Huge “tent cities” have sprung up in Kathmandu to shelter those whose homes have collapsed or been damaged and those who dare not return as strong aftershocks continue after Saturday’s massive earthquake in Nepal, Caritas Internationalis has said.
Jesuit Father Pius Perumana, head of Caritas Nepal, said the Catholic charity has been supplying tarpaulins, tents and food, and was trying to help protect people from the rain and cold.
“People are still trapped in buildings and we don’t know whether they are dead or alive,” Fr Perumana told Caritas Internationalis, the Vatican-based umbrella organisation for more than 150 Catholic relief and development organisations around the world.
It said Catholic Relief Services, the US Caritas partner, was sending relief materials from north India and working with Caritas Nepal to procure additional relief materials locally and in India.
“What the people need immediately is shelter. Temperatures are dropping at night and there is also rain. Children are sleeping outside at night. It is really traumatic for them,” Fr Perumana said.
Immediate shelter as well as water and sanitation were among the top priorities, Caritas Internationalis added.
According to the United Nations, eight million people have been affected by the earthquake, which is more than a quarter of the country’s population.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake has reportedly left at least 5,000 people dead, with a further 8,000 injured. The death toll could rise to as much as 10,000.
Santosh Kumar Magar, 29, said he was attending the ordination of a new priest in Okhaldhunga, a remote part of eastern Nepal, when the earthquake hit.
“I came out of the room, and saw two, three houses falling down around me. Some of the animals died around the same time. The people were saved because all the villagers were gathered for the ordination,” he told Caritas.
A boy, identified as Ahmed, who was staying at the Assumption Church in Kathmandu with his family, said he “felt as if I was flying because my elder brother dragged (me) from the house to the street.”
“We came to the church because we know a lot of people here so we can be together and co-ordinate and help each other out. Now later I feel everything is going to be all right,” he told Caritas.
On Sunday, Pope Francis led thousands of people in prayer for the victims of the earthquake during his Regina Caeli address at the Vatican. A telegram sent by Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, to Bishop Paul Simick, apostolic vicar of Nepal, expressed the Holy Father’s “deep sadness” following the disaster.
“His Holiness commends the souls of the victims to the loving mercy of the Almighty and he offers encouragement to the civil authorities and emergency personnel as they continue their rescue efforts and assistance to those touched by this tragedy. Upon them all he invokes the blessings of the Almighty as a pledge of healing and consolation, ” the telegram said.
The Pontifical Council Cor Unum, which promotes and coordinates charitable giving, announced on Tuesday that Pope Francis had sent “a first contribution of $100,000” to assist the victims.
The money, it said, “which will be sent to the local church, will be used to support the assistance efforts underway on behalf of the displaced” and others impacted by the earthquake.
The papal donation is meant to be “a first and immediate concrete expression” of the Pope’s personal concern for all the earthquake’s victims, Cor Unum said, adding that bishops’ conference and Catholic charities from around the world already have taken an active role in helping survivors.
Meanwhile, Cafod, the official Catholic aid agency for England and Wales, has pledged £50,000 to help with the relief efforts and have launched an emergency appeal to raise funds to help those affected by the earthquake.
Matthew Carter, head of Cafod’s humanitarian department, said: “This is the worst earthquake to hit Nepal for 80 years, and it will take some time before the full extent of the destruction is known. With power supplies down, there’s still virtually no news from remote villages near the epicentre, but the damage is likely to be extreme.
“CAFOD’s local partners have been working through the night to deliver aid to people who have fled their homes, but the situation on the ground remains extremely challenging, with aftershocks continuing. After a disaster on this scale, the immediate needs will include food, shelter, emergency supplies and – crucially – clean water and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease. We are doing everything we can to support our local partners, and are deploying a specialist from our Emergency Response team from here in the UK.”
To contribute to the Cafod appeal, visit the organisation’s website.