Nepal Earthquake: Relief Agencies Race Monsoons To Shelter Homeless Thousands

CONTAINING A CRISIS. Catholic Relief Services’ staff distribute shelter and hygiene kits in a village in Nepal’s Gorkha District.

Catholic Relief Services and its partners within the Caritas Internationalis network of relief and development agencies have begun looking to what lies ahead for Nepal as the poverty-stricken nation recovers from a devastating earthquake.

America got a frontline report on May 6 from Jennifer Hardy, a C.R.S. regional information officer. Hardy reached Nepal soon after the 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit on April 25. The disaster has left more than 8,400 dead, thousands more injured and hundreds of thousands without homes. C.R.S., like other humanitarian groups that have responded, are now in a race with the coming monsoon season, according to Hardy, attempting to get relief supplies, emergency shelters and building materials into rural districts before the rains will turn Nepal’s roads into muddy quagmires.

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Some media reports have focused on a slow government response to the disaster, which left important historical structures and thousands of homes in the capital Katmandu in ruins, but Hardy says C.R.S./Caritas coordination with Nepalese officials has been good. “The real problem is the scale of this disaster, the vast geography it covers and the difficult access into small mountain towns,” she says. “Supplies are moving, but of course we are doing everything we can to move them faster. We know families are in great need and we only have a small window to distribute goods before the rains begin.

“During these months of intense daily rains [June through September], moving construction materials and relief goods anywhere except for along the main paved roads will be very difficult or impossible,” she reports. “That’s why we are working so fast to give families the materials they need right away—we know they need to make their emergency shelters as strong as possible as quickly as possible to make the rains more bearable.”

Homelessness will remain a formidable challenge as the recovery continues. “Some houses are fully collapsed,” Hardy says, “others have walls blown out and still others that look intact on the outside are actually full of rubble and debris on the inside.

“I’ve walked up to homes that look O.K. on the outside, only to peek in the door and see the floor more than halfway covered with brick or stones from collapsed interior walls. These homes are totally uninhabitable and must be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Many of the families she meets have been living in improvised tents outside their ruined homes. “And now they worry constantly about the coming monsoon,” Hardy says. “They know they won’t be able to rebuild before the big rains start in a few weeks, so they worry how they will wash clothes and have them dry in the rain; how they will keep their food and animals dry; what will begin to mold; and other worries. Of course, for families that lost a loved one, all of those worries about the future are compounded by grief and loss.”

Hardy describes the C.R.S./Caritas staff and volunteers she has met as “inspiring.”

“They are working incredibly long days in very difficult conditions, yet they still cheer and clap when we get updated numbers on families we’ve reached or word that new supplies have crossed the border from India.”

She adds, “The people we are helping are experiencing trauma in different ways. Those who have lost a loved one are struggling the most, but everyone is coping with grief of lost homes and possessions and worry about the future.”

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has launched a special appeal for donations to assist Nepal through this crisis and the months of rebuilding and restoration ahead.

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