Quake-affected families living on the streets of Kathmandu for fear of further tremors. © IOM/Matt Graydon 2015
By Brian Kelly
As soon as I saw the breaking news flash up on my phone I knew this was serious. I was packing my bag to go to Geneva, for some scheduled meetings, but knew right away that my plans had just changed, changed utterly. I spent Saturday and Sunday on the phone assembling our team, and by Sunday night we were good to go.
I was amazed how fast and efficiently everything was going. I should have known better. As we tried to land in Kathmandu on Monday morning we learned that the one airstrip at the tiny international airport was unable to take us, so we were diverted to Kolkata, where we waited several hours. We boarded another flight, that briefly circled Kathmandu before it too was turned round. Back to Kolkata we went. We then ended up back in Bangkok and finally made it to Kathmandu on Tuesday. The airport was chaotic – a major international response was coming together and the air was electric with activity with surge and rescue teams, journalists, and aid workers joining Nepalis returning home to check on their families.
During the ride into town it was clear that there were a lot of people out in the open, and we were still nowhere near the epicentre, where damages are much worse.
We could see that the part of town we are staying in had not been too badly affected, but the death toll was climbing and climbing, from dozens, to hundreds, to thousands. We met up with our chief of mission Maurizio Busatti and his team and started to plan our day. They were welcoming but grave, appreciating the enormity of the task ahead, and the responsibility that IOM would be charged with as part of the humanitarian response.
I’ve been in Nepal for less than two days, and am acutely conscious of the need to get aid into the country – and out to the devastated regions – as fast as possible. We’ve already secured 5,000 shelter kits from the UK and US governments (DFID and OFDA) which ought to arrive before the weekend. It’s a good first step, but we – and Nepal – need much much more.
It’s really heartening to see such a good regional response. The Indian Air Force and military have done a superb job in kick-starting emergency operations. Aid is coming in from China, Thailand, Japan, the Philippines and more, as well as from Europe and the US. Not to mention the global response – the UN Flash Appeal will be launched today, seeking critically important support from donors.
I’m really hoping that the humanitarian organizations – and there are about 1,000 responders here already – can get our acts together and coordinate so that we meet the needs rapidly and professionally. I’ve seen things going wrong in the past when too many people try to take on too much without the right coordination. There’s a lot at stake here and the bottom line is human life.
IOM will be doing its best to get material help to the most isolated communities. We will bring in what is most needed, or buy it in-country, which we prefer, as it helps the local economy to bounce back. We know that people want to get back into their homes, and we know the challenges inherent when there is large-scale secondary displacement.
It looks likely that some sort of temporary accommodation will have to be arranged for many thousands of people – we have the expertise to contribute to that alongside our partners in the Government and other agencies. We are still very much in the emergency phase, but even now we have to start thinking long-term, how we are going to help people get over this immense calamity and get on with their lives.
Brian Kelly is IOM Surge Team Leader in Kathmandu