Saturday 1 October 2016

Nepal earthquake is a human tragedy that’s still unfolding

Department of Foreign Affairs says five Irish people have yet to make contact with home

Published 29/04/2015 | 02:30

Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Displaced Families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Searching goes on in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Photo: Mark Condren
Displaced families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Paul Devaney, pictured at Everest base camp the evening before the earthquake.
Earthquake survivers are brought to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Children on the street in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Fuel is in short supply after the earthquake hit Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Searching goes on in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Photo: Mark Condren
A Woman breaks down after identifying a member of her family in a makeshift morgue at one of Nepals's Capital Hospital after been killed in the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Children on the street in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
The aftermath of the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
Rishi Khanal, an injured survivor is taken out by French rescue teams from a damaged building following Saturday's earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Reuters

SABITA NEPAL is sobbing, her words escaping through tears in her native tongue. But it is not difficult to recognise that the five-year-old wants her mother - and is in considerable pain.

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Her situation is so grave she has just been helicoptered out of Sindhupalchowk, about a three-hour drive northeast of Kathmandu, and rushed to the country's national trauma centre in the capital.

But it is Tuesday evening when she arrives by helicopter; Sabita was pulled, gravely ill, from the rubble of her family home on Sunday morning.

For more than two days, expert medical aid couldn't get to her. And her family couldn't get her to the capital from their remote city.

And that, in microcosm, is the unfolding tragedy of the Nepal earthquake: help can't reach many, and many can't reach help.

"It is under control now," Dr Rajiv Jha insists, specifically talking about the trauma centre in the capital's Bir Hospital.

The neurosurgeon is examining Sabita just inside the main entrance of the hospital, in full public view, surrounded by nurses, family and passers-by and the little girl is wailing in pain, causing other young patients lying nearby to become upset.

But Dr Jha is correct.

Things are relatively OK and under control here - both in the hospital, and in Kathmandu in general - considering what happened just four days ago.

The nationwide death toll from the 7.8-magnitude earthquake has risen to 5,057, the home ministry confirmed yesterday.

The aftermath of the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren
The aftermath of the earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Mark Condren

More than 10,000 people are now known to have been injured, and tens of thousands of people continue to sleep outdoors in Kathmandu - either through necessity after a building collapse or, more commonly, through apprehension of regular aftershocks.

Yet somehow - despite the recent trauma, despite the ongoing fear - the capital has already regained some semblance of normality.

More shops are re-opening, pharmacies are busy and the lengthy motorbike queues for fuel yesterday indicated that people are getting back to their daily routine.

The hospitals and morgues in the capital are no longer overrun - but perhaps the hospitals should be.

"People only see Kathmandu and not the outside," said Darren Hanniffy of aid agency Goal.

"But the problem isn't over, it is just that people are not able to see it. The help has to get out there."

Displaced Families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren
Displaced Families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake. Photo: Mark Condren

Levelled

In Sindhupalchowk, Sabita's home city, the death toll had reached 875 people and was expected to rise. In Dhading, close to the quake's epicentre west of Kathmandu, 241 people were killed.

There are similar tales emerging - albeit slowly - from other small cities closer to the epicentre than the capital, such as Lamjung and Gorkha, where 90pc of buildings are said to have been levelled.

Prime minister Sushil Koirala said yesterday that the death toll could reach 10,000 - double the current amount, with the increase likely to be predominately from those difficult-to-reach areas.

Helicopters - not a hugely common commodity in Nepal anyway - are also needed for the ongoing series of dangerous rescues of climbers from the lower reaches of Mount Everest, after 18 died on the world's tallest mountain in the aftermath of the quake.

Among those rescued from base camp was Dublin climber Paul Greenan, while the number of Irish citizens still classed as "missing" has fallen from more than a dozen to just one.

The Department of Foreign Affairs told independent.ie this morning that it is aware of 152 citizens in Nepal, and it has yet to make contact with five of these.

Another Irish citizen, Johnny Moore, is among those who have helped bring some of that "control" to Bir Hospital.

"I was here on Sunday. At that stage, we were expecting another major aftershock and relatives of extremely-ill patients were trying to push them out of wards on trolleys and into the park next door for safety - and there was no staff to stop them," he explains.

"It was crazy. It was not impressive. The hospital was overrun."

Johnny, who works with Irish nun Cyril Mooney in Calcutta and travelled to Kathmandu on a holiday, has taken charge of the large number of volunteers now offering help - and has himself done everything "from cutting hair, to helping on X-rays" to help ease the backlog.

Pay

But the 24-year-old, whose parents are from Kerry and who is travelling on an Irish passport, raised concerns about some badly injured patients being asked to pay for treatments such as IV drips - even in emergency situations.

The Nepali government has denied that this happens.

Sabita's grandfather is not expecting a bill. He doesn't have the money to pay if one is produced.

Ombchadur Thjipa travelled with her by helicopter because the rest of their extended family had been injured when their house collapsed. Sabita was under rubble for nearly 24 hours.

"She wants her mammy. She has a broken pelvis, wrist and a suspected epidural haematoma," he says quietly. "She may require surgery for brain injury."

Her grandfather pours a couple of drops of Sprite into the lid of the bottle, and gently tips it into her mouth.

She stops crying for a while, even as Dr Jha pokes and prods, contemplating breaking part of the cast encasing much of her lower body as a bone is not setting properly.

Sabita's surname is Nepal. And her nation is just starting to wonder how many more little Sabitas there may be out there, still in pain, or worse.

To help Goal's efforts in Nepal visit goalglobal.org

Irish Independent

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