Current situation at the epicentre Sunkhani, Dolakha
There was a second Great Nepal Earthquake yesterday. As reported in the Nepali language newspaper, the epicentre of the 7.3 or 7.4 magnitude earthquake lay in Sunkhani itself in Dolakha district.
Please disregard the first BBC report today, which initially put the earthquake in “western” Nepal, and later foreign media reports which even named Mt. Everest or Namché Bazaar as the epicentre.
At Sunkhani, the earth has cracked open in many places. Bulldozers are needed to reopen the road to and from Sunkhani. Until the roads are reopened and repaired, the only way in and out is by helicopter or a trek of many days on foot. At this moment the people of Sunkhani are isolated.
Because of the newly opened crevasses and the fresh avalanches, there is not much place to pitch one’s tent. Most of the temporary shelters which Krishna had built are still standing, and Krishna’s family are alive. There are many new dead, however, and there are no areas that look stable.
During the earthquake and during each of today’s aftershocks, large boulders come charging down the mountain. One boulder crushed to death a great uncle of Krishna’s who could not run out of the way fast enough. Dodging boulders is difficult because the earthquake knocks you over, and there is no sure footing anywhere.
The people are tending to wounded survivors as best they can in the absence of any medical help. Sunkhani village needs not only medical attention. Food must urgently be flown in now. The survivors are hungry.
Today’s first assessment is that people will be unable to remain in Sunkhani and Sundravati during the rainy season, which has yet to commence. The entire side of the mountain is now unstable. There will be far more avalanches than usual during the coming monsoon. At places such as Sunkhani, they will have to start their lives again after the rains on whatever physically still remains of the actual land on which they used to live.
There were numerous avalanches today, and much of the land itself will disappear in the torrential downpour of the coming months. Avalanches during the rainy season are the norm. Looking at their lands today, the people of Sunkhani assess that much of the area on which they have always lived will be lost during the impending monsoon.
In their own villages, people have no food or shelter. At this moment, on the evening of the second Great Nepal Earthquake, people want to be evacuated from their villages, but where can they all go?
Field Report – Tudikhel and Sanitation – morning of May 12, 2015
Omprakash Gnawali, filing to nepalquake.org
When I visited camp Tudikhel this morning, I saw quite a few people
still staying there (3). There is a gate on the western side where we
parked our motorcycle. There were about 10 other motorcycles there,
some near the opening, which we can call a gate, or on the
sidewalk. Likely these motorcycles belong to temporary residents in
the camp. One cannot take motorcycles in to the camp, at least not in
open daylight. There is a solder standing at the gate. Our walk
through was going to start from the west, go all the way to the east
side, then towards Bhadrakali and back to our motorcycle.
As one walks in, and even if one does not walk in and walks round
Tudikhel, one can see three major types of tent here. The blue ones
are gift from China. The tent looks likes a mini home with vertical
side walls with ropes fixing the tent to the ground. These tents say
PR China in large letters and has the distinct Chinese flag printed
just above the front entrance. These are the most numerous in the camp
and occupy approximately the western half of the camp. There are light
and dark green tents on the eastern half. The dark tents, which have
slanted side flaps coming all the way to the ground, are a gift from
Nepal Army (6). These tents have some serial number, consisting of
Nepali letter and a number printed on them. I did not find out about
the bright green ones. There are probably a total of 50+ tents even
It is a sunny morning in Kathmandu with clear skies. A favorite thing
to do in Kathmandu when it is warm is to step outside your home, or to
go to your kausi, and sit in the sun and chat (gham tapne). Quite a
few families, who are temporary residents of camp Tudikhel, were doing
exactly that. The topic of the chat is probably different from the
ones during the winter sun. In between the rows and rows of tents,
kids were busy playing various games. I spotted a few playing
badminton. Some other kids were running around chasing each other. I
am not sure what game this is but they seemed to be enjoying it; they
were laughing and screaming (4). Many families were cooking their
meals. Usually daughters and women in the family.
I was curious about the one prominently placed green water tank South
of the main tent area (5). I chatted with one of the women (nani)
cooking a meal for her family. She said that the green water tank has
water only for washing and such. Drinking water is distributed by an
army tanker in the north-eastern corner of tudikhel. The drinking
water tanker is at quite some distance from many tents, so some
residents brought their own buckets with a tap to avoid frequent trips
to the water tanker (7). Earlier when we were on our way to Tudikhel,
we had found one water tanker, a gift from Germany, on the road
between Tripureshwor and Tudikhel. A German flag prominently flies
above the tanker with signs announcing free drinking water (1 and
2). This tanker is within 10-15 minutes of walk from camp Tudikhel.
Camp Tudikhel also has shower facilities, which are made out of tarps
(8, 9, 10). There are different sets of showers for men and
women. There is a big water tank outside the shower tents. I asked one
of the kids nearby how to use the showers. You are supposed to bring
your own container (e.g., a bucket) and fill it up at the water
tank. Then you take your water to one of the shower stalls and take
shower. Looking inside the shower, it looks like a place that will
give some privacy and that’s it (12). The kids were saying people are
defecating and urinating in the showers stalls now. This may be
because most of the toilets are blown away by wind. When I was in the
shower area, the kids were taking showers right next to the water tank
instead of in the showers (13). The showers are a gift from Oxfam.
Walking in the direction towards Bhadrakali, we get to the toilets. We
saw three types toilets. First, there are temporary toilets similar to
the ones I had seen in the US. These are individual hard plastic
structures, one or two per set (14). The ones in Tudikhel had waste
pouring into the pits dug in the ground. There are quite a few pits
that were dug but never used (20). The second type is toilets in a
bus. There were two of them (11, 18, 19). The third type, almost at
Bhadrakali may be the ones we saw on Facebook as local innovation in
toilets a few days after the earthquake. These are trenches dug in the
ground and blue tarps being supported by bamboo sticks to give some
privacy while going toilet (21, 22, 23). It was surprising these
low-tech toilets are the only toilets left standing and
operational. The trenches were 1/4 to 1/2 full of mostly liquid and it
was not too smelly. My guess is people started using the toilets with
more privacy and overflowed them so these low-tech toilets did not see
much use until the other toilets were toppled by the winds. Then
people partly used these toilets and some may have used the shower
stalls. The hard plastic ones (first type) had all toppled due to
strong wind and rain last night leaving the pits with human waste
exposed (14, 15, 16, 17). The toilet buses were not operational. I
actually saw people go into these third type of toilets and use
them. These also have a separate section for women. These toilets are
next to the overhead pedestrian bridge. I saw one person on the bridge
looking at the toilets from the top. These toilets do not have
roofs. Next to the toilets, the whole southern edge of Tudikhel had a
lot of rubble (24). Probably this is where the rubble from cleanup is
being dumped for now.
Tudikhel is starting to attract the regular users of the open
ground. I saw one person doing a namaste-like pose and walking
briskly. I thought he was going to the toilets near Bhadrakali but he
kept on walking around Tudikhel. Turns out he is in some sort of
morning walk with a namaste pose. I saw another person jogging around
Tudikhel, inside the fences. Now walking towards Nepal Airlines
Corporation building (westbound), we pass through more open space
without tents. We pass by African soccer players setting up their mini
goalposts and practicing soccer (25). They probably play for one of
the local professional clubs.
Walking on, when we got closer to the gate, we saw a few people
picking trash and dragging a trash container (26). I asked the lady if
she works for Kathmandu metro (nagarpalika). She nodded and said
yes. Looking towards Ranipokhari, we saw quite a few people packing
up, slowly dismantling a few tents. It looked like people are ready to
move on but they will do so at their pace. They did not seem to be in
too much rush to leave.
Finally, when we stepped out of the gate, we saw a public service
announcement from Kathmandu metro about proper sanitation to keep the
environment healthy and safe for everyone (27). When I took a final
glance into Tudikhel, I still saw the soldier standing attentively
near the gate.
Credit: Travel logistics Shyam Gnawali
Update from Kathmandu
1. Please be careful of the news coming through especially those sensationalist obscure online news portals. Kathmandu in general is not more chaotic than usual. Many people have gone outside of Kathmandu and there is no problem with food, fuel, water and electricity compared to usual situation here.
2. The Kathmandu airport is generally organised and very welcoming of people coming to help. In fact, personally it was the best it’s been among many of my previous visits. The government has waived the visa fees for foreign citizens if they mention that they have come to help. They didn’t even need to fill in the application form, just needed to give their names and passport details.
3. Relief materials are not difficult to get through the customs contrary to some of the news coming through. Our team had several suitcases of medical materials and we had no questions asked!
4. People near the epicentre ( sindhupalanchok, Gurkha, Nuwakot, Dolakha etc) are badly affected and concerns are that the relief materials are not reaching there rapidly. If you have raised money or other help materials for the victims, please do not think too long to decide which charity to help through. Just give it so it gets through to people sooner. There are many charities working on the ground eg Red Cross, Oxfam, Help Nepal Network to mention few and many local organisations in the affected area. The bottom line is that just give it, don’t hold it! Also give to Prime Minister’s relief fund!
5. Despite the prediction that many new built houses in Kathmandu will not withstand this magnitude of earthquake, the huge majority have, which is great. Badly affected ones are those with non-pillar old houses and newly built multi-storey apartments.
6. To those doctors wanting to come and help, things are settling down here (unless today’s earthquake changes the situation as we wait!). Therefore, please make sure that you have contacted a respective hospital and they confirm that they would take you in. There are many willing doctors in Kathmandu struggling to find their role. If you want to go outside of Kathmandu, this is different. You may not be able to use your specialist skills, but may be of help providing much needed care.
7. If you need to contact your loved ones in case of further earthquakes, please ‘text’ / ‘sms’, not telephone ( including those calling from abroad). Phone networks are likely to crash immediately if everybody is on the phone; by texting, not only you will be able to establish contact quickly but also keep the phones free for emergency use who really need it.
8. Please keep raising funds wherever you are! We are on a long haul!
(Written as we sit outside of the house, preparing the night on the tent!)
**Notes from the field: We shall rebuild**
I was in Gorkha and Dhading this week, in a personal capacity, assessing the loss and distributing relief materials sponsored by the Help Nepal Network (400 sacks of rice), FNCCI (assortment of medicines, mats, rice) and Leapfrog (transport). With nine hours of sleep in three days, I visited or passed by 25 VDCs. Many of my priors were upended, and I came away more aware of what is happening on the ground. Some quick observations below:
*The problem of the last mile*
The unit of operation should be the wards, not VDCs. The more accessible VDCs have benefited much more than those farther away. Some have already stocked up for a few months. To ensure better targeting, a heroic effort combining local knowledge and organizational skills is needed. Most external groups do not have the fortitude or patience. With the credit secured for the easier leg, the problem of the last mile is often left for the local administration to solve, which is already stretched.
*This ain’t a picnic*
Food in central Nepal means rice. Then lentils and cooking oil. The northern villages also need salt. They do not really need fancy bottles of mineral water, snacks, bhujia, biscuits, noodles, brand new saris, or the Bible. Do-gooders feel good after doing “something,” but a token handout of 50 packets sent to a VDC with 1700 households is confusing, not helping. If we cannot cover the entire VDC, focus on smaller units, but cover everyone affected in the first round. Then, equity becomes a challenge where self-selection is useful, and external handpicking is tricky.
*Please bulldoze my house*
The USGS numerical aftershock analysis has the probability of quake(s) measuring more than 6 on the Richter scale at over 23% between May 2015 and May 2016. People remain terrified to re-enter their cracked houses. Those keen to start a makeshift shelter need help from the security forces with the clearing to salvage old material. Several villagers said, unprompted, that they will now opt for a different model of settlement: wide road flanked by contiguous houses “like in bidhesh.” Shelter needs to be addressed in three phases: pre/monsoon (next 6 weeks), transitional (one year), and permanent. Given the shortage of labor and time, owner-led initiatives with help from the state in cash and kind (wood/bamboo, nails, CGI sheets) are the main demand for now.
The CDO’s authority reigns supreme in the districts. In the capital, the Home Ministry is not the only center of power. This partly explains why coordination has been better on the ground than in Kathmandu. In both Dhading and Gorkha, I met the CDO and assistant CDOs, sleep-deprived but calm under pressure. Heads of district offices (about 30 on average) were all assigned to tackling some aspect of relief. The “irrigation” guy had the unenviable task of speaking polite English with foreign groups each morning. Additional personnel had poured in. In Gorkha I met two somber policemen seconded from Pokhara who quietly finished the task of recording the scale of destruction of all households in one village (Namjung). It took them six days. The enormity of the challenge is so overwhelming that the narrative of willful delinquency just does not wash. In Dhadingbeshi, I met the famous SSP Ramesh Kharel sent from Chitwan with a large group. I am no blind defender of the government, but I am a stickler for electoral legitimacy. As the Chief Secretary explains in the link below, government efforts have been unprecedented, with about 1800 officers, hundreds of security personnel and engineers now in the field. Yes, most elected politicians appeared indifferent initially. The absence of over 200,000 local office bearers for nearly two decades also aggravated the void. But for all its faults and shortcomings, I came away appreciating the role of the government much more, knowing that “the government” is not a homogenous entity.
*After the dust settles*
We now need people committed for the long haul. In a week or so, the fundraising will subside, the genuinely well-intentioned will head back to their day jobs, some pretentious do-gooders will sit pretty on a plan of career and business, the journalists will have parachuted to the next crisis leaving behind a lazy narrative of a “corrupt, inept state.” As I stared at my ruined house in Bungkot, I could not help imagine the coming test of commitment: after the dust settles, who among us will remain standing for the painstaking task of rebuilding?
Finally, to the thousands of Nepalis and foreign friends, who acted in good faith, gave it all, and sprung into action during rescue and relief, I say thank you. To those who have never paid a single rupee of direct tax in Nepal, but were generous with the vitriol, I say you’re still welcome to help improve our country and its government from within or outside. And to those who got a little excited: insult me, fine, but kindly spare the sanctimony from a distance.