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Asia

Locals, aid workers pick up the pieces after Nepal quake

Parts of Nepal are gradually recovering from the devastating earthquake, while coordinating relief work to the hardest-hit areas remains difficult. Anu Singh Choudhary reports from Kathmandu.

Bina Tamang, a resident of Dhading district, came to Kathmandu to visit her relatives. She hasn't heard from her mother since before the earthquake on April 25, and doesn't even know whether she should hope for their survival or not. Every day since the earthquake hit she comes to the Bus Park hoping to catch a bus to her village, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) away. The phones aren't working, and her relatives dissuade her from going back.

"At least there is food in Kathmandu. No one knows what situation our people are in back home in the villages. I need help. But I don't know where to go. All I want is to go back home," Bina's voice begins to fade and she looks away.

Life is slowly getting back on track in Kathmandu. Offices have resumed their work, markets are opening up, and restaurants are now serving food. Groups of volunteers are working in tandem with national and international relief workers across the valley, assisting them in clearing the debris or distributing relief materials. Though quake survivors are camping in open spaces and

face the threat of epidemics due to poor sanitation and waste management,

the situation in Kathmandu still seems to be under control. At least food and water are available. The stories from far-flung villages are far grimmer.

Bina Tamang waits to leave for home

Bina Tamang is waiting to go home

"I had spoken to my daughter three days back, on the fourth day of the quake," says Kumar Ghale. Kumar's daughter lived in Barpak in Gorkha districts, the epicenter of the quake, which has turned into ruins and become inhabitable. "They are living through the rain and cold in the open. I have no idea how they are surviving, or whether they are alive or dead. And there is nothing I can do," says the father helplessly.

The authorities sound as helpless. "The choppers are continuously ferrying food, clothes and tents to Gorkha. We are also trying to get the injured to Kathmandu. But the damage is way too big. There is only this much we can do, given the enormity of the situation," says Tulsi Prasad Gautam, director general of the Tourism Department, who has also been monitoring the rescue and relief operations.

Daunting tasks

While the Nepalese

government has been slammed for poor post-quake management,

several non-governmental organizations have come forward with humanitarian relief, providing supplies and services to people in remote areas. The various players include the government and army, UN agencies, International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, teams from the neighboring countries, such as China, India and Pakistan, and several other international agencies of different capabilities, size and authority. Coordinating the large number of groups, and their diversity, is a daunting task.

"The biggest challenge initially had been to get our relief material into Nepal from sourcing centers in Dubai and Manila, due to the congestion at Kathmandu and lack of landing slots. Working proactively with governments of Nepal and India, and with WFP [the UN World Food Program], we have now been able to streamline this flow of relief material. The challenge now would be to get this material out to the remote, inaccessible severely affected areas as soon as possible," says Devendra Tak from Save the Children.

Red cross volunteers move relief material to deliver to remote areas

Relief agencies are finding it tricky to coordinate volunteers

The Red Cross office in Kathmandu has seen a flood of volunteers in the last week. Over 2,000 have registered themselves to arrange for emergency relief services for disaster victims. "While we have seen an inflow of volunteers, managing them and handing over responsibilities to them has been a mammoth task. We have a logistics team in place for coordination. The objective is to make sure that each hand contributes," says Divya Raj Poudel, communications lead with the Nepal Red Cross Society.

The one thing that he stresses is that helpers should contribute according to their skills without overcrowding, adding that there will be numerous opportunities, but aid must be sustainable to have a long-term impact.

"We are not asking for much," says Sunil Maharjan, a college student. "All we need is some support to gather pieces of our lives together. Until a week ago, the young man was focused on starting his own restaurant once he graduated. Now all his savings and dreams lie in the rubble, but that hasn't deterred him from helping those who are needier than him. Sunil and his friends are collecting funds to buy tents and tarpaulin sheets to be sent out quake victims in Gorkha.

"My country needs every single hand for reconstruction right now, and I am not going to let my problems come in the way of that," he says Sunil, before turning back to the truck from where he has been offloading relief material to be sent to the villages.

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