Helping Nepal Rebuild: The Hard Work Is Only Beginning

Two months after the Nepal earthquake hit, the emergency phase is set to end in coming weeks. This critical crossroads means that The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Nepal government’s focus has now shifted to longer-term recovery with food relief to be distributed to 1.15 million of the worst-affected people. There will be supplementary feeding for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and young children, as well as cash to affected people in certain districts in exchange for work, such as preparing fields for the planting season.

Leading A Difficult Earthquake Response

Discovering Maurice Herzog’s book “Annapurna” as a boy growing up in the flatlands of the Mississippi Delta, I dreamt of the Himalayas. My heroes were the adventurers who challenged the peaks. Much later, I had the privilege to work as the World Food Programme (WFP) Country Director to Nepal. For five years, I had the opportunity to explore the mountains and experience the sublime beauty of this small but unique country. Three days after the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that ripped through Nepal on 25 April, I was back there leading WFP’s massive response to the disaster.

It was a big challenge. In the breathtaking Langtang Valley, the quake had triggered an avalanche that buried an entire village under thick layers of ice and rock from three thousand metres above. Such was the force that an entire forest was picked up and tossed like matchsticks on the surrounding mountain.

Life in Nepal’s hills and mountains has always been difficult. But now two months on, hundreds of thousands of family homes are shattered, their food stocks wiped out, their cows, goats and poultry killed while precious seeds for the current planting season are caked in mud. Had the earthquake struck at night rather than at noon on a holiday, the death toll would have been much higher.

Delivering Lifesaving Food To Isolated Areas

Nepal earthquake humanitarian food relief distribution outside Kathmandu Valley

Delivering food outside Kathmandu Valley
Photo copyright: WFP/Ashwini Rai

Alongside many other national and international organisations in the humanitarian staging area (HSA), WFP has been bringing lifesaving food to almost two million people, using roads where possible, porters where necessary, and by flying heavy-lift helicopters where no other option exists.

Nepal’s splendour is also its curse. Home to eight of the 14 highest peaks in the world, with affected communities nested in isolated valleys or perched precariously on steep cliffs, the logistical challenges may be the worst I have encountered in my long humanitarian career.

Himalayan Mountains Bring WFP Allies

Nuri Sherpa helping distribute food to Nepal earthquake victims

Nuri Sherpa helps distribute food to Nepal earthquake victims in remote regions
Photo copyright: 
Fenom Creative/Don Bowie

The mountains also brought us exceptional allies. My childhood hero, Yuichiro Miura - who inspired me to snowboard down Annapurna - was the first person ever to ski on Mount Everest and at the age of 80, became the oldest person to reach its summit. He is now leading efforts to raise funds for Nepal in his native Japan.

Five brave Nepali women, part of the most successful female team ever on the world’s highest peak and the first Nepali women to climb the seven highest mountains on the seven continents, are among my colleagues at WFP. One of them is Nimdoma Sherpa, born in a poor Himalayan community, who as a child had received school meals from WFP and became, at 16, the youngest person to climb Everest. Her parents’ house was destroyed in the earthquake, and she is now part of the team making sure that food reaches the most remote places. The oldest and the youngest summiteers have joined hands for Nepal.

Other renowned mountaineers and a group of paragliders, who had been in the country exploring the Himalayas, spontaneously joined WFP’s relief efforts, bringing their intimate knowledge of a dangerous terrain. Pilots flying food, medicine and construction materials on WFP helicopters include Madan KC, a Nepali legend who, back in 1996, rescued two climbers by landing his helicopter at the highest-altitude ever in history.

Mission Is Far From Over

Our mission is far from accomplished. As I was flying over the worst-affected areas recently, I spotted six plumes of dust rising from the ground in just one hour. Landslides have always plagued Nepal but now, with the earth unsettled by the main earthquake and scores of aftershocks, they are more frequent than ever. With the monsoon upon us, more villages are at risk of being cut off or destroyed by a major slide. Much agricultural land has been lost, and almost 70 percent of households in the mountain areas face poor or borderline food consumption.

From Emergency Relief To Recovery

Helping Nepal earthquake victims recover

WFP continues to deliver food two months after the Nepal earthquake hit
Photo copyright: WFP

In other words, the first emergency may be over, but the work is only beginning. Shelters must be rebuilt, livelihoods must be restored, and crops must be planted and harvested. Otherwise, what is now a difficult food situation will get worse.

On 25 June, exactly two months since the first earthquake, high-level representatives of donor countries are meeting in Kathmandu at the invitation of the government of Nepal. It’s important that donors continue their generous efforts beyond the relief phase, allowing the millions of survivors to recover and rebuild their lives.

Revitalising Agricultural Activities And Local Economy

WFP has begun distributing cash to thousands of families with access to markets, helping them restart agricultural activities and build temporary shelters while revitalising the local economy. Many more will benefit from this programme in the coming months. We have hired thousands of porters, who had lost their jobs because of the abrupt end of the trekking season, to bring food to the most inaccessible villages. As they climb, they restore vital economic trails that had been blocked by landslides. Our logistics services are also being used by the wider humanitarian community to reach communities in need.

Working Tirelessly To Rebuild Nepal

As I reflect on the last two months of emergency relief efforts, and look towards this next phase of recovery, I know that WFP will work tirelessly with the government and people of Nepal to help rebuild this magnificent country.

How You Can Help

WFP needs US$114.4 million to provide food. We are desperately short of funds to continue this operation. You can help by making a donation.

  • Please donate today and help get lifesaving food reach families who need us the most.

Author - Richard Ragan, WFP's Nepal Earthquake Emergency Coordinator