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Nepal: Red Cross leads flood operations

15-08-2002 News Release 02/33

"Imagine yourself standing on a mountain of debris, knowing that a two-year-old child is buried underneath," said Mike Escher, ICRC cooperation delegate in Nepal.

" My thoughts went straight to my own two-year-old son waiting for me in Kathmandu. " Mike, along with representatives from the International Federation and the Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS), had just spent four days in central and eastern Nepal where the damage caused by floods and landslides has been described as alarming. " In some areas, complete mountain tops, 300 to 400 metres wide, have broken off and buried the houses and land. Buildings have been destroyed, rice fields completely washed away and people have nothing left, " said Mike, as he tried to juggle finishing his report and planning the ICRC's response to the disaster.

More than 250,000 people are reported to have been severely affected by flooding and landslides in 47 of the country’s 75 districts. So far, 422 people have died and another 173 are missing, with hilly regions suffering the highest casualty figures. An estimated 32,000 people have been left homeless but with communication to some areas still cut off, a full picture of the situation has yet to emerge. Aerial assessments indicate severe destruction, particularly in hilly regions.

In all monsoon-affected districts, the local authorities have put the NRCS in charge of disaster relief, including the collection of data and the distribution of supplies. The NRCS has already assisted more than 43,000 people but the supplies stored in its seven regional warehouses are rapidly dwindling. Moreover, despite its good operational capacity and its presence in the affected areas, the NRCS must deal with an already poor road network worsened by heavy rains. In the hills, its volunteers often have to carry relief goods on their shoulders.

The ICRC has contributed 100,000 Swiss francs for the purchase of relief supplies in order to help the NRCS cope until it can replenish its resources in cash and kind. Present in Nepal since 1998 to visit people detained in connection with the conflict and monitor the health-care system, the ICRC is currently playing its role as lead agency in a situation of internal conflict by coordinating the delivery of relief items to affected areas and maintaining a dialogue with the authorities at every level so as to ensure that assistance can reach all the victims without discrimination.