manner and were asking if it was relief stuff, demanding the material to be delivered there. We answered we will submit this to the local red cross office, they will manage the distribution in the presence of police. Police contact at Melamchi was not encouraging, they were reluctant to escort us and were scared to put the materials in their custody. However, few policemen were comforting and contacted Talamarag police informing our advent. The Talamarag police boosted our spirits by escorting us to the Gyalthum red cross store house and witnessed the handing of tarpaulin and other materials to local red cross. On the way to Gyalthum people at Talamarang blocked the way demanding the material to be dropped there. The police and the local teacher took the lead from our side to talk with the mass and we crossed the blockade and reached red cross sub chapter in Gyalthum. As soon as the vehicle stopped a group of people gathered demanding the material to be distributed right away. Some locals with whom we worked for WUMP and the police helped to download and store the material in the red cross store. Treasurer of red cross Bhim Karki signed as recipient of materials. Red cross staffs were bewildered on how to manage distribution, their expression was happy that our support of response was first of its kind after the earthquake mishap. But their concern was about how to manage the distribution of insufficient quantity.  We requested the red cross team to make a committee, which will support transparent distribution and make some norms on how to distribute (who should get the priority when relief stuff is limited). The second trip of stuff dropped to Mahankal VDC eased the distribution and emotions of local people were high appreciating our endeavours in this mishap. Though we felt a bit scared, but after having the insight of devastated situation and relief need we were glad to be a part of the support team.
30th April 2015 morning we assessed the situation of Ichowk and Mahankal VDC (with the local respondent (local teacher), similarly market assessment was made, Rapid assessment made on 29th and 30th April revealed Tarpauline for 98% households, excavators or like machine support to manage, debris of toppled houses, sheds and taking out of carcass and human dead bodies as the immediate needs. The second needs identified were Staple Food, buckets for water handling, utensils for cooking and eating. Similarly, Materials for house building and technology for earthquake resilient houses and other basic needs (repairing drinking water system, revival of toppled down latrines) came as the third priority needs.
The distribution of relief stuffs at the Village Development Committee are through a Relief Distribution Committee consisting one government official (Health Post staff, Village Development Committee Secretary), local political representatives, school teachers, and representatives of ward citizens’ forums is responsible for the transparent distribution of relief support stuff. In general, these committees agree on equitable distribution by setting the distribution priority with emphasis to the  families who have lost lives, poor and  Dalits (so-called “low castes”), women headed households followed by families whose houses have collapsed. Government official (Health Post staff, Village Development Committee secretary) are linked to the district disaster response committee who keep the record of reliefs distributed.

We observed almost all the latrines have toppled down in the assessed VDCs ( Mahankal, Ichowk, Sipa pokhari) respondent revealed same is the case with other VDCs. As per 30th April 2015 Market assessment, The market price has increased for items like Bitten rice ( chiura), Biscuit, instant noodles, peas ( chana) and rice ( chamal). Availability of basic soap, toothpaste were found on 30th April we presume this will continue as local vehicles (bus) have started to ply from 30th April 2015.
As naïve in relief operations, we realized we had lots of imperfections, our predetermined assumptions of need identification were not real, we presumed food and sanitation as the first problem, but the rapid assessment depicted shed was the first requirement, management of carcass and dead bodies buried under toppled infrastructures was second priority. People revealed they can survive for up to 10 days by taking out the grains from the buried houses. Staple Food, water and sanitation need come after a week. The plan to supply materials was an uncertain tarpaulin to be supplied was not available in the market and it was difficult to predict what to supply when and where. Once the arrangement of material was made, we were in a position to plan what to drop in what quantity and in which place. Lack of  coordination with local affected people due to the collapse of power supplies added difficulty,  people could not charge their communication equipments (cell phones). There was a risk of loots on the way and an unequal distribution unless it was communicated to activate local body structures. The rhetoric theory and preachings about disaster risk reduction and management were of less value as these preachers limited themselves to paper formats. The direct involvement in the emergency support has brought rich learnings for preparing and organizing support mechanisms. These learnings are helpful  for the continued support in a better way to minimize the traumas and bring back the human dignities.
Author: Bikram Rana

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