Two weeks on from Nepal’s devastating earthquake, in some areas things almost appear to be returning to normal. In the capital, Kathmandu, tourists drawn by the country’s damaged but still impressive heritage and famous mountains are beginning to return, as the rubble is cleared away.
But for tens of thousands of families, particularly those in the worst-affected rural areas in the mid hills, it will be months – if not years – before their lives are normal again.
Visiting the village of Arubote Majhi Tole earlier this week, which clings to a hillside above a fast-flowing river, the scale of the challenge facing the Nepalese people and aid agencies became clear.
‘A band of destruction’
On approach, it wasn’t clear that it even was a village – every single house has been reduced to a pile of stones and wood. The few possessions of families in this poor agricultural community were scattered among the rubble, torn school books and broken furniture.
Scenes like this are repeated across the earthquake-hit areas of Nepal, in a band of destruction and misery.
Women sat out in one of the few clear spaces picking through trays of mud and stones to find grains of rice that they could use to feed their children.
In low income households like these, families have stored bags of grains to see them through lean periods until the next harvest. Most of those have been buried in the earthquake and subsequent landslides, leaving people reliant on credit and relief supplies.
Children are the most vulnerable
The most urgent need though is still shelter. With homes unlikely to be rebuilt in the coming months, everyone needs a safe and dry place to sleep. Next month the monsoon season will start, followed by Nepal’s cold, snowy winters.
Children are the most vulnerable in these conditions, particularly the new babies who are being born homeless, their mothers forced to sleep outside after returning from hospital.
Save the Children has distributed tarpaulins and blankets in Arubote Majhi Tole, but families will need sturdier shelters to protect them from rain and mosquitoes when the monsoon season hits. In some very remote villages, cut off by destroyed roads, people have yet to receive even basic tarpaulins.
Looking to the future
Our immediate goal in Nepal is to reach every single family who needs help in the areas where we are working with basic supplies, from plastic sheeting to baby clothes, hygiene kits and kitchen sets.
After delays getting our aid planes in due to the limited capacity at Kathmandu airport, distribution teams are now starting to get the volume of relief supplies they need to reach everyone.
In isolated rural areas north of Gorkha, close to the epicentre, they are packing aid on to donkeys and tractors to get across mountain passes made inaccessible to trucks by landslides.
Our team in Nepal is also starting up programmes that will support families in the long term, once their immediate needs have been met. Save the Children water engineers are out helping to fix broken pipes and sanitation systems so families can get clean drinking water.
They are building temporary toilets, to give displaced people some dignity and stop the spread of disease. At least one hundred child-friendly spaces and temporary learning spaces are also being set up to give children a safe place to play, learn and recover from the trauma of the earthquake.
And mobile medical teams are travelling out to areas where healthcare facilities have been damaged or destroyed, to make sure people still get the essential treatment they need.
It will take a long time for life to get back to normal in Nepal, but Save the Children will be there every step of the way.