Rolf Grossenbacher, what concrete action was taken to help the inhabitants of Gorkha and the surrounding area?
It was imperative to ensure that local medical services continued to function, that people had a roof over their heads and that blocked roads and paths were cleared. That's why Swiss Humanitarian Aid decided to assist the hospital in Gorkha after the earthquake by sending a team of doctors and medicines. In addition, plastic tarpaulins, ropes, kitchen utensils, sleeping mats, canisters and tools were distributed among the inhabitants of remote rural areas so that as much of the population as possible had shelter again and households could continue to function.
How did you reach the population in need when many roads and paths were blocked?
We tried to bring the relief supplies as close as possible to the regions hit hardest by the earthquake. To do this we set up a temporary warehouse in the village of Soti Khola. From there we were able to transport some of the materials to the north-western and north-eastern valleys by helicopter. This allowed us to get to even remote places like Samdo and the Tsum Valley relatively quickly. Another part of the relief supplies was collected directly in Soti Khola by families who journeyed for two to three days on foot to get there. And the final portion of the supplies was given to other relief organisations for distribution.
How many families was the Swiss humanitarian team able to assist?
In all we distributed 9,000 plastic tarpaulins to around 8,000 families in the first three weeks after the earthquake. The tarps are used to set up temporary shelters. The earthquake completely destroyed thousands of homes in the remotest valleys. With the monsoon starting in mid-June, securing shelter was essential, not only for the families who have lost their homes, but also for their livestock and seed. To ensure food security, it is very important to prevent the seed from being damaged before the start of sowing. But it won't be possible to start rebuilding houses effectively until after the end of the rainy season, that is, before the month of September.
Are the Swiss SHA experts also taking action to clear and improve roads and paths?
Yes. We funded a "cash for work" project to reopen the road from Leprak to Tatopani. That means we paid the valley's inhabitants to clear the blocked road. We will also take part in reopening the North-West Route – the roads and paths leading from Dharapani to Samdo and Jagat, and in building a new path connecting Soti Khola with Jagat. The plan calls for the road to be built through the hills, directly from place to place, not along the river at the bottom of the valley.
That way there is less likelihood that the road will be blocked again by landslides and rockslides. Reopening transport routes to Jagat is extremely important for the foreseen house rebuilding efforts, as at present the town can only be reached by helicopter or by a roundabout route through the high mountain valleys to the north.
What should be done to prevent further disasters of similar magnitude in Nepal?
There need to be large investments in preventative measures to keep hundreds of thousands of houses from being destroyed or damaged again. So Switzerland will be providing support for earthquake-proof construction. For this project we'll be able to draw on the knowledge and concepts that the SDC have successfully applied in other earthquake zones. We have already presented the approach that we successfully took in Pakistan to the Nepalese authorities. We are also prepared to share our expertise in vocational training with Nepal. Concretely, this means that Switzerland could share earthquake-proof construction techniques to supplement the training of Nepalese masons and carpenters.