In Nepal, quake survivors turn porters to deliver aid
BIGU, Nepal—Her back hunched over, Nepali villager Sanchimaya Thami strained to make the last stretch of a five-hour trek to deliver critical relief supplies to other victims of April’s devastating earthquake.
The 36-year-old is one of some 10,000 survivors of the disaster hired as porters to bring food, medicines and shelter materials to remote Himalayan villages cut off by the 7.8-magnitude quake that hit on April 25, killing nearly 8,900 people.
“I used to be a farmer, but now I have no farm, it’s all gone,” Thami told AFP, as she recounted the impact of the quake and massive aftershock that followed in May, which wiped out her village of Bigu in northeastern Dolakha district.
“We had no food to eat, we had nowhere to live—it took about a week before help arrived,” Thami said as she dropped off a 30-kilogram sack of lentils for her fellow villagers.
The disaster destroyed roads, leaving villages like Bigu cut-off from vital supplies and creating a “logistical nightmare” for aid agencies, said Stephen Anderson, emergency coordinator for the World Food Program, which is funding the scheme.
“This is some of the most challenging terrain WFP has operated in globally”, Anderson told AFP.
“We desperately needed to access villages where choppers couldn’t land either because of the steep terrain or the weather... we were facing an emergency,” he said.
While the agency struggled to find a way out of the crisis, a small team of Nepali and foreign mountaineers made their way to the quake epicenter in Gorkha district.
Argentinian mountaineer Damian Benegas was on Mount Everest, planning to summit the world’s highest peak for a sixth time when the disaster struck on April 25, triggering a deadly avalanche.
The 46-year-old climber arrived unscathed in Kathmandu six days later and traveled on to Gorkha, determined to help.
He considered hiring a helicopter to run air drops, but was deterred by the cost, which ran into thousands of dollars.
“We realized that we needed to approach this whole thing creatively.
“As mountaineers, we rely hugely on porters to move supplies and I thought we could do the same here, move more goods for a fraction of the cost of a chopper,” he told AFP.
Over the next few days, the volunteers and villagers lifted rocks and cleared away debris in a bid to open up blocked mountain paths and begin the delivery of tents, blankets, food and water provided by non-profits.