Church leads aid efforts for Nepal
Catholic organisations, led by the Vatican, have promised immediate financial assistance for the victims of last weekend’s devastating earthquake in Nepal.
The appeal was made by the country’s prime minister, Sushil Koirala, who said the country had been overwhelmed by the scale of the tragedy.
More than 4,300 people are known to have been killed, with fears the death toll could rise to 10,000. Over one million people have been left homeless after a magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit a mountainous region near Kathmandu on 25th April.
The devastation included not just buildings collapsing from the tremors, but also people and villages being buried by landslides and avalanches triggered by the quake and
The number of casualties was expected to be much higher as rescue teams tried to make their way into more remote areas.
On hearing the news, Pope Francis offered his prayers to all of those affected, encouraged rescue and emergency workers in their efforts and sent an initial donation of $100,000.
“I pray for the victims, those wounded and for all those who suffer because of this calamity,” Pope Francis said after reciting the Regina Coeli prayer with visitors in St Peter’s Square.
UK aid agencies immediately launched their own appeals and committed funds to the relief effort. CAFOD and The Scottish Catholic International Aid Fund (SCIAF) have both given £50,000 and launched emergency appeals.
Matthew Carter, head of CAFOD’s humanitarian department, said: “This is the worst earthquake to hit Nepal for 80 years, and it will take some time before the full extent of the destruction is known. With power supplies down, there’s still virtually no news from remote villages near the epicentre, but the damage is likely to be extreme.
“CAFOD’s local partners have been working through the night to deliver aid to people who have fled their home, but the situation on the ground remains extremely challenging, with aftershocks continuing.
“After a disaster on this scale, the immediate needs will include food, shelter, emergency supplies and – crucially – clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease. We are doing everything we can to support our local partners, and are deploying a specialist from our emergency response team from here in the UK.”
SCIAF director Alistair Dutton said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Nepal. Our partners are already helping to rescue survivors and have provided tarpaulins for people to sleep under. We are liaising closely with Caritas in Nepal and will do whatever we can to help them.”
On the ground, Caritas Nepal Director Fr Pius Perumana SJ said the earthquake was “the worst I have ever experienced in my life. Thank God it was during the day and on a holiday as many people were outside when the quake happened.”
He applauded international efforts to send rescue workers, though now the need was for accommodation. “Lots of people have lost their homes and are out on the street or in open spaces, so we will be looking to provide them with food and temporary shelter.”
Nepal’s Catholic bishop gave his own a graphic account of the earthquake, describing how he was lucky to survive. Bishop Paul Simick said he saw houses “falling like a pack of cards,” and that people “were running in all directions to save their lives.
“It was a very, very frightening scene,” he said. “I myself had to run to save my life.” The bishop, who is based in Kathmandu, said repetitive aftershocks had caused more panic.”
The bishop said the earthquake had badly affected Nepal’s small Catholic community, which numbers just 10,000 faithful. “Here in Kathmandu city, many Catholic families have cracks in their houses or major damage.” Bishop Simick stressed the problems of trying to assess the situation on the ground, describing the crippling impact of communications breakdown, impassable roads, no domestic flights and entire communities still cut off.
He added: “I would also like to request your prayer support for the victims’ families who have lost loved ones, those who are still missing loved ones and those who are seriously injured.”
Reporting on the suffering of Catholic communities, he described how some faithful had lost their lives in a mission station which takes three days on foot to reach. “Many of our churches, schools, convents and other institutions are badly damaged.”
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala says the Government is doing all it can but is overwhelmed by the scale of the catastrophe, with rescuers still struggling to bring aid to remote Himalayan areas. Heavy rain is worsening the situation.
The British Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, said concern was growing for the fate of several hundred UK citizens who are known to have been in Nepal at the time of the quake.
Among the dead are a number of climbers who were at Mount Everest base camp when it was hit by an avalanche.
In a televised address to start three days of mourning, Mr Koirala said: “In memory of the Nepali and foreign brothers and sisters and elders and children who have lost their lives in this devastating earthquake, we have decided to observe three days of national mourning from today.”
He said a lack of equipment and expert personnel meant the “appeals for rescues coming in from everywhere” in many cases could not be met.
Helicopter crews have reported seeing crowds of people in isloated villages appealing desperately for help. “When the helicopters are able to land, they are besieged by people pleading for food and water, or to be evacuated from the disaster zone.”
Members of the public can donate to CAFOD’s Nepal Earthquake Appeal at www.cafod.org.uk – to donate to SCIAF’s Nepal Earthquake Emergency appeal go to www.sciaf.org.uk or call 0141 354 5555 (Mon. to Fri.).