Lilian Chan, who works for our partner Caritas Australia, reports from Nepal.
The earthquake struck without any warning. One minute I was filming an interview with a villager. The next, I was running to an open field as the ground shook violently and debris from houses flew overhead. It was a truly terrifying situation. As I watched the clouds of dust rising above collapsed houses, I knew that Caritas’ presence in this community would be more important than ever.
Surveying the damage
After the ground settled, I walked around the village to survey the damage. Having lived through smaller earthquakes before, most people knew to take refuge in the open fields. I saw one young girl, probably no older than four, sitting with her family, her eyes wide with fright. People her age have never experienced anything like this.
It has been more than 80 years since Nepal has seen an earthquake cause this kind of devastation. Reaching a magnitude of 7.8, the earthquake has killed thousands of people and the United Nations say that more than eight million people have been affected – more than a quarter of Nepal’s total population. Many homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, and water and sanitation services have been cut off in remote areas.
As I travelled back into Kathmandu, the scene was heartbreaking. Buildings I had only seen for the first time days earlier were reduced to heaps of debris. People were evacuating their homes, with nowhere to take shelter. And we saw patients evacuated from the hospital. With nowhere to go, they had to be treated on the ground, out in the streets.
I have never experienced an earthquake before. The initial tremor is terrifying. But the continued threat of destructive aftershocks causes further damage and trauma to people who are already vulnerable. A few days on from the earthquake, fearful of the aftershocks, many people in Kathmandu were still sleeping out on the street or in open public spaces.
Our local partner Caritas Nepal, supported by Caritas members around the world including CAFOD in England and Wales, SCIAF in Scotland and Caritas Australia, are supporting those in desperate need. We are providing shelter, sanitation, food, clean water and trauma counselling. And as the emergency response continues in the coming months, we will be working with communities to rebuild their livelihoods.
Since the earthquake hit, I have been speaking to people who have been evacuated or lost their homes. Their experience is humbling. They are making do with what they have and courageously doing everything they can to look after themselves and their families. But rain and the cold nights are making the situation even more difficult, and food, water and basic necessities are scarce.
Many people have been taking shelter in and around churches, which have become makeshift evacuation centres. I met 15-year-old Qurnain, who is staying at the Assumption Church in Kathmandu with her family. She said: “When the earthquake happened, I was reading a book and my brother was playing on the internet. At first we thought it was the wind, then everything was shaking and my brother shouted it was an earthquake.
“I felt scared and about to die when the earthquake hit. Now I feel everything is going to be all right. We came to the church because we know a lot of people here, so we can be together and coordinate and help each other out.”
The events of the last two weeks have been catastrophic, and surveying the scene of crumbled houses it can be hard to find any reason to be hopeful. But as I help the Caritas Nepal staff to hand out rice and tarpaulins, and as I speak to survivors, I’m overwhelmed and inspired by people’s generosity, ingenuity and resilience.
And when I hear about the generosity of Catholics all around the world, the donations flowing in from Caritas and CAFOD supporters, I am overwhelmed once again. These acts of solidarity – your assistance and your prayers – will bolster the communities I have met, as they begin to face the task of building back their lives.