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Quake forces Nepalis to walk on water


The building alarm pierced our post-lunch slump, the thrust and shakes propelled us out the building unlike the previous 17 days of aftershock warnings. As I sprinted from the building the line of evacuees ahead swayed to a rhythm that only nature could own. At that stage I remember thinking the earthquake was massive but in a short time I would re-enter the building and return to work.

As a kiwi I had grown up with earthquakes. I remember them large, small and intrusive. I was awed by their power but always cherished the still that inevitably followed.

This is what made Nepal’s second major earthquake so different for me. I will never forget the beginning of the 7.3-magnitude quake, but will never recall the end.

The deadly second earthquake rolled like the largest of ocean swells, rocking and waving motion sickness, headaches and exhaustion through us. For what seemed like hours we were pummelled with more aftershocks. Each of them with the same effect: screams and cries from our local Nepalese staff and volunteers; heightened concern for poor Nepal’s families, homes and communities still aching from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake some 2 weeks prior; and a reminder of our insignificance against the mightiness of tectonic plates responsible for Nepal’s Himalayas.

I cannot remember any significant stillness from that afternoon or evening. In fact, when I lay to sleep that night in our guest house some 10 hours after the main temblor, I felt like I was tucked up in a ferry cabin for the evening’s sailing. Overnight, aftershocks startled us from our tidal stupor and those of us sleeping indoors evacuated to the lawn joining our colleagues who felt safer in tents - like hundreds of thousands of families across Nepal.

My perspective was verified by many that this earthquake was massive. But I was reminded by many more that this earthquake paled in length and strength to the 7.8 earthquake that paralysed Nepal one month ago on 25 April 2015.

The Nepal Government report that together both earthquakes have caused nearly 9,000 deaths, destroyed nearly 500,000 homes, severely damaged over 250,000 more, and affected more than eight million people in 39 of Nepal’s 75 districts.

In the days and weeks that followed the first earthquake, Nepal quickly became saturated with humanitarian agencies, government and multilateral pledges and commitments, and countless organisations of goodwill. On arriving one week after the first earthquake and travelling through Kathmandu’s tiny airport and scarred city, it became apparent the numbers of staff, stakeholders and volunteers representing the myriad organisations was comparable to the number of tarpaulins plastered like bandaids all over wounded Nepal.

This global outpouring of empathy, solidarity, commitment and goodwill is important and impressive, but it is the resilience, determination and strength of Nepal’s people that is critical, inspirational and life-changing at this exigent time.

Nepal is a country of rampant natural power – her mountains, glaciers, valleys, rivers and lakes some of the largest, deepest and strongest in the world. Nepal is a nation of unbridled human strength – a society of undefeated leaders such as Gurkhas, Sherpas, porters, warriors and survivors who have withstood colonial rule and natural disasters and helped build and sustain communities in the most challenging of terrain.

It is from this remarkable land and lineage that my colleagues at Caritas Nepal operate. Caritas Nepal is the social arm of the Catholic Church in Nepal. It is estimated that less than 1 per cent of Nepal’s 30 million people are Christian. Yet with support from the international Caritas family, Caritas Nepal ordinarily works in over 50 of Nepal’s 75 districts helping the most marginalised women, men and children fight poverty, realise justice and peace, and effectively respond to humanitarian emergencies.  

Many of the representatives from the international Caritas agencies, who are supporting Caritas Nepal in their response to the earthquakes, are seasoned emergency experts who unite before, during and after all significant emergencies to coordinate the network’s response. Yet the earthquake of 12 May was the biggest the majority of us had been in. It was primarily only our local staff and volunteers who had been in bigger, just a few weeks prior on 25 April.

When we huddled after the earthquake, we could easily move into response mode. We knew our homes, family and friends were safe. We knew we were there for a finite period and would not endlessly continue in the uncertainty of the earth’s tremors. We knew that if we wanted to leave at any time our home agency would support our exit and substitute us in for a fresh colleague.  Our Caritas Nepal colleagues, the thousands of staff and volunteers across similar organisations, and the millions of families across Nepal respond to the crisis without these comforts.

The timeliness of humanitarian assistance following a major disaster is critical. A singular event like an earthquake, especially for those in impoverished communities, can derail a family’s stability, deplete a lifetime of savings and push them over the edge into poverty. The devastation to infrastructure, economy and reserves can set communities back a generation.

In all emergencies, the first people to respond are the local women, men and children who live in the areas of impact. I joined a community assessment in a hill-top village in Lalitpur. Every house was destroyed or severely damaged, household goods buried, and the village water pump was broken. Yet the community had responded immediately by salvaging what they could and using their minimal savings to purchase a few critical tarpaulins and other supplies to create makeshift shelters, and walking over 3 hours (17km) to source clean water.  I witnessed a hub of activity, ideas and innovations; resilience and immediate village level responses that are bolstered by humanitarian response teams and supplies.

The success of global humanitarian response agencies hinges on partnerships and relationships with local agencies, government and communities. With 87 per cent of Nepal’s population living in rural areas, the challenging infrastructure and geography, and the extent of destruction and damage from these earthquakes, aftershocks and landslides, local expertise, language and cultural knowledge are paramount to success.

Most are affected by their own loss and damage, yet every day Nepali women and men face their fears, tackle their trauma and encounter uncertainty to help others and serve. All have been responding for longer than us and all have suffered more than us. Each has lived through the bigger, more lethal earthquake and endless aftershocks. With every tremor they are forced to walk on water, but every day they choose to serve as Jesus did.

Angela FordAngela Ford is Communications Manager at Caritas Australia. Donations for the Nepal Appeal are being sought online, or call 1800 024 413.

Photos credit: Caritas Australia (except where indicated in caption: Caritas Nepal)



Topic tags: Angela Ford, natural disaster, foreign aid, Nepal, Caritas, development



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Existing comments

A beautiful piece Angela on human dignity and fortitude. The work of caritas in Nepal is impressive.

Jack de Groot | 03 June 2015  

While reading i was flowing through feeling of earthquake in Nepal! Great Job Angela!

vinod | 06 June 2015  

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