Maha steps up
May 23, 2015-
The MaHa Jodi of Hari Bansha Acharya and Madan Krishna Shrestha are iconic figures who have, over the years, provided much-needed comic relief to Nepalis. The two comedians are also known for reaching out to the Nepali people in times of need. Now, with the country reeling from the devastation wrought by the Great Quake and its subsequent aftershocks, the celebrated duo have taken it upon themselves to help out their countrymen through their relief programmes. Anup Ojha of the Post caught up with Hari Bansha Acharya to talk about the MaHa Jodi’s relief missions and how they have helped people in various quake-hit areas in the country. Excerpts.
Have your near and dear ones been affected by the quake?
Luckily, none of my relatives were injured, but they are under quite a bit of mental stress. And my youngest sister’s house in Kuleshwor is badly cracked. Likewise, there are thin cracks on the third and fourth floor of the apartment complex I live in, in Lazimpat. I live on the second floor, though.
Are you working on relief programmes? How have you been conducting relief operations?
MaHa Sanchar has prior experience working in relief-distribution programmes, so we are up to the task. For example, we distributed relief supplies to the Koshi flood victims last year, and we have been involved in similar efforts every year. Our foundation was first established when the Koshi River flooded and displaced hundreds of people. Since the Great Quake, we have been distributing relief material like food, tarpaulin, water, salt, rice, noodles and other necessary items in the most- affected areas like Gorkha, Dhading, Kavre and Sindupalchok. We have been mostly travelling to the interior areas on foot.
How much relief material have you distributed? How do you go about distributing them?
We have distributed relief items worth Rs 40 million. Upon reaching many of these quake-affected regions, we realised that it would be really difficult for us to distribute the supplies because we would not be able to control the crowds; so we have handed over the responsibility for distributing relief supplies to the local police and security forces, but we do try to be present when the supplies are distributed.
How do you ensure transparency in your relief work? Which other organisations are working through you?
We have been working with industrialists like Hari Bhakta Sharma and Bishnu Agrawal, and they know quite a bit about management. They are the ones who keep track of how our funds are being used. Many other organisations have also been tying up with MaHa Sanchar. Recently, we distributed relief materials in different quake-hit areas with the assistance of Help Nepal and the Lions Club.
What other relief sectors are you working on?
Last week, we got some assistance from Nepalis living in Washington, D.C., who sent over US $ 2,000. We donated all this money to the Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre in Sanga, and we are looking for more financial help for the hospital. Many people have suffered injuries to their spine in the Great Quake, and there are quite a few of them who need financial help in order to get treatment. We have been helping spinal-injury victims get treatment free of cost.
What challenges have you faced in providing relief materials?
There are thousands of people who still need relief materials. The problem is that there are also those who have already been provided relief materials, but they want to hoard more. Then there are logistical problems we have to deal with too. In many remote places, relief materials can only be ferried on helicopters. Sometimes the relief supplies have to be airdropped, and that can damage the items. Furthermore, many of the people who need help live in scattered settlements or in remote areas, and it’s extremely difficult to get the supplies to them.
How long will you keep working on relief operations? What has impressed you about the citizens’ response?
I guess I’ll keep doing this until things get better. Providing accommodation to the quake victims still remains a huge challenge. And the government has still not been able to help many people in the affected areas. It’s the common people who have been doing most of the relief work. There are also many volunteers and some NGOs and INGOs who are working really hard to help the affected people.
What are the lessons we can learn from these trying times?
The first lesson is that the government needs to create an earthquake-related curriculum in schools, so that children will be able to handle such situations in the future. We had taught our children that they were to hide under the bed or table if a quake hit, but these things don’t work in Nepal, as we have big concrete buildings and cement houses. The biggest thing that we have learned is that the government must strictly enforce the building code. The contractors who construct new buildings must be aware of the safety protocols; they must internalise the fact that weak houses can kill people, and thus constructing weak houses is a crime.
What do you think the relief teams need to focus on henceforth?
The quake victims must get temporary homes before the monsoon starts. While it’s true that food items are being distributed along with tarpaulin, the relief amounts are not enough. And the tarpaulin doesn’t last very long, so the people must be provided with corrugated iron sheets. Apart from that, hundreds of people in the devastated areas are dealing with mental problems. This problem must be addressed without delay.
Published: 24-05-2015 06:50