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Nepal shifts focus from rescue to relief

May 2, 2015

Nepal's leaders have admitted that the probability of finding survivors under the rubble after last week's earthquake is now very low. The government has said it will move its focus to providing food and supplies.

Image: picture-alliance/dpaW. Oliver

One week after the disaster, Nepal's government was still struggling to come to terms with the extent of the tragedy. "We are trying our best in rescue and relief work, but now I don't think that there is any possibility of finding survivors under the rubble," home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told reporters.

"While we will try to find the survivors if we have reports of any such possibility, I think it will be very hard to find one under the rubble a week after the quake. It would be a surprise," he added.

The death toll in Nepal has now reached 6,621, and around 100 victims have died in regions of India that border Nepal. The administration estimated the number of injured at 14,023. The European Union (EU) also reported 1,000 missing, most of whom had been climbing in the Everest region.

"They are missing but we don't know what their status is," EU ambassador to Nepal Rensje Teerink told reporters, although the number of those dead could top 50, the German news agency DPA said. Another official said the majority was likely to be safe, but that difficult terrain and poor communications were making it difficult to locate their whereabouts.

Relief efforts not enough

According to the UN, a quarter of Nepal's population or 8 million people had been affected by the quake and around 2.8 million were displaced. Some 1.7 million children needed assistance in the worst-hit areas, and UNICEF warned that it was a race against time to avert the outbreak of disease.

Meanwhile, Nepalese officials lamented the status of relief efforts, saying many people were unhappy about not getting help. Around 1,000 villagers in Sindhupalchowk were said to be still waiting for aid. "No one has come to help us," a 33-year-old school teacher told the Agence France-Presse news agency. "The cars and the aid trucks just drive by. How will we manage now?"

Donors were also asked to send money if they could not send things that were immediately necessary. "We have things like tuna fish and mayonnaise. What good are those things for us? We need grains, salt and sugar," Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told reporters Friday. Mahat said the government urgently needed 400,000 tents and had been able to provide only 29,000.

Hope and support

While people struggled to come to terms with the destruction, there were also incidents that spread hope among the victims. A Nepalese man and a French woman were finally married in Kathmandu Saturday, after the earthquake last week had forced them to reschedule their wedding. "I hope we are bringing hope that life is going on and there is love and solidarity and sharing and caring from each other," France's Eugenie Prouvost told The Associated Press.

A young Nepalese couple was blessed with a healthy baby at an Israeli emergency hospital - a surprise for the mother, who was heavily pregnant at the time of the earthquake and had to run out of the house. "When the quake struck, I was thinking: will we survive?" the baby's father said. "Now we're safe. It's good," he added.

Search and rescue teams got their biggest surprise, however, after a 4-month-old baby was found alive under the debris.

mg/rc (AP, dpa, AFP)