Helping Nepal disaster victims reclaim their lives

Douglas Veitch handing out water filters. Picture: Douglas Veitch/Facebook
Douglas Veitch handing out water filters. Picture: Douglas Veitch/Facebook
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Two months ago one of the poorest countries in the world was hit by its worst disaster in 80 years.

But fresh from his two-week mercy mission to Nepal, one nurse has brought back inspiring tales of courage as its people fight to rebuild their homeland.

Supplying Nepalese children with clean drinking water. Picture: Douglas Veitch/Facebook

Supplying Nepalese children with clean drinking water. Picture: Douglas Veitch/Facebook

Douglas Veitch, from Meadowbank, has a defiant message of hope from the quake-stricken country – Nepal is open for business.

The 46-year-old delivered vital medical supplies and water filters to the badly hit Gorkha area, working with the Nepalese to halt the spread of disease.

And with the monsoon season triggering dangerous landslides and washing roads away, the life-saving mission was rarely easy.

But while there is still much work to do, the country is beginning to emerge from the worst of the disaster, thanks not only to the relief effort but also to the resilience of the Nepali people themselves.

Douglas says: “As you would expect from such a tough, hard-working people, the Nepalis are getting on with life the best they can.

“Many of the kids are living under plastic sheeting, then going to schools made up of tents set up in the grounds of their ruined buildings – and they are still laughing, smiling and playing as if they don’t have a care in the world, which is always very humbling for a Westerner to see.

“They were more interested in practising their English than anything else.

“The next step is obviously rebuilding the destroyed and badly damaged schools, health posts and houses, which is a massive undertaking in a country as poor as Nepal.

“But I would encourage anybody to go to Nepal – whether for a holiday or to volunteer as a doctor, nurse, teacher, builder or even just to help out.

“Most people in Nepal were untouched by the quakes and those that were are getting back on their feet and would be happy for the help and the tourist cash you would bring.”

Douglas, who had previously spent around 15 months volunteering in Nepal, works as a nurse for hire, travelling where he is needed – but this time he funded his own trip.

Before he headed out last month he raised more than £1200 to pay for 50 water filters but he was also able to buy locally produced communal water filters for the health post where he was based and for a small school which had miraculously survived the earthquake.

When he arrived, he picked up a Jeep and took some Nepali nurses and doctors to some of the worst-affected zones.

Once a road ran out or became impassable, he grabbed his medical supplies and hiked to some of the more remote villages, sleeping anywhere he could find shelter.

He said: “We mixed our time seeing the patients as well as going round the schools teaching hand-washing, basic first aid and giving out the donated water filters and soap to help prevent the spread of diseases.

“The roads were often closed to buses due to the monsoon mud, so we often had walk the six miles to the health post from my accommodation, not so easy for me in the blistering heat and humidity of the season.

“The Nepalis have worked hard in the months since the earthquake. The medical care is back up to the standard it was before the disaster and the health post is actually open longer hours now.

“We saw quite a few injuries from people who were hurt knocking down and rebuilding their damaged homes.”

Around one in eight buildings in the area had been destroyed, with schools suffering some of the worst damage.

But luckily, the biggest earthquake hit on a Saturday – the only day the Nepali children have off school.

“The death toll would have been even more horrific if it had been any other day,” said Douglas.

Two months after the earthquake, much of the debris from Kathmandu’s Basantapur Durbar Square and Patan Durbar Square has been cleared and the sites are now reopen to the public.

Most shops and schools have reopened throughout Kathmandu and other cities in the Kathmandu Valley, with life returning to some degree of normality.

However, thousands of ­people are still living in tents, supported by international organisations and the United Nations after their homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair during the quake and its aftershocks.

Residents are still clearing debris from damaged homes and taking down remains of collapsed buildings, an increasingly important task because of the monsoon rains.

This is especially the case in cities and towns on the outskirts of Kathmandu, where residents are receiving little to no outside help in the debris clearing and reconstruction work.

According to Nepali government officials, it will cost more than £4.3 billion and take at least five years to reconstruct and rebuild the country.

In a country where poverty levels already rank among the highest in the world, the earthquake has pushed nearly one million people further into destitution.

Homes, temples, schools and roads and communications networks have been damaged.

Water systems in hillside villages were also wrecked and livelihoods lost when terraced farms and cattle were wiped out by the quake or subsequent landslides.

Jeffrey Shannon, director of programmes at Mercy Corps Nepal, said: “Rebuilding can’t happen during the monsoon season.

“As people salvage material from their destroyed homes, we’re helping them to understand what’s safe to keep and reuse, and what they should leave.

“We have seen more landslides in the last few weeks than in the last five years combined.”

Radovan Jovanovic, emergency team lead at the charity, added: “Inside the villages you can see the cracks in the earth, where it’s about to move. Some of the hills have started to move, you can see it’s not safe. When I spoke to people, they knew they should move. They asked me, “but where do we go?”

Mercy Corps has reached more than 50,000 people since the earthquake hit, providing emergency supplies in Gorkha, Lamjung, Dhading, Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur.

The charity will be delivering additional emergency relief supplies to 15,000 families in the next few weeks which will reach 75,000 more people.

Meanwhile, the Disasters Emergency Committee confirmed today that Edinburgh has retained its position as the second-most generous city in Britain following a UK-wide charity appeal launched in the immediate aftermath.

Residents touched by the plight of the Nepali people have given £1.6 million of the £73m appeal total.

Within days of the tragedy, it was revealed that local people had raised £1,127,500 – equal to £2 given by every man, woman and child in the city – more per head than in ­Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds and Birmingham.

The money was spent on vital supplies including water purification tablets, tarpaulins, blankets and mattresses, hygiene kits, toilets and food.