Kathmandu: Anger over poor governmental relief ignited protests in Nepal on Wednesday as the death toll from the horrific temblor crossed 5,000, with thousands battling for life. Four days after the deadly quake, more shops opened here and traffic returned to Kathmandu’s roads. Authorities also restored electricity while telephones began to function in more areas.
More important, the aftershocks of the 7.9 magnitude earthquake, which have kept tens of thousands out in the open since Saturday, appear to be waning, providing a huge sense of relief. But that wasn’t enough to bring cheer to the hundreds of thousands of quake victims, some of whom staged protests here on Wednesday against what they said was inadequate relief work.
Hundreds of Nepalese protested in the heart of Kathmandu and demanded the the resignation of Home Minister Bamdev Gautam. Scuffles broke out with police. Elsewhere in the city, a mob ransacked the ticket counter at a bus park area after failing to get tickets to travel outside Kathmandu. In Dolakha district, men and women picketed the local administration offices seeking immediate supply of relief material, food and tents. A few entered the offices and set ablaze chairs, table and curtains.
Information and Communication Minister Minendra Rijal admitted there were shortcomings when it came to reaching out to people all over the Himalayan nation but said the situation will improve soon. Added home ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal: “We are doing our best but, yes, there are weaknesses too.” Going by officially confirmed deaths, this is the worst earthquake to rattle Nepal after a 1934 temblor left over 8,000 people dead. But Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has warned that the toll could touch 10,000.
Officials say Nepal is ill equipped to deal with such a massive natural calamity due to lack of infrastructure, technical expertise and knowledge, and lack of preparation to cope with any disaster. On Wednesday, the government put the recorded death toll so far at 5,006. Another 10,224 people have been injured. Kathmandu district recorded 1,039 deaths.
Huge amounts of international aid continues to pour into Nepal. India was the first to send the relief and rescue materials. But Indian officials say thousands of kgs of medicines, dry food items, tents and more are accumulating at the Tribhuvan International Airport. The government has stored relief materials at two dozen places here but quake victims complain these are not reaching them though they badly need food, drinking water, medicines and tents. Overwhelmed with the foreign aid pouring in and finding it difficult to direct it to the victims, Kathmandu has declined help from Taiwan and New Zealand.
Officials admitted to lack of proper coordination among government agencies. Rains have also made access to some remote districts difficult, further hitting the rescue and relief work. Besides thousands of Nepalese soldiers and police personnel, rescue teams from India, Sri Lanka, China, Turkey, the Netherlands, Poland, Germany, France, Israel, Malaysia and Japan are deployed in various places both in the Kathmandu Valley and outside.
A Sri Lankan team rescued a young man alive in Balaju area. The Nepalese Army, the Armed Police Force and Nepal Police brought 1,600 tourists from Manang and Mustang to Pokhara. But fearing another strong quake and a possible outbreak of epidemics, thousands of Nepalese are demanding transport to leave Kathmandu. Hundreds of Indians are also fleeing the country both by air and road.
Meanwhile, Kathmandu’s quake survivors continued to spend the chilly nights under leaking plastic sheets and small tents, stung by skyrocketing prices of essential commodities. An IANS correspondent went to Tundi Khel, a sprawling ground that has turned into a sea of bright, vivid coloured tents, and spent Tuesday night with those who survived by the skin of their teeth.
The rain has turned the ground to slush and the inclement weather has added to the survivors’ plight. The government said it had arranged 500 buses to various destinations outside the Kathmandu Valley. Aid workers warn that the full extent of Nepal’s misery was yet to emerge. Reports from the interiors speak of colossal destruction.