We left for Suryakot, Sindhupalchowk before 6 am yesterday (2 May 2015) in a huge Tata truck loaded with 7 tonnes of relief materials. Eight of us (including a local coordinator from Sindhupalchowk and the driver’s assistant) sat crammed together in the driver’s cabin. The journey might have taken us about 3 hours in normal times. Yesterday it took us 8.5 hours. The govt has started providing mandatory “police escorting” to all relief vehicles leaving Kathmandu (as affected people who have not received any support have been stopping vehicles and forcibly taking away supplies in some places). All relief vehicles have to wait in Dhulikhel until a long enough convoy is formed and they leave all together with a police van. We had to wait for at least one hour before they let us pass. The system only causes severe delays without actually providing “escorting”. The govt should have just deployed police contingents at various points along the way.The speed of our slow-moving truck decreased further once we left the highway and took the narrow, bumpy dirt road that winds around the hill and leads up to Suryakot village (Badegaun VDC). Barring a few concrete houses we saw near Melamchi, every single house we saw was destroyed. Earlier we had been told the LP truck could pass through the dirt road despite some difficulty in manoeuvring, but we realised that was not the case. Besides the truck was old. At one point, we had to get off and get the locals’ help in levelling the road with rocks. We managed to drive a bit further up and then the truck broke down. We were stuck for a long time. Finally, we were able to arrange three smaller trucks and transfer all the supplies with the help of locals. This took us several hours. By the time we reached the village, it was 2:30 pm.
The situation in the village is bleak, to say the least. All of the 165 houses in the village have been destroyed. At least 19 people have been killed, mostly women (two of them pregnant) and children. All nineteen bodies have been recovered except one – of a ten-year-old girl who got hit by a rock while trying to flee from her falling house. Her father is still digging through the rubble. He said he managed to pull out his mother’s body but would greatly appreciate it if the army could go help him find his daughter’s. His wife is in hospital receiving treatment for injury. We met other parents who have lost their children. A man who lost his nine months’ pregnant wife. Others whose elderly parents were killed. Most of their livestock, one of their main sources of livelihood, too have perished in the quake. I had to put away my notebook when people who had lost their loved ones started coming up to me saying: “Madam, could you also put down my daughter’s name and age? She got hit by a rock and died.” “Madam, you want to write down my wife’s name? I retrieved her body soon after the quake.” They thought I was taking down names of people who should be receiving relief and compensation from the government.
We were the first group to bring any form of relief in the village. They had received nothing from any individual or organization. They were living in the open without food, blankets or medical supplies. Some were taking shelter under tin roofs they had managed to retrieve from their broken homes. Others were living under the open sky. When I complained how hot it was, a woman said, “The scorching sun is better for us. We have nowhere to go when it rains.” Luckily the village has access to a spring so drinking water is not a problem unlike in some other places.
The distribution went more smoothly than we had expected. The entire community was gathered in one place when we arrived. The local coordinators who helped us with all the logistics are trusted figures in the community. That made our work much easier than it would have been otherwise. There was no clamour or conflict over the supplies despite the crushing need (our previous experience was different) – another reason why it’s so important to take adequate supplies. The coordinators had prepared a list of households with the number of family members, and the supplies were distributed accordingly. The amount of food supplies we provided was relatively substantial and will help stave off hunger for a few weeks. As the sacks were emptied, at least three people came up to me separately and said in my ear, “Could you please give me those sacks?” We subtly handed them over to a woman with six children (her husband, a migrant labourer, was murdered in India a few years ago).
- 165 sacks of rice (30 kg each)
- Lentils (825 kg)
- Oil (660 litres)
- Salt (330 kg)
The total cost of the supplies including transport was NPR 448,634.00 or USD 4,478.81.
We also took some sanitation supplies provided by Nirjan Rai and his group. These included several buckets, 30 litres of phenyl, soaps and masks. These were handed over to the local coordinators, who will teach the community members how to use them and distribute them as and when needed.
Regretfully we could not provide tents. Arranging tents would have taken much longer and it did not seem advisable to wait while people were hungry. It was difficult enough to find food supplies and a vehicle.