‘The earthquake killed thousands but the blockade can kill millions'

Disasters
Nepal
Elderly Nepalese woman

A blind elderly woman living in a remote village. With the current lack of fuel, ambulances are not able to travel across the country, resulting in many people unable to get to hospitals. © Emily Korstanje

After everything that Nepal has endured over past year, no-one believed the situation could get worse. Yet it has. With the current blockade of fuel, food and medicine, UNICEF has warned that more than three million children under the age of five are at risk of death or disease.

‘The plight that children and their families are facing in the country has been worsening by the day and will deteriorate further in the winter months,’ said UNICEF Regional Director Karin Hulshof. ‘Children need to be protected from disease, cold and hunger. UNICEF urges all sides to address the restrictions on essential imports of supplies to Nepal. There is no time to lose.’

The first snow has already fallen at lower levels at the foot of the mountains, and temperatures are rapidly decreasing. Most of the people who were affected by the earthquake are closer to the mountains and will suffer greatly this winter, without proper homes, medical aid or fuel.

UNICEF reported that ambulances have not been able to get across the country, resulting in a drop of healthy births at hospitals and health centres. As winter approaches, the lack of heating increases the risk of hypothermia and death of new-borns.

‘The earthquake killed thousands but the blockade can kill millions,’ said local NGO chairperson Sapana Basyal.

Because of the earthquake, the NGO has most recently focused on providing aid to those who were worst hit, but the fuel crisis is slowing down their work.

‘Survivors are currently living in makeshift houses. When they start suffering, they will not be able to go to the hospital,’ Sapana said. ‘They will not survive. This is an emergency.’

Buses waiting in line for petrol. Most buses have to resort to black-market fuel, including school buses to keep schools from shutting down.

Emily Korstanje

Even more restaurants and hotels have closed down and tourism has reached an all-time low. For those able to find cooking gas, it is overwhelmingly expensive; transportation is now five times the average price, and even school buses are forced to buy black-market fuel.

People and businesses are relying on firewood to survive. But firewood causes indoor pollution – which last year resulted in 800,000 children falling sick with pneumonia and 5,000 deaths, and now there are no medical supplies or vehicles to help. A lack of forest trees also creates dangerous landslides in these cold and rainy months.

While the Nepalese government continues to accuse India for the blockade, the people of Nepal are growing weary and bitter towards both India and their own government for not stepping in. In addition, the Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) has been allegedly profiting from black-market fuel.

‘We need our government to step up. We need something concrete, anything. They say they are talking. Talking to protesters in the south, talking to India, talking to China, but where is the action?’ Sapana said. ‘It’s making us all feel hopeless and very angry.’

Unfortunately the ‘talks’ that government officials have been having with various parties have resulted in many promises but few – if any – changes in the situation.

With the attempt to break free from India’s stronghold, Nepal turned to China to bring in fuel. But the earthquake destroyed the already dangerous route to China, making it extremely difficult for supply trucks to get through. After a dangerous attempt to get bring in a small amount of supplies, it became obvious that China will not be able to bring in what is needed until the road is fixed, which cannot happen in the near future.

The people in Nepal are extremely worried about the coming months as the situation worsens. Most have lost hope in the government and are looking to the international community for help. Not for aid, but for pressure to be put on both India and Nepal in order for the border dispute to be resolved. They need the world to raise awareness of the situation.

‘The best way to help us is to make some noise. Raise awareness in the media! Support Nepal through social media. Let the world know that millions will die if we don’t get crucial supplies,’ Sapana said.