THE work of Edinburgh-based Mercy Corps in response to the devastating Nepal earthquake has been hailed by International Development Minister Desmond Swayne on a visit to the Capital.
He heard first-hand from rescuers, volunteers and fundraisers at a round-table discussion at the charity’s headquarters.
Mr Swayne said: “Three months on from the devastating earthquake in Nepal, the UK is continuing to help the country recover.
“Scotland can be proud of the immense contribution its highly skilled health workers, firefighters and volunteers from charities like Mercy Corps made to this response.
“Their life-saving work was a vital part of the UK’s response to this tragedy. These are amazing people who do fantastic things.”
Firefighter Martyn Ferguson, originally from Mayfield, was part of the 60-strong UK international search-and-rescue team to be sent to the country in the wake of the disaster, which killed almost 9000 people and left about 900,000 homes damaged or destroyed.
Despite spending 12 days in the country, he said the team’s rescue efforts had failed to find any survivors during searches of devastated buildings.
Mr Ferguson, 49, now based in Aberdeenshire, and four colleagues were dispatched to Nepal hours after the earthquake struck. “There were whole villages where there was 90 to 100 per cent devastation – just a pile of rubble, nothing left,” he said.
“We were going into areas and clearing buildings, using our dogs to run over the buildings. They are trained to indicate on a live person, but within our team that didn’t happen. It is frustrating because you want to go out there and help and make a difference. There is so much more that you could do, but it is just not feasible.”
Mr Ferguson praised the Nepalese people for their resilience and courage. “Outside Kathmandu the villages were quite small – a big village would be 200 people, and they were losing 50 to 60 people.”
Meanwhile, some survivors were left waiting on medical treatment for days, he said.
“Although they were classified as minor injuries, they would be quite serious – such as little girls with broken arms that hadn’t been dealt with, they had been five days and they had had no medical treatment whatsoever until we reached them.
“One little girl, her father had carried her for four days before they got to a village with support. They were very grateful, really pleased to see us.
“They dealt with it and they were getting on with their lives, and that is the one thing I found amazing.”
Jenny Walter, Mercy Corps’ senior programme officer, said the charity had nearly 100 staff already working in Nepal when the earthquake hit. They had stockpiled non-food items, gerry cans and tarpaulins ready for an emergency.
“The team immediately came together and started distributing these through youth groups and community elders. A lot of people’s shelter had been destroyed and they didn’t have anywhere to sleep,” she said.
There was an urgent need for water purification tablets, more tarpaulins and other equipment. Mercy Corps turned to its staff in India who were able to buy items there and deliver them by road, which proved a good option when the airport was closed for a while.
Later, Mercy Corps began channelling money direct to households in Nepal so they could buy what they needed.
“People appreciate the freedom to choose for themselves how to use the money and spend it on the priorities they identify.
“Some might decide to buy school items so their kids can get back into education because everything was destroyed or others might decide to use it for medical expenses or for transport to go and buy food grain. It will all depend on how they have been affected by the earthquake.”
Edinburgh volunteer Becky Bottle, 23, had been home just a week after three months in Nepal when the earthquake struck, and it took several days to make contact with her friends and colleagues. “I was getting very worried about people I had formed close bonds with,” she said.
“When we did make contact, their accounts were really distrubing. In the village where I was – Makaibari in Dolakha region – people are 100 per cent homeless, it’s like a desert.
“The village is really remote – it’s the same distance from Kathmandu as from Edinburgh to Dundee, but it took six-and-a-half hours to get there.
“They are thinking about rebuilding when they have the money, but that could be three years.”
She helped set up a campaign, Help Us Help Nepal, which generated funds by raising awareness, publicising the devastating effects of the quake.
“Nepalese friends were saying, ‘Thank you so much for sharing this’. They really appreciated their words and personal stories were being told to the British public,” she said.
“The psychological damage is still there. People have had to abandon education courses, they are feeling quite desperate and wondering how they are going to get back on their feet.
“There are predictions there could be an even bigger earthquake. And the monsoons are coming, which will mean landslides and make it harder to maintain sanitation.”
Becky added: “It’s difficult to keep the momentum when there is no longer the huge attention it had immediately after the earthquake.
“But the more we can still tell people about the nature of the country and help people understand the issues will be there for a while, the more we can still help.”
Donations can be made online at www.mercycorps.org.uk