Nepal-India Blockade Continues, USAID’s Programs Grinding to a Halt and the Ugly in the Horizon

Posted: 1:29 pm EDT
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Via
time.com

On Sept. 16, Nepal passed a long-awaited constitution containing several controversial clauses. Chief among these was a refusal to allow for Madhesi- and Tharu-majority provinces near the Indian border. While supporters insisted such a move was necessary to counteract Indian dominance, ethnic Tharus and Madhesis termed it a form of prejudice. Protests began in August and have been, at times, violent, reportedly claiming more than 40 lives. Citing security concerns, India launched an unofficial border blockade shortly after the constitution was enacted. While many here believe the blockade is an expression of India’s disapproval of the constitution, New Delhi has steadfastly denied political interference. “The reported obstructions are due to unrest, protests and demonstrations on the Nepalese side, by sections of their population,” said a statement issued on the Indian Foreign Ministry website on Sept. 25.

Regardless of intention, the impact has been substantial. In early October, Nepal’s scant reserves neared exhaustion and the government was forced to introduce fuel rationing. Since then, the effects have spread to every sector. At local markets, food prices have gone up — 30%, 50%, 100%. Restaurants are raising prices and scaling back production and, even in the capital city of Kathmandu, homeowners have begun switching from propane to firewood. Buses are severely overloaded, private transport uncomfortably expensive. Getting petrol requires waiting for hours, or even days, on queue for the government ration or paying black market rates out of reach for most Nepalese. Ambulances don’t have enough petrol to operate, hospitals are running out of supplies, social services severely curtailed.

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Below is what Gulfutar, a neighborhood about 3 kilometers north of the US Embassy in Kathmandu looks like.  The lines for cooking fuel are said to be also huge.  We understand that USAID programs are reportedly grinding to a halt for lack of fuel and so are other development agencies that are trying to help Nepal recover from the quake. With the winter season just a few weeks away, “this could get very, very ugly” is what we’re hearing.

USAID programs in Nepal reportedly seeks to reinforce recent gains in peace and security, stabilize the transitional government, strengthen the delivery of essential social services, expand proven health interventions, and address the global challenges of food insecurity and climate change.

How do you do that when on the ground reality is like this?

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Thousands of Nepalis line up for a small allotment of fuel in Kathmandu as the “unofficial blockade” continues. Photo by Derek Brown via FB (used with permission)

With extremely limited fuel, people are reportedly resorting to extreme measures to get around.   A bus with approx 90 people (a vehicle with a 35 person capacity) went off a cliff last week.

The most recent embassy message to U.S. citizens on travel and fuel is dated over a month ago, and the fuel situation has not gotten better as the blockade continues:

We recommend that travelers evaluate any upcoming travel plans in Nepal.  Due to the nationwide fuel shortage, due to blockages at the border with India, many of the safety measures that would normally be relied on in an emergency situation may become unavailable.  These measures include air medevacs and local hospitals.  As of today these services are still operational, but service providers are facing dwindling supplies.  If you are planning multi-day travel the situation could change drastically during your trip.  Please consider that if you are trekking in a remote area and become injured, there will be limited options for you to be rescued until the fuel situation returns to normal.  Tourist facilities continue to operate in the Kathmandu valley, but levels of service may be lower than normal.  It is estimated that the fuel situation will not return to normal until 2-3 weeks after the border supply lines are fully restored.

The UKFCO has issued a travel advice and notes that delays at border crossings have caused a severe fuel shortage which is affecting travel and provision of some emergency services. Some airlines have stopped or reduced the number of domestic flights they’re operating in Nepal until further notice.

Meanwhile, on November 5, the US Embassy in Nepal released the following statement about being “deeply concerned by the increasingly volatile situation along the Nepal-India border.”  You could practically see folks rolling their eyes:

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Travel Photographer/FS Spouse Seeks to Help Rebuild a Small Corner of Nepal

Posted: 2:58 am EDT
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The impact of the 25 April and 12 May earthquakes resulted in over two million people in Nepal losing their houses due to damage. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, during September and October this year, population movements are expected to increase, particularly with the mass outflux from the Kathmandu Valley to districts before the Dashain festival beginning in late October. On a smaller scale, with the end of the monsoon, the majority of those residing in spontaneous settlement and those relocated due to landslide risks will likely return to their original residence. Ensuring comprehensive returns will also depend on the availability of support for shelter reconstruction.

Derek Brown, a Foreign Service spouse and a friend of the blog is helping with shelter reconstruction in a small corner of Nepal.  Derek is an American travel photographer, currently based in Kathmandu. He was previously in Pakistan and India with his USAID FSO spouse and has been generous in sharing some of his photos with this blog (see Derek Brown’s Photographs From India — Old Delhi, Ahmedabad, Udaipur, and Kutch; NYT’s India Ink Features Awesome Photographer and USAID/EFM).

In the aftermath of the earthquake, Derek wanted to document Nepalis helping Nepalis, and reached out to his friend Pawan Shakya whom he’d first met in 2013. Pawan who runs a small family publishing business from Durbar Square, the historic center of Kathmand has already embarked on self-funded relief projects aimed at some of the neediest villages following the earthquake. Derek realized that he could help in the planning, funding and execution of Pawan’s projects. He brought in Tyler Driscoll, a graphic designer he knew from San Francisco and together they put up a GoFundMe fundraising to help rebuild a small corner of Nepal.

The relief effort is intended to improve the lives of over 500 earthquake-stricken Nepali villagers in 2 villages. They picked the village of Chhap, 3.5 hours northeast of Kathmandu. Of 250 houses in the area, only 1 remained inhabitable after the earthquakes. The other location Ranipauwa Village is roughly 1.5 hours drive northwest of Kathmandu, and was almost totally destroyed by the earthquake, with essentially none of the houses inhabitable or even repairable.

The villages were selected based on need, the ability of villagers to help each other, and their ability to help themselves. Very importantly, one young man from each village works for Pawan’s family business. Having a person from inside each community not only provides valuable insight into issues and opportunities, but it also facilitates ongoing communication and monitoring that can help avoid all sorts of missteps.

They plan not only to build bamboo relief houses, they also plan to fund chicken farms, replace livestock and provide improved seeds for future plantings in the two villages.

derek bamboo hse

Tyler, Derek and Pawan © 2015 Derek Brown http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Derek says that neither Pawan nor him will be taking any compensation at any point–Pawan is doing the calendar printing at cost and there will be no charge for Derek’s  images.  The GFM campaign provides other rewards that do carry cost like mugs, t-shirts, large prints, so do let them know if you do not want them.  They have raised about $11K so far in the last two months of their GFM campaign.   If you are able to help, check out their GFM campaign: http://www.gofundme.com/nepaltogether.

You may also follow Derek’s photo blog documenting their rebuilding efforts here: http://www.rebuildnepaltogether.com/photo-blog/

Below is a photo of a mother and child washing hair in a creek in Nepal, one of our favorites from Derek’s  collection. What a lovely smile! Check out the rest of his photos on Facebook and Tumblr.  धन्यवाद

Photo by

© 2015 Derek Brown

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US Embassy Nepal Now on Authorized Departure For Non-Emergency Staff and Dependents

Posted: 2:30 am EDT
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We’ve anticipated the evacuation of the family members of Embassy Kathmandu staff following the devastating Nepal earthquake of April 25.  On May 1st, the State Department issued a new Nepal Travel Warning and announced the May 2nd “authorized departure” not just of embassy family members but also of its non-emergency personnel. See part of the announcement below:

The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to Nepal and recommends that they defer non-essential travel there following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25.  On May 2, 2015, the Department of State approved authorized departure for non-emergency U.S. government personnel and dependents.  The U.S. Department of State also recommends that U.S. citizens in Nepal exercise caution when traveling in or planning departure from the country.  The possibility for aftershocks of significant magnitude persists.  Infrastructure is fragile and access to basic resources, including healthcare, could be limited.  Cell phone and internet service are intermittent. In Kathmandu and elsewhere, some buildings are collapsed and some roads are impassable, making transportation difficult.  Some areas of the city are crowded with displaced persons.  Kathmandu and Lukla airports have been re-opened since the earthquake.  However, the airports may close temporarily without notice due to aftershocks or inclement weather.  We encourage travelers to contact their airlines to confirm flight availability before departing for the airport.

Read the full Travel Warning here.

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

USAID supported DART teams have been on the move and just rescued a man from a building in Gongabu. Photo from US Embassy Nepal/FB

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Related posts:

US Embassy Nepal: DART and Search and Rescue Teams Are On the Ground

Posted: 12:15 am EDT
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At the DPB on April 27, the State Department said that Embassy Kathmandu remains open and the U.S. Embassy and the American Club continue to shelter U.S. citizens and their family members as well as dozens of non-Americans. There are reportedly about 85 U.S. citizens at the chancery and about 220 U.S. citizens at the American Club.  The spokesman said he is “not aware of any significant damage, at least not that is impeding their [embassy’s] operations.”  

Embassy Kathmandu staff is reportedly being supplemented with resources in the region “to better enable us to respond to – not only to the things concerning U.S. citizens, but also liaison coordination with the U.S. Government and such.” All of the American personnel at the embassy are accounted for. The embassy is continuing its efforts to account for all its local employees. Meanwhile, the DART and the search and rescue teams have arrived in country.

 

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Nepal Earthquake: USAID/OFDA activates Disaster Assistance Response Team; how you can help in relief efforts

Posted: 12:30 am EDT
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On April 25, the U.S. Government (USG) issued a disaster declaration for Nepal due to the effects of the earthquake. In response, USAID/OFDA immediately activated a Response Management Team (RMT) in Washington, D.C., and a DART—including urban search-and-rescue (USAR) specialists from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department—to support emergency response efforts in cooperation with the GoN. USAID/OFDA has also authorized an initial $1 million to address urgent needs.

According to media reports, the earthquake has resulted in widespread damage and destruction of buildings as well as damaged roads and other public infrastructure. According to USAID, USG staff in Kathmandu reported that electrical and telecommunications networks are intermittently operational, although landlines appear to function. The airports in Kathmandu and Pokhara reportedly remained open, with some commercial flight activity already resumed.  Nepal earthquake death toll is now reported to be over 3,200, including 3 Americans.  More than 6,000 have been injured in the earthquake.

The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has drilled about the big one for years now. Our post there has an American staff of less than a hundred. Post is a typical accompanied post so there will be family members there.  If public infrastructure and food supply becomes problematic, we anticipate that family members will be evacuated to a safehaven area or back home like what happened in the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake. It is also worth noting that in a crisis like this, the local employees who are expected to assist the mission may also be facing their own challenges with the need and safety of their own families. Let’s keep them all in our thoughts.

In response to the Government of Nepal requests for assistance, USAID/OFDA deployed a DART to Nepal. The team includes USAID/OFDA humanitarian specialists and 54 USAR personnel from the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. USAID/OFDA has also allocated an initial $1 million for relief organizations in Nepal to address urgent humanitarian needs. Also this:

For nearly two decades, USAID/OFDA has supported disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts in Nepal, including throughout Kathmandu Valley. USAID/OFDA funding has enabled the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to identify, prepare, and preserve more than 80 open spaces in Kathmandu Valley to ensure the sites are available for humanitarian purposes—such as distribution centers or warehouses—in the event of large-scale disasters. USAID/OFDA has also supported Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) to pre-position critical emergency relief supplies in order to address the immediate needs of affected communities following a disaster.

Here are a few more updates via Twitter:

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We understand that due to the weather, tents are an urgent need right now. USAID/OFDA director Jeremy Konyndyk says, “We’re mobilizing emergency shelter supplies from our global stocks. Clear need.”

How You Can Help

USAID says that the most effective way people can assist relief efforts is by making cash contributions to humanitarian organizations that are conducting relief operations. A list of humanitarian organizations that are accepting cash donations for disaster responses around the world can be found at www.interaction.org.

USAID encourages cash donations because they allow aid professionals to procure the exact items needed (often in the affected region); reduce the burden on scarce resources (such as transportation routes, staff time, and warehouse space); can be transferred very quickly and without transportation costs; support the economy of the disaster-stricken region; and ensure culturally, dietary, and environmentally appropriate assistance.

More information can be found at:

  • The Center for International Disaster Information: www.cidi.org or +1.202.821.1999.
  • Information on relief activities of the humanitarian community can be found at www.reliefweb.int

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Major Earthquake Strikes Nepal, High Death Toll Expected (Contact Info For U.S. Citizens)

Posted: 9:54 am PDT
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On April 25, a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, approximately 80 km from the capital Kathmandu. More than a thousand people have reportedly been killed with the number expected to go up.  USAID is launching a a DART team to respond.  U.S. citizens in need of urgent assistance in Nepal should call +977 1 423 4068.  U.S. citizens from the U.S. and Canada needing assistance in Nepal should call 1-888-407-4747 or email the State Department at NepalEmergencyUSC@state.gov.  Google has also rolled out its Person Finder.

Via the USGS:

The April 25, 2015 M 7.8 Nepal earthquake occurred as the result of thrust faulting on or near the main frontal thrust between the subducting India plate and the overriding Eurasia plate to the north. At the location of this earthquake, approximately 80 km to the northwest of the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu, the India plate is converging with Eurasia at a rate of 45 mm/yr towards the north-northeast, driving the uplift of the Himalayan mountain range. The preliminary location, size and focal mechanism of the April 25 earthquake are consistent with its occurrence on the main subduction thrust interface between the India and Eurasia plates.

Although a major plate boundary with a history of large-to-great sized earthquakes, large earthquakes on the Himalayan thrust are rare in the documented historical era. Just four events of M6 or larger have occurred within 250 km of the April 25, 2015 earthquake over the past century. One, a M 6.9 earthquake in August 1988, 240 km to the southeast of the April 25 event, caused close to 1500 fatalities. The largest, an M 8.0 event known as the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake, occurred in a similar location to the 1988 event. It severely damaged Kathmandu, and is thought to have caused around 10,600 fatalities.
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