by ram khatry
6 May 2015 10:42 AM AEST: Four to five helicopters land at Barpak everyday creating an impression to an outsider that the hard-hit people of the ground zero of the Nepal earthquake have been taken care of all right.
The locals southasia.com.au has spoken to, however, tell a different story. It’s true that helicopters fly in and out of Barpak Village all the time but 13 days on since the tragedy struck, there are still people who have not received ‘one grain’ of food or seen one representative of the government.
The multiple helicopter landings every day do not bring much humanitarian aid in terms of quantity, they lament.
Channel Kaanchha, a native of the village closest to the epicentre of the 7.9 magnitude quake, says ‘not every flight brings food’ but there is definitely one item that gets a heli-ride all the time.
“Journalists come and go all the time! There were some even today when the Prime Minister visited Barpak,” he said. That sums up what’s happening on the ground in Gorkha District – a lot people trying to help but not many being helped.
He says three to four helicopters land at Barpak every day but they do not necessarily bring supplies for Barpak, “They come here when they cannot land at Laprak (a village devastated beyond recognition) or other villages.” “There is lot of rumour in the media and the public about Barpak receiving regular supplies because the helicopters keep flying overhead and land here regularly too but let me tell you sir, there are still people here who have not received one grain in the last 12 days,” the former cable TV operator said on May 5, the 13th day since the earthquake wrought utter devastation on his village.
He said 68 (media reports quote 100) of his villagers lost their lives during the earthquake while two remain missing. “Many people do not aid because they are still buried under their collapsed buildings,” the former cable operator said during a lengthy telephone conversation with southasia.com.au.
The man lost everything himself. He had a thriving business for over a decade which earned him the moniker ‘Channel Kanchha’. “No one knows me by my original name, everyone calls me Channel Kaanchha because I used to run a cable TV business (hence Channel is his first name now) for over a decade but nothing is left now,” said the man from Barpak. He lost his house, supplies and his business was razed to the ground yet he does not stop looking after those who need his help, the reason why he could not go to see the Prime Minister when he visited his village earlier in the day.
“All we got in the last 12 days is half a kilogram of beaten rice, two biscuits and two packets of noodles,” Channel Kaanchha stated. That’s all the people of Barpak have received so far, that too only the lucky ones. There are still people who have not received even that, he claims.
When asked if he meant ‘two packets of biscuits’ when he said ‘two biscuits’, he corrected southasia.com.au, “No, not packets. Two biscuits, loose ones.”
Nevertheless, no one is dying of hunger thanks to the scores of individual efforts of the good-hearted people, NGOs and youth groups. Whoever has supplies shares with their neighbours, some are fishing grains out of the rubble while some with cash are buying them from local shops.
A similar view was expressed by another native of Barpak Village, Arta Bahadur Ghale. He said helicopters keep coming to the village but they do not bring enough supplies. ‘The Indian helicopters do not load much for some reason,” Mr Ghale said.
He also confirmed all the villagers got so far is some meagre amount of dry food but he understands ‘it is hard to manage in such a difficult time.’
He has a request for the NGOs and the donors. He would suggest to them to bring rice and lentils instead of dry, instant food items. “They send only dry food like chauchau (instant noodles), masala packets and beaten rice but never lentils and rice. Let them bring but one bag of rice instead of flying in 3 bags of beaten rice. We have not eaten rice since the day of the earthquake,” Mr Ghale’s painful craving for his staple food of ‘dal and bhat’ was evident during the telephone conversation on May 4.
Just as Channel Kaanchha, he also said the helicopters keep arriving all the time but so long as food distribution is concerned, it has happened only twice so far. “First, they pile up the goods so that there is enough to distribute. Because they bring so little per shuttle, it will not be enough to distribute straightaway. So they wait until they have enough stock for distribution,” he added.
Tents (tarpaulins) are as pressing a need as rice and lentils. “People do not have tents here,” said the 33 year old Channel Kaanchha. Worst of all, one cannot buy a tent because there is simply not one available in the market”, he said. As a result, four or five families are huddled up in one standard tent bidding goodbye to the good old privacy of the families.
Both Channel Kaanchha and Mr Ghale agreed they have not seen a single representative of the government in 12 days. All they have for now is a team of the Indian Army made up mainly of engineers and doctors.
“They have been looking after the sick and injured, they have been great,” Mr Ghale expressed his gratitude.
Although the number could not be ascertained, it is understood around 30-40 Indian army personnel are still at the village and appear to have won the hearts of the locals. The Indian Army engineers help the villagers bring down buildings still dangerously standing but half-damaged by the temblor.
They have also been working to open up the road blockades created by the landslides and that is exactly what the villagers want and need.
When southasia.com.au spoke with a young volunteer working in 11 different Village Development Committees, he agreed that the affected people in far-flung villages want to get out and buy supplies instead of waiting for help from the government.
Ram Kandel from Comeon Youth Stand Up, a youth movement started some four years ago, said he knew of many people who requested him to arrange helicopters so that they could bring their own supplies.
Ganga Ghale from Barpak, for instance, is one such person who requested Mr Kandel to arrange a helicopter to bring her ration simply because there is no useable road at the moment. Unfortunately that is not easy to arrange, he says, because they have so many places to reach out with limited helicopters.
He indicated that the stories about food and other humanitarian supplies piling up at various depots are sadly true. “Relief materials are still at Red Cross in Pokhara and I have got reports of some being held at Gorkha District Development Committee,” the young man claimed.
The next big challenges are medical needs of the injured and food (rice and lentils mainly) as well as raising awareness among the survivors about the potential health hazards of the open toilets and bodies that might still be trapped under the rubble. “If we do not look at the medical side of the situation, we may have another out-of-control situation, may be much more serious than the earthquake itself,” he warned.