In the wake of a 7.8-magnitude earthquake in Nepal, mountainous roads have been blocked by landslides and avalanches, leaving the relief effort heavily reliant on helicopters. But bad weather is restricting their ability to fly, severely hampering the delivery of aid to remote villages.
IRIN travelled first to the city of Bhaktapur, a UNESCO world heritage site about 12 kilometers outside Kathmandu, then on to the smaller communities of Harisiddhi and Bungamati where residents told of devastating physical damage and personal loss.
Text and photos by Juliette Rousselot
Throughout Bhaktapur, families are digging through piles of rubble, trying to recover whatever they can from the ruins of their homes. It is painstaking work, removing the debris by hand amid clouds of dust.
Salvaged belongings are piled up ready to be moved to temporary shelters. Anything that can be saved is considered a treasured possession - from bedframes, to gas cylinders, to blankets, to water jars and television sets.
A man carries a portrait of the Bhaktapur Kumari that he has recovered from his collapsed home. Kumaris are young pre-pubescent girls believed to be living goddesses, an earthly manifestation of divine female energy.
Across town Nepali rescue teams attempt to clear debris from a collapsed house in search of the bodies of the missing. With each passing day the chances of finding anyone still alive recedes. But five days after the earthquake, a 15-year-old boy was rescued in Kathmandu, giving the search-and-rescue teams some hope and a renewed sense of determination.
As the debris is moved aside, piles of bricks, metal sheeting and wooden planks are accumulating in the streets of Bhaktapur. Disposing of this waste is one of many challenges facing those coordinating the humanitarian response to the disaster.
The rubble clearing operation is likely to focus initially on major cities and arterial roads. Smaller communities like Bungamati, just outside the capital Kathmandu, will have to wait their turn. But the destruction in such places is extensive.
A partially damaged house in the village of Harisiddhi is kept from collapse by a few hastily arranged wooden planks. Even buildings that weren’t flattened by the quake are badly damaged and vulnerable to aftershocks and heavy rain.
Locals say 100 people were killed by the earthquake in Harisiddhi and around 250 have lost their homes.
Thousands of people are now living under makeshift shelters, cooking outside on portable gas stoves or wood fires.
More substantial emergency shelter is an urgent priority given recent heavy rain and temperatures at night dropping steeply. Tents, tarpaulins and repair kits are arriving in Nepal. But getting large amounts of aid to smaller towns and villages is proving immensely challenging.