UN issues flash appeal for $547m to aid Nepal

Thousands in desperate need of food and water, say aid agencies

The United Nations has issued a "flash appeal" to the international community seeking US$415 million (S$547 million) to help Nepal deal with the aftermath of last Saturday's devastating quake.

Only 13 people had been pulled out alive from the rubble by yesterday as the death toll rose above 5,000.

Tempers are beginning to fray and hygiene is becoming a problem, with some makeshift camps for the displaced reported to be dangerously unsanitary.

At the cremation grounds of the Pashupatinath Temple on the Bagmati River that snakes through Kathmandu, funeral pyres burned all day and crowds thronged the riverbank, silently contemplating the ritual burnings.

At Kathmandu's main bus station, where thousands of Nepalese were trying to get on too few buses to return to their home villages, scuffles broke out yesterday morning and riot police had to be called to restore order.

The airport remained congested with planes and people trying to leave Nepal, and logistics was still a huge problem.

Aid agencies reported that thousands remained in desperate need of food and water. Electricity has been restored in only some areas.

Four days after the earthquake that flattened many parts of the city, Kathmandu is slowly returning to a semblance of normalcy, with about 30 to 40 per cent of shops reopening. Banks remained closed.

Help is also finally reaching remote regions. Aid agencies and Nepali army rescuers helped by foreign teams have arrived at areas like Dhading and Gorkha, which were badly hit.

Yet experts warn that there is much ground to cover in the remote and rugged terrain where roads are bad and some places are accessible only on foot.

"Kathmandu is in the news all the time but three-quarters of the people affected are in districts to the north-west and north-east of the city," UN Development Programme (UNDP) country director Renaud Meyer told The Straits Times. "The main roads are okay but the secondary and tertiary roads are very difficult. The availability of helicopters is an issue and we are trying to get additional air assistance.

"There is progress, but there is also huge frustration at the level of communities at the apparent slowness of the aid."

But he added: "We are turning a bit of a corner, in that search and rescue is slowly coming to an end and there is more attention paid to relief for survivors. Up to 90 per cent of some villages have collapsed or are unsuitable, and it rains every day. This has repercussions on health."

The flash appeal is to tide Nepal over till the end of July. It includes US$128 million for food, US$75 million for healthcare and US$50 million for shelter, he said.

In the village of Gokarna Nayapatti just a few kilometres outside Kathmandu, The Straits Times saw locals repairing shattered houses themselves.

Mr Rajeev Pandit, clearing the rubble with his bare hands, said two men had been pulled out alive from the ruins of his house.

The Nepal government, however, with its logistics capacity overwhelmed, is turning back foreign rescue and relief teams. A New Zealand team was asked to hold back.

Medecins Sans Frontieres, in a statement, warned of concern at the water and sanitation situation at the biggest camp at Tundikhel, a sprawling old parade ground in the heart of the city. People had limited access to clean drinking water and the public toilets were overflowing, it said.


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