Nepal needs aid desperately as death toll exceeds 4,000

AS THOUSANDS of Nepalese prepared to spend a third night outdoors huddled in makeshift tents after Saturday's earthquake, it became clear that there is a narrowing window for the government and international community to get a firm grip on the disaster.

Most of the power lines remained down in this city of one million people, where many places lie in ruins. Fuel supplies were also running low. Most shops and businesses were shuttered and the roads were almost deserted, unusual for a normally busy Monday.

The only figure going up is the death toll in the Kathmandu valley, which surpassed 4,000, according to the latest official figures. And the toll is certain to rise further.

The few long-distance buses still operating were crammed with people, many of them perched precariously on the roof, all desperate to go back to their villages to check on their loved ones.

The government's Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudel told reporters: "We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to pull through this crisis."

While many governments, including Singapore, have deployed rescue teams and supplies to Nepal, access remains a problem.

Kathmandu's main airport is overwhelmed with planes and people, which prevented some international rescue teams from landing.

Two Republic of Singapore Air Force planes deployed for aid efforts were diverted to Kolkata while a third had to fly to Patna.

The authorities were looking into the possibility of using the only other sizeable airport in Pokhara.

The country director of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr Renaud Meyer, told The Straits Times in a phone interview: "The good news is that the telecoms system is functioning, even if it is on and off. Availability of helicopters is an issue, but India has offered 14 helicopters."

The roads from India - from where landlocked Nepal gets the bulk of its supplies - remained intact as well, he said.

Mr Meyer also said the UN was preparing to launch a flash appeal for funding from the international community tomorrow.

Unicef said at least 940,000 children were in "urgent need of humanitarian assistance".

Conditions in some areas where people are camping out are dismal and unhygienic.

In a sign of potential chaos unless more assistance and supplies arrive, there were some reports of looting.

In one incident, people fought over plastic sheets, and a fruit vendor who raised prices had to face the wrath of angry locals.

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