Getting aid to Nepal’s desperate quake victims

In villages where the government has yet to provide supplies, a group of friends has stepped up to fill the void.

Nepal earthquake
Sanu Maya, 42, lost her home in the devastating April 25 earthquake [Mark Scialla/Al Jazeera]

Gagalphedi, Nepal – At an isolated cluster of villages 1,500 metres high along the Himalayan foothills, at least 100 people quietly gathered around a flatbed truck and waited for their names to be called.

It was the first time they received aid since a deadly earthquake struck Nepal on April 25. But it was not from the government or foreign NGOs, instead it came from a group of neighbourhood mates from Kathmandu.

For the last nine days, more than a dozen young men from Boudah, a mixed indigenous community in the countrys capital, have delivered much-needed supplies to villages where government help has yet to arrive.

 Remote villages await quake aid

“If the government was able to deliver then we wouldnt be here,” Pragyan Yonjan, 31, told Al Jazeera.

The people in Gagalphedi said almost all the homes in their community have collapsed or are too damaged to occupy, leaving them with minimal shelter on the cusp of monsoon season.

The village is fewer than 15km from Kathmandu, and yet the government has not sent anyone to assess the damage or provide aid.

“Ive lost my house, my livestock, everything,” Sanu Maya, 42, said as she collected a bowl of lentils and a 50-kg bag of rice. “The government hasnt come to help, no one has come to help. They dont count us as humans. There is nothing we can do.”

Death toll rising

The 7.9 magnitude earthquake has killed at least 7,300 so far and injured more than 14,000 in Nepal. Ninety percent of rural buildings have been destroyed, according to the Red Cross. The UN says 1.4 million will need aid over the next three months.

The first day after the initial shock, Anil Thing, 40, borrowed a truck from his neighbour and along with a group of friends from Boudah delivered tarpaulins and food to six villages only 6km away.

Anil Thing (centre) delivers aid to villagers [Mark Scialla/Al Jazeera] 
Anil Thing (centre) delivers aid to villagers [Mark Scialla/Al Jazeera] 

“We are just friends. We thought ‘why dont we do something individually,'” Thing said. “We dont want any organisation included. We want to do it independently.”

Damage from the earthquake to Boudah was minimal, but Things house was cracked so he now lives in a tent with his family. Many who live there are Tamang, a marginalised group according to the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities.

But Thing said social caste doesnt matter, and they will try to deliver aid to as many people as possible.

“We are all mixed up. To represent your body, all organs are important, so we dont separate. But the people mostly affected are indigenous people in the mountains,” he said.

But some areas, the most desperate ones, they cant get to. Thing is worried that if people think they are with the government they will get blamed for the way it has handled disaster response. Thats one reason why theyre unwilling to go to harder-hit villages in Gagalphedi.

“We cannot go by ourselves over there to the farther places,” Thing said. “Everybody is starving and desperate for tents there. We dont have enough to provide. Its too dangerous for us.”

Growing anger

Even in some of the more accessible parts of Gagalphedi resentment towards the government is growing.

“We know the government is trying, but people here are getting very aggressive,” said a Gagalphedi village elder who asked not to be named.

Nepals post-disaster response has been heavily criticised in the 10 days following the earthquake. Many people in rural areas have still not received any government aid. The UN and Western governments have blamed the countrys bureaucracy for taxing and stalling the flow of supplies at border crossings.

The government, however, has denied those accusations.

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“Nepal is a very small country, we have limited resources,” Brigadier General Jagadish Chandra Pokharel told Al Jazeera. “The terrain is inaccessible even under ideal circumstances. We have no conflict and good relations, so 90 percent of military personnel are focused on relief efforts.”

Nepal’s rich cultural heritage and beautiful landscapes that draw tourists from around the world mask its complex past.

The country was engaged in a decade-long civil war until 2006, when communist fighters and the government signed a peace accord. Even though the pact still holds, political disagreement has made it difficult to establish effective national and local governance.

But lack of national unity does not mean a lack of local mutual aid. Thing and his friends said they will keep delivering supplies so long as the need is there and they can get support from their community.

They will return to Gagalphedi in one week to refill stocks, said Thing.

Walking towards the pile of bricks that used to be her house, Sanu Maya smiled after returning with her aid delivered by the friends from Boudah.

“We may not have a government, but because of friends like these we will be okay. Im very happy,” she said. 

Source: Al Jazeera