19 July 2018

Moving On

Twelve months ago, the earth beneath Nepal shook violently – so violently that it tore through the lives of millions of people living in the central and eastern parts of the country. The earthquakes in April and May 2015 took the lives of nearly 9,000 people, a third of whom were children. The earthquakes injured thousands; robbed the livelihoods of many more; and turned to rubble a huge number of homes, health posts and schools that faced the brunt of the quakes. They displaced millions of people from their homes, including thousands from their villages that had been wiped away by quake-induced landslides. Everyone working for UNICEF was also affected by the earthquakes in one way or another. But each one managed to rise to the occasion to provide immediate relief to those who were most affected by the earthquakes. In the first couple of days, UNICEF staff had travelled to the worst affected districts to assess the situation of children and women and started initial life-saving assistance such as provision of safe drinking water, medical tents and essential drugs by using supplies pre-positioned in the country prior to the earthquake. Within a fortnight, we were able to roll out relief activities on a much larger scale, bolstered by additional staff and strong support from a number of government and private donors and UNICEF National Committees. The year 2015 was not easy for Nepal. To add to the devastation caused by the earthquakes, the country went through serious political turmoil which led to a more than four-month long stricture on the movement of essential supplies across the border and within the country. This affected the entire country and the activities of humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF. Health facilities ran out of essential medicines, and transportation became a serious problem for women near childbirth. It was a double brunt for people living in the earthquake-affected districts as they also had to cope with a shortage of fuel for heating and cooking through the coldest months. Now with the winter behind us and the long-awaited initiation of the rebuilding and reconstruction process, the country is definitely on the mend. At the same time, there is still a long way to go towards full recovery. Many children are studying in temporary learning centres, which need to be repaired or replaced by transitional structures before permanent buildings are finally built. Many health posts and birthing centres are still functioning under tents. A number of families with their children continue to sleep in makeshift shelters close to their destroyed homes. Keeping children free of disease and malnutrition is still a constant challenge. There is also a fear that with many families reeling from poverty, children could be forced into labour of the worst forms, including through trafficking.