Nepal earthquake: India by its side, Nepal takes first steps on recovery road

The Indian Army is primarily involved in helping the Nepal administration clear debris and bring down hazardous structures.

As a crowd gathers in Bhaktapur, over 20 Army personnel from Nepal and India ask people to stand back. One man stays with the personnel. It is his half-collapsed house that they are attempting to bring down. Every time he spots a valuable that can be recovered, he asks for the Indian Army JCB to stop clawing at the remains of what he once called home. Within seconds, Nepal Army personnel climb the structure and retrieve the item.

It is early morning, and there are many such structures — a danger to both people and buildings nearby — that have to be brought down. While rescue operations in earthquake-ravaged Nepal may be coming to an end, India is now playing a part in the nation’s recovery and rebuilding.

Senior officials in the Indian embassy in Kathmandu said the emphasis in the first 72 hours after the April 25 earthquake was naturally on rescue. “Immediately, 700 officers of the NDRF were dispatched to Nepal to rescue people. We also deployed medical teams to deal with the flood of patients,” a senior officer said.

Over the next few days, other appendages of the Indian government — such as the Power Grid Corporation of India and the Indian Oil Corporation — pitched in. “A large amount of aid came from India — more than five thousand metric tonnes from across the country,” the officer said.

Now, with rescue efforts wrapping up, the focus has shifted to reconstruction. “Discussions have been held. We are ready to provide support such as NDMA teams, engineering expertise, financial consultants, or anything else Nepal needs,” a senior officer said.

The Indian Army is primarily involved in helping the Nepal administration clear debris and bring down hazardous structures, apart from providing medical assistance. Major General J S Sandhu, joint task force commander of the Indian forces in Nepal, said, “Army engineering teams are clearing debris in areas such as Bhaktapur and Barpak. An Army field hospital has been set up in Sinamangal near Kathmandu Airport. We are also sending choppers to the affected areas for relief activities.”

While there has been a phased removal of personnel — including 700 from the NDRF — from Nepal, 400 members of the Indian armed forces are still at work in the country.

For the engineering team comprising 76 personnel, the focus is on “damage assessment”. For each Indian team, a “liaison officer” is provided by Nepal to address administrative problems and issues of transportation, Major General Sandhu said.

Indian Army officers said any assignment the troops take up is only after consulting with senior officers of the Nepal Army. “To avoid duplication of effort, different zones have been set up, with India being given charge of Bhaktapur, which has the city’s oldest structures and narrowest lanes. One team is also working at Barpak — the epicentre of the first earthquake,” a senior officer said.

Colonel A K Sharma of the engineering division said when the team first arrived in Bhaktapur, roads were buried in rubble while buildings were on the verge of collapse. “We first carried out reconnaissance, then cleared the roads so relief material could be distributed and people could move around. If the road was wide enough, we would use the JCB, while mini excavators would be used if it was narrow. Some lanes were so tiny that we had to clear them manually. Once a road was cleared, we would put relief material into tipper trucks. Often, we were stopped by locals who tried to pull out stuff from inside the trucks,” he said.

With the roads cleared, attention has now turned to affected homes. “The Armies of Nepal and India are working together. We provide the large equipment, while they have the manpower,” a senior officer said.

For the Indian Air Force, the operations have largely remained the same. “Aircraft arrive at our two bases in Pokhra and Kathmandu with relief material from India. We head out with supplies and return with injured people,” a senior officer said.

A V M Upkarjit Singh, in-charge of the Air Force operation in Kathmandu, said, “In the first days, our aircraft were carrying essential supplies such as food, water and medicines. Now, with the emphasis on rebuilding, that has changed to tents, bamboo, tarpaulin and blankets.”

Just like the Indian Army, the Indian Air Force is also working under the aegis of Nepal’s Department of Aviation. “Every day there is a morning briefing with Nepal to coordinate relief activities. With every aircraft, there is a liaison officer,” a senior officer said.

Over the last three weeks, the Indian Air Force has deployed 40 aircraft at different times. Officers said the challenge now is to “manage fatigue” of both men and machines, with emergency landings impossible in several parts of the mountainous country.

Source : The Indian Express, 20 May 2015. 

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