24 May 2015
by John Murray

For many years, Nepal has been a popular tourist destination. Travellers flocked to the area in a bid to conquer Mount Everest and other lesser-known mountains, while others came to tour the ancient religious temples in hope of understanding culture from a time long ago. However, just over four weeks ago, everything changed for Nepal when the first of two major earthquakes to hit the region struck, killing thousands and leaving survivors struggling to cope with massive destruction and loss.

The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Service office was quick to respond to the Nepal disaster and territories around the world offered financial and practical support for the relief effort. Today, The Salvation Army’s international disaster relief team is headquartered at the Army’s Sisters Café in Kathmandu where crisis, chaos and daily aftershocks are simply part of the reality of serving suffering humanity in an earthquake zone.

Damaris Frick of international headquarters leads the disaster team. Damaris is an emergency services veteran having worked in locations around the world and 10 team members from UK, USA, Czech Republic and Pakistan make up the composition of her group.

During our visit to Kathmandu we had opportunity to participate in the daily IES briefing meetings where practical, logistical and strategic decisions are made in response to the ever-changing reality of disaster response work. At the present time The Salvation Army is providing management to five refugee camps in and around Kathmandu. We visited four camps during our stay and witnessed first hand the orderly distribution of products consisting of rice, oil, salt, dhal, water and mosquito coils to 72 families. The people were gracious and grateful and one family provided drinks to the team members prior to leaving.

Colonel Carol Telfer (TPWM, Pakistan) heads up the camp management programme. While she claims this is her first emergency deployment, she handles myriad phone calls and meetings like a seasoned pro, all the while engaging people at their point of need. It is obvious that she is well respected by allied NGO leaders and victims alike.

Clearly, the key to a successful disaster response programme is coordination, integration and partnerships. Mission Aviation Fellowship is a relief agency that provides flight coordination and logistics to NGOs responding to disasters.  In addition to the important work in the capital area, Salvation Army team members have also been conducting aid assessments in remote mountain villages and thanks to MAF and USAID the team has been able to provide tarpaulins, food, water and small solar panels to some of the hardest hit areas.

At 5:30am this morning, we ventured out to the airport in an effort to better understand the process involved in getting people and product off the ground and up to the mountain villages. We enjoyed full access and we’re able to wander the tarmac in the secure area where various NGOs, including the World Food Programme, maintain their helicopters.

Even at 6am the airport was busy with helicopters ferrying people and goods into the mountain disaster zones and we saw the gigantic aircraft from the US Air Force and the Indian Army and Air Force. Clearly, this is a multinational response effort. Not long after we arrived, the team was cleared for take-off; they boarded the MAF helicopter and within a few seconds were airborne and then disappeared into the horizon. It was a flight of help and hope.

While the vast majority of Kathmandu is functioning well, there are tent camps spread out across the city and as we drove to various settlements we saw many houses and buildings that had been destroyed. Most will simply have to be demolished, as they are unliveable. Also, with the impending monsoon season there is a sense of urgency to ensure that families are in the best possible accommodation to deal with the rainy season. While many have lost their homes and jobs, there is still a sense of hope and optimism among those that we spoke with.

In looking ahead, this is an important week for the response team as some members will transition back home and new team members will arrive. However, the reality is that this is a long-term recovery programme and The Salvation Army will be there for the duration, because that is what the Army does best - it helps people at their point of need.

Tags: Eastern
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