Nepal – Reaching higher together

Nepal is home to eight of the 14 tallest mountains on the planet. I’ve just returned from three days there. In my job, I see a lot of disasters, but the devastation in Nepal against the backdrop of its natural and cultural beauty was particularly heartbreaking. Centuries-old Patan Durbar Square, a UNESCO Heritage Site in Kathmandu, reduced to rubble. The majestic foot “hills” of the Himalayas suddenly a looming obstacle to a complex aid operation rather than a hiker’s challenge.

NEP_20150426_WFP-Allison_Prather_1441   In the photo: The impact in Kathmandu includes collapsed buildings and walls, especially historical buildings in the city centre, but overall less damage than what was predicted. In the Kathmandu Valley, hospitals are overcrowded, running out of medicine, doctors and beds for the injured. – Photo credited to: WFP/Allison Prather

Earthquakes are perhaps the most overwhelming of natural disasters – the ultimate “sudden-onset emergency”. Seismologists have long described the Kathmandu Valley as the most dangerous place on earth when it comes to earthquakes. Experts knew it was only a matter of time before the straining tectonic plates under this beautiful country shifted. We knew an earthquake might occur and we knew the ensuing aid operation would face significant logistics challenges. So the World Food Programme (WFP) – with Nepali government and donor support – prepared for just this scenario. Just weeks before the earthquake struck we opened a relief hub for the entire humanitarian community at Kathmandu airport.

NEP_20150426_WFP-Sakun_Gajurel_2913    In the photo: Women taking shelter  in Kathmandu- Photo credit: WFP/Sakun Gajurel

Relief Hub Preparedness = Faster Response

At the time it looked rather dull – a large empty lot stocked with mobile storage units that could be set up swiftly and a few empty prefab offices. But in the hours after the quake struck Nepal this investment quickly demonstrated its practical worth, becoming the nerve centre for the unloading and swift dispatch of planeload after planeload of humanitarian cargo. Thankfully, the UK Department for International Development (Dfid) had the foresight to recognize the value of being prepared and funded this project.

NEP_20150426_WFP-Allison_Prather_1412    In the photo: Rescue operation in Kathmandu – Photo credited to: WFP/Allison Prather

The impact of the devastation, even with all our projections and planning, becomes clearer when you see how far it stretches beyond Kathmandu. To better understand the scale of logistics challenges we are facing, I flew over some of the worst-affected areas.

NEP_20150508_WFP-Zoie_Jones_5153    In the photo: Erauja’s destruction. In the foreground an elderly woman carries heavy building materials on her back.  Photo credited to: WFP/Zoie Jones

The juxtaposition between the magnificent landscape and the earthquake destruction is a punch in the stomach, even to a seasoned humanitarian. Heaps of stone and mud where houses had once stood; women and children living out in the open on remote mountainsides. The needs are enormous. WFP must reach 1.4 million people; but not just with food. Survivors urgently need tarpaulins and tents, as well as water purification tablets and WFP will help deliver these for our humanitarian partners.

Related articles : THE BATTLE FOR FOOD  article by Claude Forthomme
                          SOUTH-SOUTH COOPERATION: THE PARNERSHIP article by Laurent Thomas

WFP Assists Enormous Needs of Survivors

Delivering supplies exemplifies the teamwork required for a successful Nepal earthquake response. As the leader of the global Logistics Cluster, it’s WFP’s responsibility to provide this and other logistics support to the entire humanitarian community. To fulfill this responsibility we’ve hired a fleet of trucks which will provide transport for areas reachable by road. Nepal’s unique geography, rain, aftershocks and landslides means many affected communities are inaccessible by road. For the most remote and hardest-hit areas, like the ones in Gorkha district, the quake’s epicentre, helicopters currently provide the only transport option. Helicopters are an expensive way to deliver aid, costing as much as seven to eight times more than road transport, so we must once again call upon the generosity of the entire global donor community to support the WFP response effort.

NEP_20120618_WFP-Deepesh_Shrestha_0568   In the photo: Nepal, Doti district, Basudevi Village, Shree Sitaram Primary School – Photo credited to: WFP/Deepesh Shrestha

This all sounds bleak – and indeed this is a situation of fantastic complexity and challenges. But from what I witnessed of the Nepalese people and their strength, I am encouraged. I met with the most senior Nepali government officials and each one of them reiterated a  commitment to relieve the suffering of every Nepali citizen affected by the quake. In each meeting we also acknowledged that the clock is ticking and working against us all. That clock is counting down the four to six weeks before the start of the annual monsoon rainy season. Each one of us agreed that overcoming these hurdles will require cooperation and coordination between the government and the humanitarian community.

Together in the Nepal Earthquake Response We Reach Higher

WFP’s own staff – many of whom lost loved ones and their homes – were ready to get to work on the very day the earthquake hit. On my second day in Nepal, I had the privilege of meeting the Seven Summits Women Team – an exceptional group of women who give me great hope for the future of Nepal. They are the first all-female team to climb the highest mountain on each continent. Extraordinary women with boundless vision for themselves and their country. Each woman came from an ordinary or even challenging upbringing. One of their members, Nimdoma Sherpa, received WFP meals when she was a schoolgirl. Their motto, which has taken them so far, also fittingly applies to our collective Nepal emergency response: Together We Reach Higher.

NEP_20150502_WFP-Marco_Frattini_3039  In the photo: WFP’s Executive Director, Ertharin Cousin at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu where WFP is operating a relief hub for the management and dispatch of the cargo flooding into the countryNepal, Kathmandu, Tribhuvan International Airport, 02 May 2015 –  Photo credited to: WFP/Marco Frattini

*** Editor’s note:

The World Food Programme is known for responding to emergencies in the shortest possible time, and the response to the earthquake disaster in Nepal is no exception. So far, WFP has received over $116M providing assistance to 1.4M victims.

Here below is a direct link for you to look at how you can help as well.


Cover Photo: WFP distribution of High Energy Biscuits (HEBs), shelter and medical kit. Photo Credits: WFP/Marco Frattini

About the Author /

Ertharin Cousin is, since 2012, the former twelfth Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Programme. From 2009 to 2012, Ertharin Cousin served under President Barack Obama as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, serving in Rome, Italy, and chief of the United States Mission to the UN Agencies in Rome.

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