May 27, 2015

NEPAL EARTHQUAKE: The life and times of a bag of food relief...

To help our Nepal earthquake relief fund supporters see the tremendous impact of their donations, I would love to one day attach a video recorder onto a bag of relief goods that passes through our doors here at the Sherpa Adventure Gear HQ in downtown Kathmandu. I'd love to visually record the journey as the relief follows the 'supply chain' and makes its way out of our distribution centres, onto the trucks and into outstretched arms of those most in need. 

As our Sherpa Adventure Gear Earthquake Relief Funds’ commitment is to ensure that 100% of all of the donations we receive from across the globe are delivered directly to the individuals and families most in need we are always immediately involved in the process.

Yesterday I again had the opportunity to experience this firsthand as I travelled overland with our team of volunteers from Sherpa Adventure Gear in a heavily loaded truck to deliver and help distribute relief to a community in Dolakha. Dolakha is one of the districts worst affected by the 25 April earthquake and the epicentre of the 7.3 aftershock on 12 May. In Dolakha, 134 people have been killed and 304 people injured since 25 April and thousands have been left homeless – now living under plastic tarps and sharing rickety stables with what livestock remains.

Aftershocks continue to rock Dolakha – even yesterday as we distributed the relief the ground continued with gentle seismic shifts below our feet.

Bringing dhal to Dolakha

As an intrepid team of 5, our mission was to distribute 100 tarps, 100 x 30kgs bags of rice, 100 x 10 kgs of beans, 100 x 10kgs of dhal, cooking oil, water filters, water purification tablets, and biscuits. These were personally delivered to the individuals and families as selected by their communities based on the degree of loss suffered during the earthquake - many having lost both their homes and family members. These relief goods had all been donated or purchased locally here in Nepal through the generous contributions of people from across the globe to our Nepal-based earthquake relief fund. All those involved in the entire process are volunteers.

We loaded the truck in the early hours of 6am and turned into the bustling Kathmandu traffic – the temperature was already above 25 degrees – it was going to be another scorcher of a day. The early signs of monsoon are starting to reveal themselves with a fury – hot days and in the evening, heavy rains and high winds. 

We’d experienced a horrific wind and rainstorm the previous evening. Kathmandu’s populous tent cities had clearly borne the brunt of last nights storm as people emerged from the battered remains of their ‘shelters’ with soaking blankets, screaming children, soggy clothing and grim faces. It had been a long night. And the monsoon season technically hasn’t even started… this is just a precursor and a warning of devastation that is to come. As many have predicted, we have not even begun to see the true impact of the Nepal Earthquakes yet.

Sindupalchok and Dolakha

Our 4 hour journey took us through one of the hardest hit districts of the earthquake – Sindhupalchok. In this district alone, 4,242 people were killed, 4,000 injured, and 95% of homes destroyed.

One month after the disaster, many of the communities still have the look of a war zone. Buildings listed at vertiginous angles, the occasional door or window visible through a twisted mess of corrugated iron. Red dust blowing through the wind drifting the disintegrated remains of bricks which had once made up proud homes. High up on what must have been the second floor of one house, a kitchen cupboard clings to an external wall, tins and packets of food still sitting on its shelves… an emancipated cow roams the street.

In one of the villages we passed a hospital where over 200 people died in their beds when the buildings supporting walls crumbled and the building literally collapsed on top of them. A blind man in a lonely wheelchair sits, as if abandoned, next to a spaghetti-like mess of iron bars which once supported the concrete structure. 

The once buzzing countryside is now a depressing tapestry. Orange, blue, yellow and white tents and tarpaulins confetti the steeply terraced hillsides. People and animals stare up shyly from dwellings that look incapable of sheltering any life at all while birds swoop over the red tumbles of brick and grey concrete that were once homes and schools. Beams protrude through shattered roof tiles like open fractures. Village after village lie flattened.

Communities are suffering – as much physically as psychologically. With every tectonic tremor people are sent screaming to the perceived shelter of their tents. But now the bigger danger isn’t just earthquakes, it’s also landslides. With the coming monsoon rains, the number of landslides is expected to increase exponentially as many mountain slopes have become unstable and ready to release with devastating consequences to the communities, agriculture, livestock and the country’s extensive network of river systems.

2-3 weeks of food... and hope

It ‘looks’ all doom and gloom from the surface but there are many layers to a tragedy.

Arriving at our pre-arranged meeting point in Dolakha, we were met by a group of about 150 locals, made up of a lively collection men, women and children.  They greeted our convoy of food with weary looks of happiness – in most cases, likely thinking ahead to the first warm, full meal they may have had in days. The children smiled shyly with toothless grins, hiding behind the long colourful bright pink, green and blue dresses of their mothers and sisters. The elderly looking on quietly, their eyes tired yet resilient, their weather-beaten faces bearing witness to the arduousness of living off the land and season-to-season unpredictability of nature. The men proud with strong, kind faces, speaking quietly amongst each other reviewing how the organised distribution taking place.

One woman in the community held a pre-agreed list of names of people who would receive their donation. As she called out the names, the locals would come up one by one and handed their heavy loads. Even the elderly hoisted the 30kg bags of rice on their shoulders as if they weighed no more than a few kilos each. Whilst this was happening the children played together and were given packages of biscuits that they shared amongst each other and devoured with joy.

The entire distribution took about 1.5 hours and will provide 100 families with enough food for at least 2 - 3 weeks. The tarps will provide temporary relief from the rains while the remains of homes are slowly recovered from the rubble and reconstructed. Water purification systems will limit the spread of disease and reduce instances of diarrhoea.

As I watched three spritely old women walk up a boulder-strewn path back to the remains of their home I couldn’t help but think of the less tangible but equally important impacts of our distribution that day. This aid, provided thanks to the generous contributions of people from all over the world - will give these 100 people in the community of Dolokha renewed strength and hope… two things they’ll need in spades as they begin to rebuild their lives out of the rubble and plan for a future ahead. 

As much as I'm an important 'cog in the wheel' of this supply chain of aid going to those people who are most in need, I am equally as important a 'cog in the wheel' in ensuring that all our donors directly see and experience as much as they can, the TREMENDOUS difference that these contributions make in rebuilding a country that is still reeling from this tragedy.

On behalf of everyone here in Nepal, THANK YOU SO MUCH for your continued contributions and donations. Whilst the Nepal earthquake headlines may no longer dominate the front pages of international media, the impacts here remain real and omni present. Please continue to donate, to spread the word and give what you can.


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