A Page From A Humanitarian Response Officer’s Diary: The Nepal Earthquake 2015

As an aid worker, the journey to a workstation can be perilous. Work is stressful and heart-wrenching. Amid all this, the ability to marvel at fellow human beings and celebrate the natural beauty of the most offbeat locations can be the best reward.

[Also Read: Do Humanitarian Responders Qualify As Responsible Travellers?]

It is not uncommon for me to land in places without cellphone connectivity or modern amenities and yet, these travels have turned into memorable experiences. One such experience was during a recent trip to Nepal.

As part of a humanitarian team responding to the devastating earthquake in 2015, we were required to travel to Gorkha town in Nepal. The location of aid distribution was Arkhet, a small town with less than 200 households and the only and one market for a number of villages around it, situated at Kerauja VDC (Village Development Committee) of Gorkha District bordering China.

To get there, one needs to cross a number of waving green hills along a narrow muddy road. The slightest mistake could take you plummeting down a thousand feet to the valley. Since repair and maintenance is tough in the region, some parts of the road are so bad that we had to get down and let the vehicle cross first.

Damaged roads on the way to Arkhet

After the initial feeling of fear along the path, I found myself healing as I witnessed the natural beauty on the both sides of the road. The green hills beckoned for a touch while the clouds are kissed their tops, a small village peeping from next hill and busy farmers ploughing their land. The long and winding road took us up to the hill and then down again to a green valley after crossing the range.

Hills, Clouds and Hamlets
Paddy cultivation using the terracing method common in the hills

The car came to a sudden screeching stop after one particular bend on the hills, we still had 7 kilometres to go. We realized that a road was completely cut off by a landslide. The Nepal earthquake had triggered several dangerous landslides and the rain from the previous night had made it near impossible to better the situation. It was then that we realized how cut off we were from the rest of the world and with no other course in mind, we started walking across the ruined road and rest of the way to Arkhet.

Landslide that blocked our way and forced us to climb

We got to work as soon as we reached Arkhet, the people from neighbouring villages had also gathered to receive the much needed aid we were carrying. There were still some more villages located further above the hills from where the residents had not been able to arrive in time for the aid.

House damaged in the earthquake, being used to store crops

By evening, we received information that the people from the faraway villages would only be able to arrive later that night. Our only connection to the base camp in Gorkha town was through a satellite phone which we used to inform the base team members that we would be staying the night to provide immediate aid to the people as they arrived through the night.

We set up the tents that we were carrying with us for such a situation, choosing a stretch along the river Buri that flows by Arkhet. We were informed that the source of the river was not much further up from the village. I realized that I was truly at the mercy of nature far up in these mountains. After sunset, there was no sign of light anywhere and I could barely figure out the huge valley below us. It was just a sea of darkness punctuated by the frightening sounds of the ferocious river. I felt fear creeping into my mind as I realized that if the waters of the river rose in the night then our camp could be washed away in a landslide.

Our tents by the River Buri Gandaki

It was only after the moon rose over the valley that I found myself catching a bated breath. The hypnotizing light of the moon lulled my fears and drenched the valley with a shimmering glow. My mind was now processing the other sights and sounds I witnessed. The sight of the trees swaying in the breeze which lent a sense of calm to the sound of the river and together created a powerful sense of peace which I fell asleep to.

The following morning, life seemed to have sprung right back to the valley. Sunlight had just touched the hill-top to the west of the river. In the cold, the river was still shrouded by a blanket of cloud. The mules were passing by sounding the bells on their neck. A cup of tea from the family who served us food last night, added another color to the beauty of the morning.

Morning cup of tea in a surreal world of beauty and human distress

As we returned to work, we were received by all the remaining people from the faraway villages. Since we made an early start, we had completed our work by midday.

It was time for us to return. On the journey back, I was amazed to see the immense power of the people of Nepal to ‘bounce back’ and recover from the damage caused by the earthquake. All families were busy repairing or reconstructing their homes. There were farmers in the field tending to their land.

A farmer on his way to work

I salute the female workforce of the country. Their contribution to drive the nation is most valuable. It is not uncommon to spot them carrying huge load along with their children on their backs. While walking back to our vehicle, I captured this image of four women returning to their village with loads on their back.

[Also Read: On International Women’s Day, We Salute 5 women Making India A Better Travel Destination!]

Women carrying back home the shelter and livelihood kits received from the aid team

I was amazed to see the traditional way in which food grains are stored. Maximum use of limited resources is the way of life of these people. This is another way of mitigating the negative impact of the earthquake.

– Text and Images by Sheikh Khairul Rahaman


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