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Time For Rescue And Precaution: Nandalal Tiwari
An earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter Scale that shook Nepal Saturday noon has caused massive devastation of physical infrastructure, including world heritage sites, and heavy loss of life. Nearly two thousand people have been declared dead by Sunday while thousands of injured people are being treated at different hospitals, especially in the 27 districts which were hit hard.
As houses in the rural areas have also collapsed, and it will take time for reports to reach here from such places, it is likely that the total death toll will increase. Since many buildings have collapsed, many people might still be trapped inside and could be rescued alive. And those people who have survived need psychological support.
People living in the tents or even in the open in whatever space is available near their homes are still panicking due to the aftershocks although the intensity of the quakes is going down compared to the first one. Despite the geologist’s explanation that the subsequent quakes will get smaller and smaller, some of the quakes that occurred after the major one were very powerful indeed and just as strong as the first one. Such a trend has created panic among the people, even among those who listen to the radio or read the newspapers for appropriate precautionary measures at this time of natural calamity.
This is the biggest quake in the last 82 years. Experts in the field do not think the devastation the quake has caused is unexpected. Some of them have even said that the casualty figures have been far less than what was projected by different studies and reports. Of course, most of the houses built of mud and bricks have collapsed in cities like Kathmandu. But, even modern buildings made of concrete have collapsed.
Nepal is one of the highly quake-prone countries. It ranks 10th when it comes to nations at risk. There have been some programmes to create awareness in this regard and others to acquaint people on the use of safety measures during an earthquake. Perhaps the programmes have helped the people to take appropriate steps during the quake. This may perhaps explain why there have been far fewer deaths than expected. But more than this, perhaps the day of the quake was a weekend, which prevented the nation from suffering greater numbers of deaths and devastation.
The first 72 hours from the time of the first major jolt are said to be fraught with risks by geologists, and they have appealed to the people to adopt safety measures. But adopting safety measures is not easy especially in cities like Kathmandu where open spaces are rare. This lack of open spaces must provide a lesson to our city planners and the government as to how cities in quake-prone countries like ours must be planned.
There is no doubt that this is the time for taking precautions and engaging in rescue operations. All should be united in saving the lives of the people. At this time of natural disaster, the government alone can't be blamed if there are some shortcomings. Of course, the government should work in such a way that the people feel its guardianship at this time of helplessness.
Our disaster preparedness is very weak. Our government is so weak that it recently almost failed to control the swine flu epidemic in Jajarkot district. Even before we were able to cope with the Jajarkot health disaster, we have another greater disaster at our doorstep. But all of us should be ready to chip in to help people who are in pain by providing them the necessary help such as food, clothes and shelter/tent.
More importantly, making the people aware of the importance of staying out of risky homes or staying in open spaces is needed. We should create a situation where the people do not panic but adopt safety measures, and at least stay in open spaces with necessary amounts of food and water. Since most of the shops are closed and there is no electricity, the people may find it hard to have food and water. Considering this, the government should take steps to provide food and water to those people staying in open spaces.
No Party cadres
Except for the government security mechanisms and some volunteers at the social level, no sister organisations or other organisations of the political parties are seen in the rescue works yet. They may have been working individually, but they had better come in groups and announce their active presence so that the common people can contact them for necessary assistance. It is one thing to collect relief materials and quite another thing to work during rescue hours. The 72 hours beginning from Saturday noon can be taken as the rescue hours.
(Published in The Rising Nepal on April 27)