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Everyone their own way

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Earthquake survivors jostle each other to grab tarpaulin sheets in Lalitpur on Tuesday. Photo by Om Astha Rai

A truck laden with tarpaulin sheets stopped outside the Lalitpur Sub-Metropolitan City office on the fourth day of the deadly earthquake that killed thousands and made many homeless in central Nepal.

The truck was immediately swamped with hundreds of locals who had been living in the open after the earthquake damaged their houses. They jostled each other to grab the sheets, ultimately forcing police to chase them away with batons and cordon off the whole area.

Earthquake survivors were expecting at least a sheet for each family, and they were outraged when told that five families would have to share a sheet. They started shouting slogans against authorities: “We’re not refugees, treat us like citizens of this country.”

As the authorities were trying to convince earthquake survivors that they did not have enough relief material eight trucks full of tarpaulin sheets and food were parked in the premises of an Armed Police Force (APF) base in Satdobato, Lalitpur.

“We asked the APF officers to distribute relief right away,” says Sishir Gurung, a local resident. “But they said they had yet not got orders to do so.”

The lack of coordination between government agencies has not only hampered relief distribution but also rescue efforts. As of now, 15 countries have sent their rescue missions to Nepal but there is little coordination from the Nepali side as to where to deploy them.

On Tuesday, when a team of French rescuers was pulling out a man alive from under the rubble of a collapsed hotel building in Gongabu, a Turkish medical team also reached the same place. The Turks wanted to help but the French rejected their support. The French requested Nepal’s APF to send the Turks away.

“The dispute briefly interrupted rescue work,” said a Nepali police officer  helping the French team. “The French did not want to share the credit for rescuing a man alive after 82 hours, and the Turks also wanted it.”

On Wednesday morning, locals in Gongabu informed rescuers that they saw signs of a girl still alive under the rubble of a collapsed building in Gongabu itself. But the APF team did not act with the urgency demanded because he hadn’t got the orders.

Saturday’s earthquake, worst after 1934, left over 5,500 people dead and over 10,000 wounded. The death toll could reach higher as rescue teams have yet not been able to reach many far-flung villages of Gorkha, Dhading, Lamjung, Nuwakot and Ramechhap districts.

As thousands of families wait for rescue and relief in remote areas,  earthquake survivors are left high and dry even in Kathmandu Valley. “The mighty have received relief, the helpless have not,” says Ram Adhikari, who was hoping to get a tarpaulin sheet outside the sub-metropolitan office, Lalitpur. “We see no one who distributes relief equitably.”

In Nepal, lack of coordination is always a challenge when it comes to dealing with disasters. Saturday’s earthquake has exposed how much worse it can be. Two days after the earthquake, Information and Communication Minister Minendra Rijal conceded lack of coordination on the part of the government and promised to do better from Wednesday. But these things change slowly.

Om Astha Rai


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5 Responses to “Everyone their own way”

  1. Raghu on Says:

    Why do police need order to rescue people. Isn’t it their duty to protect the citizens.

  2. namah on Says:

    why is coordination so difficult? everyone wants to be the HERO. my way or the highway…

  3. Anne Falloon on Says:

    Om Astha Rai’s ‘Everyone their own way’ report on the earthquake in 30th April ‘Nepali Times’ rings true. My husband and I were in Nepal when the earthquake happened and sensed there was little co-ordination or management of this terrible crisis. I am horrified that the Gorkha villages have yet to be reached, but not surprised. The army and police personnel I observed in action didn’t seem to be enabling people in need, but as the article notes were ‘(chasing) them away with batons’. I have found the complacent comments of the Nepali PM disturbingly vague and sense the Government will be happier when the focus is off Nepal. My question is: how can Nepal protect itself from this complacency and incompetence? Developing strong pressure groups and trades unions to enable the creation of stronger civil society is one way, but time is not on the country’s side.

  4. megha hamal on Says:

    Proper coordination of relief efforts during disasters should be of utmost importance following crisis and Nepali government should make this their no. 1 priority. Channeling the relief efforts with great coordination can not only help target areas affected but can restore a sense of positivity that everyone is trying their level best. I cannot emphasize enough that open transparent dialogues and proper communication among rescue workers and the government/NGOs and INGOs is not just important to bring stability back to areas affected but this also helps to calm the angry and frustrated public down, to a certain degree.

  5. Paul Garrett Hugel on Says:

    the following is a reference from UNOCHA:
    “Coordination is vital in emergencies. Good coordination means less gaps and overlaps in humanitarian organizations’ work. It strives for a needs-based, rather than capacity-driven, response. It aims to ensure a coherent and complementary approach, identifying ways to work together for better collective results.”

    “OCHA’s role
    OCHA works closely with global cluster lead agencies and NGOs to develop policies, coordinate inter-cluster issues, disseminate operational guidance and organize field support. At the field level, OCHA helps ensure that the humanitarian system functions efficiently and in support of the Humanitarian Coordinator’s (HC) leadership. OCHA provides guidance and support to the HC and Humanitarian Country Team, and facilitates inter-cluster coordination. OCHA also helps to ensure coordination between clusters at all phases of the response, including needs assessments, joint planning, and monitoring and evaluation.”

    Lets hope all parties involved have the power to act with compassion and in a timely fashion.

    “Effort, with vision and patience, determination, a more wholistic view, that certainly we can reduce many crisis, that is my fundamental belief and most important clear vision, here you have to know the reality and in order to do that, wholistic view and then in order to do that development of determination or will power motivation now here compassion. Compassion gives you inner strength also compassion gives you self confidence that is the basis of willpower or determination. So wisdom side and determination these two combine I think many problems can be reduced. That is my fundamental belief.” quote: HH 14 Dalai Lama Maui April 27, 2007

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