Remote Nepal villages desperate for aid

Remote Nepal villages desperate for aid
Nepalese villagers as they wait for the arrival of relief material in the village of Sirdibas in Gorkha District, some 250kms north-west of Kathmandu.
PHOTO: AFP

Remote Nepalese villages cut off by April quake desperate for aid as monsoon season nears

For the villagers of Sirdibas in Nepal, an isolated mountain community in the Himalayan region, a trip to the nearest market meant a three-day journey by donkey even before the recent 7.8-magnitude earthquake.

Since the quake struck on April 25, however, flattening villages and killing more than 8,700 people, that trail has been cut off and the monsoon rains mean it cannot be repaired for months.

Almost every house in Sirdibas was damaged by the quake - a story echoed in communities across Nepal, where at least 500,000 homes were destroyed.

But villagers say that getting supplies is the biggest battle and the worry grows more pressing as the monsoon nears, AFP reported.

"We don't have access to the market, we can't buy anything. We need rice and cooking oil," said 60-year-old Lani Gurung, one of the 100 villagers who gathered to speak to the local United Nations (UN) coordinator Susan Robertson on a recent visit.

Many villages in Gorkha, in the foothills of the Himalayas, were inaccessible by road even before the quake, but they are even more cut off now and are forced to rely on helicopter deliveries for basic supplies.

The UN estimates that 2.8 million people are in need of assistance after the quake and more than 800,000 of those are in hard-to-reach areas.

It also warned that reaching them will become even harder in the coming weeks as the monsoon rains begin.

Because helicopters are in short supply, the UN World Food Programme has hired thousands of porters who have been left unemployed by a collapse in tourist numbers to deliver aid to remote mountainous areas.

The operation aims to deliver food and shelter materials to about 100,000 people. It also hopes to clear walking trails.

BLOCKED

Around 10km of the path from Sirdibas is blocked, according to one of the 37 soldiers deployed for relief work.

The villagers tried using an old route, but found that impossible as well and there is a constant risk of falling rocks.

The quake also took its toll on the donkeys that locals use to carry heavy loads across long distances.

Mr Hira Chhetri, a villager who works for the National Trust for Nature Conservation, said that between 200 and 300 of the around 2,000 donkeys living in the area were killed. "But that's a small problem compared with everything else," he said.

Even the food that the villagers usually grow - corn and potato - is in short supply after the quake.

"Usually, people store their crops inside their house. But this time, they have nothing to store," said Mr Ram Kumar, the head of the village committee.

Sirdibas has around 2,500 residents, according to a 2011 census.

For now, there is emergency relief. The UN and Nepal army helicopters airdrop supplies of rice and sugar every week.

We don't have access to the market, we can't buy anything. We need rice and cooking oil.


This article was first published on June 20, 2015.
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