THE BLOG

Nepal Earthquake: Sending Shockwaves Through My Family

28/04/2015 10:25 BST | Updated 27/06/2015 10:59 BST

It was my flatmate who first informed me that there had been an earthquake in Nepal, but they happen so frequently in my country that I wasn't too alarmed. It was only when I found out the scale of the earthquake that I started to panic. I tried to contact my family in Nepal but all the phone lines were down. At that moment I felt incredibly helpless.

It took two very anxious hours to make contact with my family. It was my 24 year old nephew who rang to inform me that my immediate family were all safe. As I was speaking to him on the phone there was an aftershock, which was very strong. I could hear in his voice how incredibly scared and afraid he was and I tried to reassure him from thousands of miles away.

A country unprepared

In Nepal, we all knew that we were due an earthquake, and that when a major earthquake did happen that there would be extensive loss of life. The country has such poor infrastructure and a lack of open spaces: in Kathmandu the roads are so narrow that it's difficult to drive a small car through. There's also a lack of planning around what to do in the event of a disaster. This is one of the common characteristics of natural disasters in so many developing countries.

My village is destroyed

My parents-in-law live in a very historic house near Kathmandu's landmark Dharhara tower - which has now collapsed. Their home is so badly damaged and they've spent the past two nights in a tent. I also heard from my sister that my parent's village has also suffered extensive damage. It's in the district of Sindhupalchowk, which was the epicentre of the second aftershock - measuring 6.7 on the Richter scale. I was told today that over 95% houses were damaged and over 1000 people have died in that Sindupalchok district alone. I am grief stricken. The number seems to be going up by the hour. I am clearly not getting the whole picture yet.

Help needed now

This disaster demands a quick response. I'm hearing that people I know don't even have access to clean water, food and medicine, including a dear colleague who has been teaching VSO volunteers to speak Nepali for many years. I also believe that any relief effort will absolutely need to address psychological trauma, something that I have seen in past disasters and is often left too late in the response. Many families have been torn apart by loved ones dying and seeing so much devastation. The frequent aftershocks means that my nieces aged seven and ten are too afraid to go in-doors.

We need to look ahead at how we rebuild Nepal. I'm encouraged to see that many governments are offering aid to Nepal and welcome the UK government's £5million pledge today. This crisis has brought Nepalese people together, including the Nepalese diaspora here in London. We are working to support one another from this distance, to coordinate our efforts to fundraise and to share what we know.

The power of volunteers

I also believe that the relief effort needs to harness the potential of local volunteers. My nephew Pratik Shrestha is one such volunteer. He saved the lives of a mother and her two children, in the Sundhara area of Patan when the earthquake happened on Saturday. They were trapped in a three story building which had collapsed. It took Pratik nearly three hours to rescue them, using his hands and cutlery to break through the debris.

I'm very proud of my nephew - he put himself at great risk to save the lives of others. Pratik has told me about various acts of kindness he is seeing all around him - as people are donating food and shelter to those in need. Pratik doesn't have any formal first-aid training, but people like him can be mobilised and involved with the relief effort in their own communities. It's essential that aid agencies work with local volunteers and that they are well-supported. It's their country and their future at stake.