Nepal earthquake: Aid workers tell of devastation

The Nepal Scotland Association vigil in Edinburgh. Picture: comp
The Nepal Scotland Association vigil in Edinburgh. Picture: comp
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Edinburgh’s Nepalese community has rallied to support families affected by the devastating earthquake that has hit the country, holding a vigil and raising funds for local aid efforts.

The gathering came as the Nepalese prime minister warned that the death toll could pass 10,000 by the time all victims are accounted for.

Yesterday, an aid worker with Mercy Corps, the city-based humanitarian charity, warned that getting Nepal back on its feet would be “a major effort that will take years”.

A group of young Nepalese expats led by Kalina Shrestha, 22, organised an impromptu gathering in the Capital on Monday to show solidarity with the victims of the disaster.

Mrs Shrestha’s husband Rubin and his family are all in Kathmandu, 55 miles from the epicentre of the earthquake that has levelled a huge swathe of their country. Mrs Shrestha, who works at the Saigon Saigon restaurant in the city centre, said that with telephone, internet and TV lines all cut, she has had to keep her husband updated on the latest news as the death toll creeps higher.

“Everyone in Kathmandu is staying outside, and not going into their houses at all,” Mrs Shrestha said, adding that her in-laws were too afraid to return to their home.

“There’s a crack through the building, which is four storeys high, so they don’t dare to go in. My mother-in-law is still in shock, she has hardly spoken since it happened. She is still shaking all the time.

“My sister is living in a field. It’s just heartbreaking.”

She described her two hours of terror as she desperately tried to reach her husband on the phone after being woken by a knock at the door.

“My flatmate knocked at my door while I was asleep, and she said there had been an earthquake. I asked where and she said Kathmandu.

“I was trying to call my own family in other parts of Nepal, but no-one’s phone was connecting. I was really stressed out and emotional.

Mr Shrestha finally got through to her early that afternoon. “It was such a relief,” she said.

Far from feeling helpless half a world away, the Edinburgh-based Nepal Scotland Association swung into action, setting up a fundraising drive and calling for a open-air vigil to remember the victims.

Between 30 and 40 Nepalese expats and their Scottish friends came together on Monday evening to comfort one another and show solidarity with the thousands of bereaved and displaced families.

“We wanted to do something as quickly as possible, to pay our respects to those who have lost their lives. People brought flowers and flags,” said Kalina.

The Nepalese association hopes to arrange another open-air vigil, possibly this weekend, so that more people can take part and show their support. Plans will be announced via its website.

Aid has begun to trickle out to the worst affected areas of the Nepal, with UK emergency teams, including NHS Lothian A&E doctor Richard Lyon, arriving in the country on Monday.

Mercy Corps senior adviser Mervyn Lee, who has 30 years of experience in coordinating aid efforts in the country, said humanitarian relief was only now beginning to make its way out of Kathmandu into 
outlying villages.

Speaking to the Evening News yesterday from the country, Mr Lee said that roads destroyed by the earthquake or buried under avalanches had caused aid gridlock, with planes full of supplies struggling for space to land at 
Kathmandu’s small runway.

“It starts right from the airport,” he said. “It’s a small airport and it can only really handle eight planes at one time, and there’s a huge amount of international aid coming in.

“I think the government of Nepal is welcoming all of this aid that’s coming in, but is also a bit overwhelmed by it as well.

“People are getting attention, and Mercy Corps is out there giving people basic essentials like clothes, blankets and water. Outside of Kathmandu, all the outlying villages are fragile, and have fragile 
infrastructure. There will be extensive damage there in areas which we haven’t been able to access yet.”

Mr Lee said Mercy Corps was answering a desperate call for shelter, food and medicine, but was already planning for a long-term aid effort to rebuild the Nepalese economy.

He said: “We’ll work with communities in remote areas to rebuild their homes and villages, their basic infrastructure such as local water supplies, schools and health centres.

“At the same time, we’ll help to get agriculture back to normal, because a lot of the fields will be unusable. It’s a major effort that will take years.”

And Mr Lee urged citizens back home to dig deep in recognition of the long military ties with Nepal, whose Gurkha soldiers wear the Douglas tartan.

“In Scotland, we’re always very generous, and there are historic links between Scotland and Nepal, particularly through the military. I would ask people in Scotland to remember their friends at this difficult time for Nepal, and to give generously.”

CITY SHOWS SOLIDARITY

St Andrew Square was bathed in red light last night as a show of solidarity with Nepal, as the city council urged residents to back Mercy Corps’ charity appeal.

The council has created a fund with the Edinburgh-based humanitarian organisation for urgent donations. A candlelit vigil will also be held at 4pm Saturday at the City Chambers to reflect on the devastation, led by the Lord Provost.

Yesterday was the last evening of the council’s interactive light installation in St Andrew Square with the Edinburgh International Science Festival. In a display of support for Nepal, Twitter users will be asked to turn the Melville Monument red which is the shade of the Nepalese flag and the Mercy Corps Earthquake Appeal.

Lord Provost Donald Wilson will lodge an emergency motion at Thursday’s meeting of the full council to support the appeal.

He said: “Edinburgh residents are known for their generosity of spirit and together we can make a difference to people in Nepal by providing urgent donations. Even a gesture of solidarity like the red lighting of St Andrew Square or a candle at Edinburgh’s vigil demonstrates support.”

Simon O’Connell, chief executive of Mercy Corps Europe, said: “We thank the Edinburgh community for your generosity and compassion as we race to help the Nepalese people.”