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jeudi 21 mai 2015

Article from Phurwa published in The Kathmandu Post, May 19, 2015

Originally published in The Kathmandu Post, May 19, 2015

At 5 am on May 8th, some local youths from Phulping village including some monks finally embarked on their long awaited journey home from Kathmandu, on trucks loaded full with relief materials such as white flour, torch lights, instant noodles, soaps, matchsticks and even spices bought with collected funds. It was the thirteenth day after the Gorkha earthquake and a day after the Araniko highway had been cleared off the landslides. This highway was a site of a recent carnage as were the small settlements scattered along the steep, now defaced hills. Sindhupalchowk was then the worst affected district of Nepal with a reported highest death toll and destruction. Apart from the main shock, Sunday's 6.9 and Tueday's 7.3 shocks were within few kilometers of Phulping village. I accompanied the team on their effort to bring relief materials to the region. 

For two weeks before the road was cleared, the small team had been running around the bureaucratic net in Kathmandu desperately trying to get a helicopter to deliver emergency supplies.  None of them or their larger community outside had heard anything from their families in the village after the earthquake. They met their CA member Mohan Basnet and a team member even visited Chautara to meet the Chief District Officer.  Sadly all their efforts were in vain. No helicopter could be found to go to Phulping village. Tashi Rabgye, after meeting the CDO in Chautara, said dejectedly, "after all, everything is politics."

The ride out of Kathmandu into the hills intimidated us with an alarming scale of devastation. Most of the older mud and brick houses along the way were damaged. At Sukute, little was left of the small bazaar, as the Canadian army were examining the destruction. Scenes of more destruction unfolded further up as settlements along the road - Balephi,  Khadichaur, Lamosangu had only few wooden or concrete houses standing. A quick visit into a good looking concrete house at Lamosangu revealed serious cracks inside. People were seen camping out while a few shops were still running by the wall of destroyed buildings. The usual endless checkpoints along the way still persisted but it was much easier for privately managed relief supplies. Near Balephi, Chinese dozers quickly cleared a fresh landslide. Our trucks cleared its way through the treacherous road along the steep hills. There were at least five major landslides along the road and some hills were still in clouds of dust. The destruction only seemed to increase as we headed further. There were huge cracks and land-shift right in the middle of Chaku bazaar, and the settlements at Naya Pool and the Bunjee jumping area were completely destroyed. Everywhere people were seen scavenging through the rubble apparently looking for some leftover goods or usable materials.

There were at least a dozen vehicles crushed by rocks including a public bus. I was informed that many died in these vehicles.  Finally, we reached Khokundol, the nearest point on the road from Phulping village. We were greeted by clouds of dust from the steep hill on the opposite side of the Bhotekoshi river, behind the massive under-construction customs building. Slightly to its right on the historical Dugunagadhi hill all the houses we could see seemed all destroyed,  and the slopes were whitewashed with landslides. And right above us lay a huge tree on a rock ready to fall.

We quickly unloaded the supplies and arranged lunch for the volunteers.  A strong aftershock struck as soon as we sat down to eat. There was nowhere to run and nowhere to hide since the house we were in had many cracks and the outside was vulnerable to rock falls. Pointing at a damaged house beside us, a young woman lamented the loss of her child in the first earthquake. She was shivering in fear and was warning others against staying in.

In hurry the group made plans for the next day and spread out to trek up the hills to different villages, both to see families and to find safe places to spend the night. They had already sent a group member up to the villages a day earlier to inform people about the supplies we were bringing. I spent the night listening to stories of people who had escaped death. When the earthquake struck, many youths were high on the pastures harvesting yartsagunbu. I was interested to hear that most locals believedyartsagunbu triggered mother nature to curse them in such a way. Reportedly, a neighboring village on the Chinese side of Khasa had even conducted a village meeting to ban the harvest and sale of yartsagunbu. Back at Phulping, a seventy seven years old lady who survived the quake recounted, "I thought it was one of those small tremors but soon it brought down the house on me. I was blinded by the dust, and couldn't get out until quite some time. I was lucky to survive." Another young man, nicknamed Nono, said, "News of the deaths spread. I joined others to clear the rubble but the constant aftershocks forced us to retreat to an open area." All the houses were gone including the local school and the monastery. People were sleeping under makeshift rain shelters made out of zinc sheets salvaged from the ruins of their homes and were eating whatever they managed to dig out of the rubble. In the three wards we visited, eleven people had died and several others were injured. The survivors were bitterly wondering where all those passing helicopters were going  since not a single rescue was made from the villages, let alone dropping supplies. The fields around were ripe for harvest but there were not any safe places to store the grains. With the monsoon approaching, soon people will have more to worry about than their lost houses or family members.

The larger group had decided to distribute supplies and people to all wards of Phulping VDC consisting of 783 households according to the 2011 census. The supply and volunteers were divided into two groups based on their location: Phulping and Narayanthan region (This article reports only the first). We were in charge of Phulping area consisting of approx. 285 households, or rather families. A list was prepared by local representatives prior to the distribution. On the 9th, people began to descend as early as six in the morning. Some had walked three hours downhill to take back the supplies. By nine in the morning, the distribution was in full swing and lasted a couple of hours. Our team distributed 215 boxes of instant noodles, 215 packets of 5 kg white flour, 215 bathing and 430 washing soaps, 215*10 box matchsticks, 215 packet of chili powder, 3 sacks bitten rice and 15 torch lights (for the elderly). Our team decided not to bring rice since we came in coordination with another group that distributed rice and daal. The villagers were happy not just to get the much needed supplies but also to see and hear from their acquintances from the surrounding areas. The quick happy hours of distribution ended with the locals presenting khatas to the volunteers. After lunch, we drove back to Kathmandu as our fellow villagers climbed uphill with supplies.

After Tuesday's 7.3 earthquake, the village again remains cut off from road access and any form of communication to date.

Even as the team wait to take tents and more supplies to these villages as soon as the road is safe to travel, the aftermath of the second earthquake remains unclear.


This ongoing relief project is made possible due to generous support from monks at Thrangu monastery, Namo Buddha monastery, the Many Faces of Karma Foundation in coordination with Amy Simper, Action Dolpo, various individuals as well as fundraising initiatives by expat and in-country local youths, and of course, the three hardworking musketeers: Tenzin Dolma, Tashi Rabgye (Mangal) and Pasang Wangdi. The team is currently working on their next project to supply tents, portable solar lighting system and more rations.

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