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India First Among Nations in Post-Quake Outreach to Nepal

By Imran Vittachi
2015-04-30
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Indian National Disaster Response Force personnel in Kolkata get ready to travel to Nepal, April 27, 2015.
Indian National Disaster Response Force personnel in Kolkata get ready to travel to Nepal, April 27, 2015.
AFP

In the five days since a massive earthquake shook Nepal, killing around 5,500 people, India has spearheaded an international response by rushing humanitarian aid to the impoverished Himalayan nation.

Nepal’s giant neighbor to the south, which was also affected by the quake, was the first to fly relief supplies and rescue teams to Kathmandu in the disaster’s aftermath.

On Saturday, the very day that the 7.8-magnitude temblor struck – with the epicenter situated about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of the Nepalese capital – the Indian government launched Operation Maitri (Friendship).

And just four hours after the quake hit, New Delhi dispatched its first team of search and rescue personnel to Nepal.

Although the value of Indian aid has not been quantified, one report said that India’s effort to reach out to Nepal – a predominantly Hindu nation with a population of 30.9 million – may be its most expensive response to any natural disaster in a neighboring country.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi authorized the mobilization of search and rescue teams, and the first Indian military transport planes touched down in Kathmandu later on Saturday. The U.S.-made C-17s ferried in relief supplies and evacuated stranded Indian citizens.

“The Prime Minister directed immediate dispatch of relief and rescue teams, including medical teams to Nepal, as well as to affected areas in India. He also directed that proper arrangements be made for rendering assistance in evacuation of stranded tourists,” the Prime Minister’s Office said Saturday following an emergency meeting on the quake called by Modi.

Since then, dozens of Indian air force helicopters carrying aid have flown to the disaster areas, according to reports.

Indians, too, have been contributing generously to the post-quake relief effort, with Indian companies reportedly reaching out to Nepal in a big way.

“From large conglomerates to tiny startups, corporate India is pulling out all the stops to aid the rescue mission in Nepal, offering men, money and materials on a scale never done in the past,” according to The Economic Times.

8 million displaced

As of 2 p.m. GMT on Thursday, the death toll from the earthquake had topped 5,500 people, according to the Associated Press.

The quake left another 11,440 people injured in Nepal, and it also killed 61 people in India and Bangladesh, AP reported.

As many as 8 million people in 39 Nepalese districts were affected, according to the Office of the U.N. Resident Coordinator (ORC).

As a result, the United Nations has launched an appeal for U.S. $415 million in emergency aid for Nepal. The U.N. also released U.S. $15 million from its emergency fund in immediate aid to Nepal, according to news reports.

“This will be a long drawn-out affair. It will be a three-month exercise to address the relief needs, then it will turn into a recovery process and a reconstruction process,” Agence France-Presse quoted Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N.’s resident coordinator for Nepal, as saying.

Other countries, blocs chip in

China, the United States and European Union are among other countries and regional blocs that are sending aid or pledging to help Nepal.

In South Asia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan have sent medical teams and relief supplies.

And in Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) pledged its readiness to help Nepal; Indonesia announced that it would donate U.S. $1 million to the humanitarian effort.

China, another regional power that shares a border with Nepal, was right behind India in being among the first countries to respond to the disaster.

According to the state-run Xinhua news service, the Nepalese temblor killed 25 people and injured 383 in the neighboring Tibet Autonomous Region. Hundreds of thousands of Tibetan refugees live in Nepal.

On Sunday, Beijing dispatched a 62-person rescue team to Nepal, TIME magazine reported.

China’s Ministry of Commerce has pledged U.S. $3.2 million in humanitarian aid, the China Daily newspaper reported.

There appeared to be an element of competition between China and India in rushing aid to Nepal, which is sandwiched between the two giants.

AP reported that Beijing was “eager to court the Nepalese government as it opens trade routes south and westward and seeks to keep the neighboring country's exiled Tibetan community from fomenting unrest across the border in China-controlled Tibet.”

Elsewhere, the European Commission announced that it was sending Nepal U.S. $3.35 million in aid as an immediate response to the disaster.

On Thursday, European aircraft manufacturer Airbus said it would provide Nepal with planes, helicopters and satellite imagery for its post-quake relief efforts, according to AP.

American help

The United States has also mobilized a relief mission for Nepal.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama telephoned Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to offer his condolences and promise that the U.S. would do “all it can” in aiding relief efforts, AFP reported.

The American government initially announced that it would provide $1 million in humanitarian assistance to Nepal. But the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) later changed that figure to $10 million.

The agency dispatched a 130-member Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART), which arrived in Nepal on Tuesday.

On Thursday, first responders with the team helped a Nepalese team rescue a teenaged boy, who, five days after the earthquake, was pulled alive from beneath the rubble of a collapsed building in Kathmandu, AP reported.

“He thanked me when I first approached him. … He was really responsive. He told me his name, his address, and I gave him some water. I assured him we were near to him,” Nepalese police officer L.B. Basnet told AP.

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