By Gagan Singh Thagunna:
Never before have I witnessed a disaster situation and I was there in the midst of the floods where houses were being swept away by the fury of the Mahakali River. With no signs of the rain stopping, it was hard to stay calm.
Darchula District was hit hard by four days of incessant rain from 15 to 18 June. My colleagues and I travelled to Darchula District in far west Nepal by road a day before the downpour to conduct a media advocacy training workshop for some of our project staff.
I was staying in a hotel with 22 other NGO colleagues. On the second day of the downpour, the police came and told us to evacuate to higher grounds as the Mahakali River was rising. Looking over the river, I was shocked to find that all the houses along the river banks had disappeared and all I could see was water slamming hard on the banks.
We weren’t the only ones packing. Patients in the health post were being moved to higher grounds. Medical staff was busy moving life-saving equipment and patients. Homes, grocery stores and hotels were being swept away. It was a scene I had never seen before and it was hard not to panic. With rain pouring down continuously, the situation was evolving by the minute; people moving to higher and higher grounds, as it was unclear how much further the flood waters would rise.
It was only a matter of time before a decision was made to evacuate us from Darchula. The challenge, however, was the route out as all roads were blocked by landslides.
The police and army were the first to reach out to the people. They were deployed immediately to rescue people from being trapped and swept away – the key reason for just one death in this disaster. Still, more than 350 families have been affected with more than 100 houses completely destroyed.
My colleagues and I were finally air lifted out of Darchula on 19th June. Save the Children sent 300 kg of rice and 50 kg of lentils on the helicopter sent to rescue us.
Although the rain has stopped for now, the damage is irreparable and there is a sense of shock and disbelief amongst the people, which will stay with them for years to come. They are already standing up to help each other to bring normalcy to their lives. The people in Darchula have never witnessed such an overwhelming scale of destruction. It could take anywhere from 4-6 months to clear the road blockage which means the supply of basic necessities could be a daunting task for the responding agencies.
Save the Children now plans to send shelter materials and cooking utensils for the worst-affected families. In the coming months, the children’s aid agency also plans to set up temporary learning centres for children whose schools were destroyed.
(Gagan Singh Thagunna is Save the Children’s Social Mobilization & Communication Officer based in Nepal)
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