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Monday 22 January 2018

Runway damage hits Nepal aid plan

More than 14,00 people were injured in the Nepal earthquake (AP)
More than 14,00 people were injured in the Nepal earthquake (AP)

Runway damage has forced Nepalese authorities to close the main airport to large aircraft delivering aid to millions of people following the massive earthquake.

The death toll climbed to 7,057, including six foreigners and 45 Nepalese found over the weekend on a popular trekking route, said government administrator Gautam Rimal. The victims included a French national, an Indian, four other foreigners and Nepalese guides, hotel owners, workers and porters.

The main runway was temporarily closed to big planes because of damage. Despite the setback, the U.N. coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, said the bottlenecks in aid delivery were slowly disappearing.

"I think the problem is there, but it's actually diminishing," he said, adding the Nepalese government eased customs and other bureaucratic hurdles on humanitarian aid following complaints from the UN.

"The government has taken note of some of the concerns that we've expressed to them and they've addressed those both at customs and the actual handling," he said.

Airport congestion was only the latest complication in global efforts to aid people in the wake of the April 25 quake, the impoverished country's biggest and most destructive in eight decades.

People in Nepal - both in remote villages and the capital, Kathmandu - have complained about not seeing any rescue workers or international aid and about a lack of temporary shelters, with many sleeping out in the open because of fears of aftershocks bringing down their damaged homes.

Birendra Shrestha, the manager of Tribhuwan International Airport, located on the outskirts of Kathmandu, said bigger planes were banned because the runway was deteriorating. The runway was built to handle only medium-size jets and not the large military and cargo planes that have been flying to the airport since the magnitude-7.8 earthquake struck, he said.

The last week has seen a steady procession of big jets trying to fly in goods and relief workers, as well as a swarm of journalists, but the small airport has parking slots for only nine jets and only one runway.

There have been reports of cracks on the runway and other problems at the only international airport in Nepal and the only one capable of handling jets.

One week after the quake, aid has been slow in reaching those who need it most. In many places, it has not come at all.

UN humanitarian officials are increasingly worried about the spread of disease. They said more helicopters were needed to reach isolated mountain villages that were hard to access even before the quake.

The true extent of the damage from the earthquake is still unknown as reports keep filtering in from remote areas, some of which remain entirely cut off. The UN says the quake affected 8.1 million people - more than a quarter of Nepal's 28 million people.

The government said the quake had killed 7,057 people. Laxi Dhakal, a Home Ministry official, said hopes of finding survivors had faded dramatically. "Unless they were caught in an air pocket, there is not much possibility," he said.

Among the latest fatalities were the 51 people, including six foreigners, whose remains were found in the Langtang Valley in Rasuwa district, nearly 35 miles north of Kathmandu.

The area, with a dozen inns near the trekking trail, was buried by a landslide after the earthquake.

Nepal has been shaken by more than 70 aftershocks following the quake.

Later an official said rescuers have found three survivors in a mountainous village in Nepal, eight days since the earthquake.

Surya Prasad Upadhaya, a government administrator, says two men and a woman were pulled out from near Syauli village. They have been taken to a nearby military hospital for treatment.

Press Association

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