On April 25, the day of the earthquake, my colleagues and I were organizing the final student exhibit to mark the end of our 12-week school session. There were 12 kids and their parents when the earthquake struck. Our first instinct was to keep the kids safe; we managed to stay calm, gathered everyone into an open space and stayed strong. After the aftershocks subsided, we got news of how devastating the earthquake actually was. We immediately called our loved ones. It was a relief that everyone we knew was safe.
I am a teacher at Karkhana, an education company that designs and delivers hands-on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and maths)-based content to middle school students in Nepal.
The first two days after the quake, we quickly realized that people without any specialized skills such as first aid, sanitation, nursing, construction, and rescue were not of much help in the immediate relief efforts.
In Nepal’s hamlets and villages, in the first days following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, families sheltered under crude lean-tos, made of whatever relatively waterproof materials they had to hand.
Keshav and his family
Keshav Thapa Magar, who lives with his wife, son and two daughters on the southeastern edge of the Kathmandu valley in Kot Gaon, had a typical earthquake experience for families of his 100-household village. The village consists in Newars, Magars, Chhetris and Tamangs, who mostly lived in traditional mud-brick or mud-stone houses before the earthquake destroyed them. Keshav’s own house, his cousin’s (like his, a traditional house) and his mother’s concrete post-and-beam house were all destroyed on April 25.
It has been a month since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal on April 25. What happened next?
Having experienced a real threat of death, many survivors manifested avoidance (“I don’t want to talk about it!”), hyper-vigilance (“What’s that noise? Is the ground moving?”), intrusive thoughts (“What if the next big one may come while I’m asleep …?”) -- classic stress reactions.
Many Bank staff have had many sleepless nights as the aftershocks continued, more than 250 to date above a magnitude of 4, thirty above 5, four above 6, and—just when we first thought that life was becoming normal again—a 7.3 on May 12.
That one came like the first one, in the middle of the day, but it felt like an unwelcome nighttime guest, full of foreboding. People ran into the streets screaming, or silly giddy on realizing that they had survived another one—but even more terrified at what would come next. More people died; more buildings collapsed. People who had moved back into their houses moved out again.
Nepal is coping with the consequences of a disastrous earthquake. During the next months the government will be under a lot of pressure to respond quickly to the needs of the population.
Public procurement units across the country will also feel this pressure. They will be deciding over the purchase of goods and services with taxpayer money. On the one hand, the purchases are urgently needed. On the other, there is a risk that taxpayer money can be wasted if decisions are taken too hastily.
One instrument that can be helpful in this kind of situation is a framework agreement. This should be part of any country’s Disaster Risk Management plan. Its aim is to have a procurement system ready that responds quickly to an emergency. But this quick response should not increase risks beyond what policymakers have defined as acceptable. Special procurement procedures for emergencies should be part of disaster management systems and should especially include tailored framework agreements.
It is Day Ten since the earthquake struck Nepal and the scale of the devastation is only just becoming evident. The official death toll has now crossed 7,000, of which 5,000 have been confirmed in remote rural areas. As many as 15,000 people are injured, many critically. Aftershocks continue to rattle central Nepal and most people are still too jittery to come to terms with what has happened.
While Kathmandu is steadily fighting to get back to some sense of normalcy, the situation is very different outside the capital where all districts around Kathmandu and between Kathmandu and the tourist town of Pokhara have been very severely affected. Relief supplies - food, water, shelter and medical aid, are slowly starting to move into these areas. Let no one be mistaken, the Nepal earthquake while having impacted parts of Kathmandu quite severely is also a rural disaster of huge proportions.
The World Bank South Asia Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
We visited the older neighborhoods of Bhaktapur, Basantpur and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. A majority of the collapsed houses in these areas were old brick and mud structures that had become weak with age. These were densely built neighborhoods with narrow streets and removing debris from the area is extremely challenging. We also visited an area called Gongabu, a relatively new developed suburb with tall framed-structure buildings. We found a lot of collapsed buildings and many 5-6 storey buildings completely tilted which will have to be demolished. These type of suburbs are going to pose a big challenge in Kathmandu.
From Gorkha, epicenter of the earthquake
Over the past few evenings we have been meeting journalists returning from the field. A journalist who had returned from Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake, described an area that had been very severely impacted. The roads were not passable and he had to walk over 5 kilometers to access villages. Every cluster of hamlets he visited, he found almost all the houses to have collapsed. Families had lost all their stock of grain, which is usually stored inside the house, and were trying to dig through the rubble to salvage whatever they could. This story repeats in most other rural districts which have seen major devastation.
On Saturday I drove to Sindhupalchok, in the mid-hills of Nepal, to the northeast of Kathmandu. The narrow road climbed up and down the shoulders of the hills, along clear streams, through green forests and among fallow terraced fields with neat piles of cow dung waiting to be spread.
In the shade of a pipal tree, one girl sits picking lice out of the hair of another younger girl, her sister perhaps. The road is good, streetside shops are selling breakfast, or groceries, or other supplies, and along many parts of the road the scene from a distance is bucolic: calm, peaceful, normal.
But get closer, and it is quickly obvious that there is little that is normal in Sindhupalchok today. The farther we leave behind the richer neighborhoods of the Kathmandu valley, the deeper we reach into the rural areas, the greater the destruction of April’s earthquakes.
A few kilometers after we cross the Dolalghat River, we come across a hillside hamlet, Pauwathok, where only a few buildings remain standing. Plot after plot along the winding paths contains a ruddy, dusty pile of stone, brick, roof tiles and lumber, the rafters stained black from the indoor kitchen fires.
The women gather near the local temple or a visiting water bowser, or rummage through the rubble of their houses to retrieve what can be reused. An old lady laments the death of one daughter and worries about the fate of another, brought to the hospital in Dhulikhel, 30 km away.
It has been one week since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, its epicenter 75 km northwest of Kathmandu, and the toll is only beginning to be counted.
As the number of dead rose, to more than 6,000 today, early reports of the destruction inevitably focused on search-and-rescue efforts in the easily-accessible Kathmandu valley, the deadly avalanche at Everest’s base camp, and the collapse of many of the historic Hindu temples in the palace squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.
Stunned by the original quake and the long line of aftershocks—some as large as 6.5 or 6.8 in magnitude—most Nepalis in the first days focused on their immediate needs: connecting with their families, mourning the dead, getting medical treatment for the injured, setting up camp outside of their homes, and laying aside key supplies for the coming days and weeks.
Overnight the Kathmandu valley was interspersed with IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, as people pitched tents and built tarpaulin lean-tos in their yards, in public parks, on traffic roundabouts, on sidewalks and plazas, and even on the streets--too frightened to return to their homes as the aftershocks continue to rumble through. For a week they have hunkered down on a bit of grass or pavement, under tarps and blankets, in cold rainy nights made darker by the loss of electricity. For many, it was misery.
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.
The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.
The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.
The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.
Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.
The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.
We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.
It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.