Oxfam is on the ground in Nepal, providing food, clean drinking water and shelter to thousands. A team of Oxfam from India has set up base in Gorkha district, one of the worst affected regions after the devastating earthquake in Nepal.
Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Oxfam India, Nisha Agrawal is in Nepal, taking stock of the devastation and the relief work being done by Oxfam in the Himalayan country. Excerpts from her interview:
Q: What is the current situation on the ground in Nepal?
A: I landed in Kathmandu on Sunday afternoon and went to the Oxfam office. The heritage sites in Kathmandu have been hit pretty badly. But it is the rural and remote areas that are the worst-hit from the disaster. We drove from Kathmandu to Gorkha, which is one of worst affected regions. Here one begins to see the extent of the damage. As soon as we drove into the district, we saw that houses are either completely collapsed or have large cracks in them. This is the situation in the most of the countryside around, in the whole district. The government and NGO’s have been very quick, they have classified all the villages. There are about 77 villages in the district and they have classified them into three categories – those with more than 80% houses damaged; those between 50-80% houses damaged and those with less than 50% houses damaged. So the less than 50% are not even being considered at the moment. The big issue is that people’s houses have collapsed and the second big problem is that they are so remote, it is very difficult to get to them.
Q: What is Oxfam doing on the ground in Nepal?
A: This is a big global response from Oxfam in Nepal. Teams from various Oxfam’s globally are currently working in Nepal. Oxfam collectively is responding in seven districts of Nepal. Oxfam India is also responding, our team is here in Gorkha district. After we got the permission from the Indian government, we were very quick in responding. We already had our contingency stock ready in Gorakhpur district, close of the Nepal border and in three days we started distributing the relief materials.
- We have been distributing hygiene kits with buckets, soaps, mugs and towels, because we specialise in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). We have also been distributing tarpaulin sheets, because shelter is a big need as houses have been destroyed but also partly because there have been over 100 aftershocks and people are too traumatised to go back into a pukka building. So we are distributing tarpaulin and hygiene kits in Gorkha.
- In some of the very remote regions, where we cannot go by land at all, we have partnered with the World Food Programme (WFP), which is distributing food through helicopters and they have very kindly taken the tarpaulins provided by Oxfam and is distributing them through helicopters.
In many places the helicopters cannot even land, it is so mountainous and they are dropping the relief materials. So, people are really desperate right now.
Q: What is the most important thing people in Nepal need right now?
A: Currently we are providing shelters and tarpaulin sheets. But within a month from now monsoons are arriving and then the tarpaulin sheets are not going to be enough. So what the people are asking right now – the most burning need right now – is to get corrugated metal roofing sheets, so that they can have some housing during June-July, when there will be terrible rains. Once they get shelter, then making sure toilets are there, water is there so that disease does not spread. That I think is the secondary demand. But first they need more than tarpaulin sheets right now before the monsoons come.
Q: What support does Oxfam need? And how can they contribute to help people in Nepal?
A: People have globally been very generous and we are very grateful to them. The seven districts we are working in have huge needs and we have to meet them. And now to meet the need of providing this kind of shelter, beyond the tarpaulin, I think we are going to need more support from people. This is the big need. Later, the need will be to restore livelihoods because when the houses collapsed, the food was stored in them and that is now gone. We need to think about quickly getting cash into the hands of people so that they can start building their homes and restoring their livelihoods, starting planting for the next cropping season. These are two big needs, which are going to require funding.
Q: Could you also clarify, why it is important to donate, rather than sending supplies?
A: The government of Nepal is coordinating meetings with all NGO’s present on the ground and they are trying to set standards so that all people get assistance of a similar quality. Otherwise it will lead to a lot of anger and confusion, so it’s good that the government has put in place these coordination mechanisms. It just won’t help anyone if hundreds of people are sending relief materials because it is the rural areas that are most devastated and teams on the ground can provide the best quality material there.
Q: Being CEO of Oxfam India, what made you be a part of the relief team in Nepal?
A: Oxfam India is more than six-years-old. We were formed in September, 2008 and since then we have responded to almost 15 disasters within India, they were either natural disasters or conflicts. We have a strong humanitarian team and when there is a disaster we immediately swing into action and like to respond. But in this case the disaster was outside of India, in Nepal. Thus, we went to the Ministry of Finance and got special permission to work in Nepal and we are very grateful to the government for giving the permission very quickly. This is an important moment for India and certainly for Oxfam India, as this is for the first time we are operating outside our boundary. So, to be here in Nepal, it just seems the right thing to do, when we are doing so many firsts, so many milestones, to just be here to support the team, to make sure nothing goes wrong, and to be part of this historic moment for us.
Q: A final appeal to the people who want to help Nepal?
A: One of the reasons Oxfam India decided to participate in the relief response of this disaster and also why I am here is that people were calling us and saying they want to do something. When there is a disaster there is a need to help. You want to reach out those who suffer. This is the history of Oxfam, this is how we started nearly 70 years ago and we know the people want to contribute. We are seeing the suffering and the terrible damage live in our rooms. So, I would just say to people – Please give. You cannot imagine what it is like at the moment. To be in Nepal, in a village, sitting in the open, with no house, no possession and it will take months or even years to rebuild lives back.
People in Nepal really need our support and I hope Indian people and Indian government and everybody will continue to support the people in Nepal. DONATE NOW.
Written by Sahil Sharma, Oxfam India.