Mobilisation after the earthquake in Nepal

The day after the deadly earthquake that struck Nepal on 25 April 2015, Swiss Humanitarian Aid responded by sending a team of seven experts to assess the country’s emergency aid requirements. Two priorities were identified: distributing first-aid equipment and providing medical care for mothers and children. The SDC, which includes Swiss Humanitarian Aid, is currently supporting the Nepalese authorities in their efforts to plan out the reconstruction work.

According to the latest estimates, more than 8,700 people died as a result of the earthquake that struck central Nepal on 25 April 2015. And nearly 800,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. 

Less than 48 hours after the disaster, a seven-person rapid response team from Swiss Humanitarian Aid arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, to carry out an initial needs assessment. On site, the experts were supported by personnel from the Swiss embassy and the SDC cooperation office in Nepal. 

Distribution of relief supplies

Based on the observations made by the rapid-response team, the SDC distributed more than 200 tonnes of relief supplies (tarpaulins, corrugated metal sheet, blankets, sleeping mats and kitchen equipment) and “clearing” kits (shovels, pickaxes, wheelbarrows, helmets, gloves and face masks). Over 40,000 families spread across seven districts hit by the earthquake have benefitted from this emergency aid. In the most remote areas, supplies were brought in by helicopter to people who did not themselves make the two or three-day trek on foot to pick up the supplies provided. 

Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit specialists also delivered 50 chlorine production modules used to produce clean water and reduce the risk of disease. Each module can disinfect up to 48,000 litres of drinking water per hour, enough for 2,400 people daily. 

The hospital in Bungamati, south of Kathmandu, was given medical equipment enabling it to provide care for 10,000 people for three months. 

Medical care for mothers and children

In parallel with the initial deliveries of supplies, a unit comprising 10 doctors, midwives and logistics experts specialising in medical care for mothers and children arrived in Nepal on 29 April to provide additional support. These Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit specialists assisted the regional hospital in the city of Gorkha (80 kilometres from Kathmandu) in treating the large influx of patients. 

The hospital in Gorkha was selected – in close coordination with the Nepali authorities and partners involved in the relief efforts – for the key role it plays in providing healthcare. It serves some 260,000 people under normal circumstances. 

Nearly 3,000 patients were treated during the month the Swiss medical team spent in Gorkha. Together with their Nepalese counterparts, the Swiss doctors operated on 54 children and 78 adults, and assisted with 57 births, including four by caesarean section. In addition to caring for Nepalis injured in the earthquake, Swiss medical personnel in Gorkha enabled the population to continue receiving basic care, in particular paediatric care. 

Rebuilding roads

With regard to infrastructure, the humanitarian experts and their colleagues from the SDC cooperation office in Kathmandu assigned priority to rebuilding several roads destroyed by the earthquake in the Gorkha region. They had two objectives: enable local populations to move about and, where appropriate, ensure access to humanitarian aid for mountain villages. 

On the basis of its many years of experience managing projects in Nepal, the SDC opted for a ‘cash for work’ approach. Some 600 villagers rallied to rebuild an initial 17-km stretch for pedestrian use north of Gorkha, in exchange for a wage. Other roads are being repaired thanks to SDC support. 

Earthquake-resistant structures

The emergency relief phase lasted 40 days. During that time, Swiss Humanitarian Aid mobilised a total of 70 Swiss Humanitarian Aid Unit specialists. 

For the months ahead, the SDC promised the Nepalese authorities that it would bolster local skills in the construction of earthquake-resistant buildings. More specifically, it will offer special training courses for Nepalese bricklayers and carpenters based on positive experience gained in Haiti and Pakistan. 

The SDC cooperation office in Kathmandu will reallocate part of its budget for reconstruction work, while taking steps to ensure that highly vulnerable groups (women, children, ethnic minorities) are fully involved in the projects. Three Swiss experts are currently assisting the Nepalese government and a coalition of donor countries in drafting a key document setting out Nepal’s critical reconstruction priorities. 

Lastly, the SDC is supporting a psychosocial counselling centre in its efforts to treat victims traumatised by the earthquake. The centre is located east of Kathmandu, in a region where Swiss cooperation has been active since the 1960s. 

The SDC has earmarked nearly CHF 30 million for aid to victims of the earthquake.

The Swiss ambassador to Nepal, Urs Herren
The Swiss ambassador to Nepal, Urs Herren © Laxman Uprety

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One of Switzerland's priorities after the earthquake was to train Nepalese builders in sustainable construction techniques. © SDC

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