Taking aid to Phulping
May 18, 2015-
At 5 am on May 8, some local youths from Phulping village, Sindhupalchok, finally embarked on their long-awaited journey home from Kathmandu, on trucks loaded with relief supplies such as rice, flour, torch lights, instant noodles, soaps, matchsticks and even spices. It was the 13th day after the Great Quake and a day after the Araniko highway had been cleared off the debris. I accompanied the team on their efforts to bring relief materials to their village.
The group had decided to traverse the treacherous road because they hadn’t been able to arrange for any other help. 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 but in vain. No helicopter could be arranged to take aid to their village.
The ride out of Kathmandu into the hills intimated us with the 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, and members of the Canadian Army were examining the destruction. More scenes of destruction unfolded further up as settlements along the road, like Balephi, Khadichaur, Lamosangu, had only few wooden or concrete structures standing. People could be seen camping outside, while a few shops were still operating out of the walls of destroyed buildings. The usual endless checkpoints along the way still persisted, but didn’t pose any obstruction to the supply-carrying vehicles. Near Balephi, Chinese dozers were clearing a fresh landslide.
There were at least five major landslides along the road and most hills were still in clouds of dust. We could see huge cracks and land shifts 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. Finally, we reached Khokundol, the nearest point on the road from Phulping village. There, we were greeted by clouds of dust released by a landslide in a steep hill on the opposite side of the Tamakoshi River, just behind the massive under-construction customs building. Slightly to its right, on the historic Dugunagadhi Hill, all the houses that we could see seemed to be destroyed.
We quickly unloaded the supplies and arranged lunch for the volunteers. A strong aftershock struck as soon as we sat down to eat. In a hurry, we made our plans for the next day and spread out to trek up the hills to different settlements, both to see our families and to find safe places to spend the night in. We had already sent a group member up to the villages a day earlier to inform the people about the supplies we were bringing with us. I spent the night listening to the stories of the people who had escaped death. When the earthquake struck, many youths were high in the pastures harvesting yarsagumba. Most locals believed that it was the caterpillar herb that had cursed them with such a disaster because they had been collected to near extinction. The locals said that a neighboring village on the Chinese side of Khasa had even conducted a meeting and decided to ban the harvest and sale of yarsagumba. Back at Phulping, an 80-year-old lady, who had survived the quake, recounted, “I thought it was one of those small tremors but soon it brought down the house on me. I couldn’t see anything, and couldn’t get out for quite some time. I was lucky to survive.” Another young man, nicknamed Nono, said, “News of 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 a 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 had 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 heading to, since not a single rescue operation had been carried out in their villages, let alone air dropping the supplies. The corn fields around were ripe for harvest, but people lacked a safe place to store the grains.
We decided to divide ourselves into two groups and distribute the supplies in all the wards of Phulping VDC, which, according to the 2011 census, consists of around 783 households. My group was in charge of the Phulping area, which consisted of approximately 285 households. Finally, on May 9, people began to descend towards our station from as early as six in the morning. Some had walked three hours downhill to take back the supplies with them. By nine in the morning, the distribution was in full swing. By the late afternoon, our team had distributed 285 boxes of instant noodles, 1,425 kgs of flour, 800 bars of soap (300 for bathing and 500 for washing), 285 boxes of matchstick, 285 packets of red chilli powder and 40 torch lights. We decided not to bring rice, since the other group we were coordinating with had decided to distribute it. The villagers were happy not just to get the much-needed supplies but also to see and hear from their acquaintances from the surrounding areas. After lunch, we drove back to Kathmandu, while our fellow villagers climbed uphill with supplies.
After Tuesday’s 7.3 magnitude earthquake, the village again remains cut off from road access and from any form of communication to date.
Even as relief teams wait to take tents and more supplies to these villages as soon as the road opens, the effects of the second earthquake remain unclear.
Published: 19-05-2015 08:00