DHL's special delivery for Nepal

When his plane reached Kathmandu in quake-hit Nepal, there was nowhere for it to land.

Not because there was too much debris from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25, but because every bit of space in the small airport was taken up by planes and cargo.

Ironically, Mr Michael Sobrielo, 42, is part of DHL's Disaster Response Team (DRT) sent to Nepal last Monday to prevent such congestion of cargo.

Speaking to The New Paper over the phone from Kathmandu yesterday morning, Mr Sobrielo said: "When we arrived last week, the whole tarmac was chaos. It was so full that there was no visible space for the planes to land."

The plane ended up circling the airport for about two hours before it could land, after which Mr Sobrielo and the DRT quickly set to work.

From 8am to 6pm daily, the team unloads relief goods off planes and transports them from the tarmac to a World Food Programme warehouse 1.5km away.

Non-government organisations (NGOs) will collect the supplies from the warehouse for distribution to survivors of the quake, which has killed more than 7,500 people.

But the DRT faces several challenges.

Mr Roger Loh, 54, a customer care advisor at DHL Express Singapore, said: "It's a very small airport. A small congestion can cause huge delays."


Another DRT member, Mr Noorazam Ibrahim, 48, the company's lead operations agent, estimated that it takes at least an hour to clear one plane's worth of cargo.

"There's a plane landing at the airport every hour," he said.

"This piles the pressure on us to clear the goods as fast as possible."

But inadequate equipment at the Kathmandu airport slows things down.

Mr Sobrielo said: "The airport has only one forklift and it breaks down twice a day."

Unsolicited goods donated by well-wishers also pose another huge obstacle to the group.

"These goods don't belong to any NGOs, so we don't know who to give them to," added Mr Sobrielo. "They probably come from people with good intentions, but they are just taking up space right now."


Mr Khairulnizam Massuan, leader of Singapore Red Cross' (SRC) Advance Team, shared a similar tale of logistics nightmare with TNP.

"It was quite a challenge to secure transportation because many drivers returned to their villages to check on their families," he said.

"Even if we had the drivers, many petrol kiosks have been damaged by the earthquake."

Red tape and bureaucracy further hinder relief operations.

The DRT said that although the Nepali customs has waived duty on relief goods entering the country, it hasn't waived the right to inspect those goods, causing a massive bottleneck on the ground.

Reuters reported on Tuesday that a row has broken out between Nepal and some international agencies over this.

Senior government officials said customs checks are necessary because they do not know what's coming into the country.

Supplies including goods that Nepal does not need and relief workers arriving without proper documents complicate aid efforts, said officials.

"Many donors are sending relief materials without even consulting us on what we need," said home ministry official Laxmi Prasad Dhakal.

Frustrated, some donors are circumventing the government and sending aid directly through non-governmental organisations for distribution, adding to disagreements, said an aide to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

"There are differences between the government and some donors over this," the aide said.

The DRT is expected to stay in Nepal for another week before returning to Singapore

This article was first published on May 7, 2015.
Get The New Paper for more stories.