Nepal earthquake: Harrogate man volunteers in disaster zone

Destruction following the earthquake in Nepal. (S)
Destruction following the earthquake in Nepal. (S)

The Nepal earthquake is now known to have killed more than 7,500 and directly affected more than 1m children, and a Harrogate man has gone to the small South Asian country to help as much as he can.

Travelling as part of a team of four volunteers with Christian organisation Reach Beyond, water engineer Martin Harrison, 43, arrived in Nepal on April 28 and will stay until this Sunday (May 10).

Water engineer Martin Harrison at work in Haiti. (S)

Water engineer Martin Harrison at work in Haiti. (S)

Delivering blankets and tarpaulins and restocking medical clinics, Mr Harrison has seen first hand the devastation wreaked by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck on April 25.

He will continue delivering supplies and may begin working on the water supply in the coming days as he heads around the remote areas of Nepal, including the Ghorka Province, with a team, now of six volunteers - two of them nurses and one a surgeon.

His wife Ruth told the Harrogate Advertiser that she is worried but aware of the importance of the work volunteers are doing.

She said: “They have already restocked a medical clinic with supplies that went out from Harrogate and Skipton. People came to our house with supplies and by Saturday that was in a clinic in Nepal, and I think that is incredible.

Building a shelter from bamboo and tarpaulin in Nepal. (S)

Building a shelter from bamboo and tarpaulin in Nepal. (S)

“Sometimes people can feel very helpless but that stuff is there and is being used.

“The charity there has been allocated communities to help, so there is quite a lot of organisation out there but it is changing day by day.”

According to UN figures from April 30, $415m is needed for humanitarian relief and 3m people are in need of food aid.

130,000 houses have been destroyed, 24,000 people are living in makeshift camps, and there are 20 teams working to reunite lost children with their families.

Tarpaulins and blankets are handed out in Nepal. (S)

Tarpaulins and blankets are handed out in Nepal. (S)

Added to this is the concern that diseases will begin to proliferate in Nepal, where more than 14,500 people have been injured.

Working with a local partner, Mr Harrison, who has previously worked in Haiti with Reach beyond after the earthquake in 2010, told his wife that people are cutting down bamboo and building shelters.

Ruth said: “In some places there is total devastation and that is affecting him but I think because he went to Haiti he was ready as much as you ever are for that and he just went with that sense of purpose, of having a job to do.

“We have been part of this charity for 12 years now - we left normal jobs so I guess we were ready for something like this and I have had a lot of support from friends in Harrogate and Mowbray Community Church, and St Aidan’s did a big fundraiser.

“Things like that have really helped. Yes you worry, all sorts of things go through your mind, but you focus on the charity and the work it is done.

“There is a sense that the world is getting smaller, we link up so much now, so the important thing is to show we are one, we don’t see divisions.

“There are people who are suffering and we have resources we can share. That is what is important.”

It has been estimated, by Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepalese finance minister, that it will take at least $2bn to rebuild all of the destroyed homes, hospitals, government offices, and historic buildings right across the country.

About 90 per cent of clinics and schools in some districts are believed to be unusable, and the UN has launched an appeal for money while Nepal calls for more helicopters.

In addition to the official death toll, 19 people have died as a result of the avalanche at Mount Everest base camp, caused by the earthquake.

Writing on Facebook after a week in Nepal, Mr Harrison said: “I have nothing but admiration for how the Nepali people have picked one another up from the ground that continues to shake periodically, have dusted themselves down and set about moving forwards into a future that is still very much uncertain.

“Almost as soon as they received their tarps and blankets they set about building more permanent structures for their families to replace the tiny shelters they had made in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake.

“People were already out in their fields (by necessity) planting rice before the monsoon arrives and helping one another build better shelters and temporary homes.

“Even the children were determined to play football and not let this disaster get the better of them.

“Seeing a community respond like this to adversity gives me new reserves of energy and motivation to keep going.”

The UK’s Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) appeal has raised £33m from public donations and the government matched the first £5m of donations, bringing the total to £38m.

It also committed a further £17.8m in humanitarian aid, making it the largest international donor with a total contribution of £22.8m.

Aid will include a medical team with equipment, airfield handling equipment, and water, health, and sanitation experts, but bad weather is inhibiting some efforts, with helicopters, including three British chinooks, sent to help.

Reach Beyond chief executive Colin Lowther said: “Martin and the team arrived in Kathmandu last week and made their way towards Ghorka Province where most of our partners are situated.

“Fortunately, the clinic and birthing centre we helped to build were intact and functioning and the team were able to re-stock their supplies, but some people had been killed and many of the buildings there were destroyed.

“The old men in the community greeted them with tears in their eyes and a look of disbelief on their faces.

“Hundreds of blankets, tents and tarpaulins have been distributed by our partner and a Reach Beyond surgeon and nurse have now arrived to help where the need is greatest.

“There is also demand for water, sanitation and hygiene workers, so the team are exploring how we can help.

“The people there are very resilient. We are passionate to pray for these people and help them however we can in the name of Jesus.”

Schools have been fundraising for Reach Beyond and St Aidan’s has raised £3,730. Killinghall School has raised £180, and New Park School is in the process of collecting funds.

People can give to help the Reach Beyond emergency appeal here: http://campaign.justgiving.com/charity/reachbeyond/nepal