Doctors Without Borders struggle to reach quake victims in remote areas of Nepal

Bhaktapur, Nepal, May 14, 2015, photo: CTK

International aid continues to pour into Nepal where aid workers are struggling to deal with the aftermath of a series of devastating earthquakes. Among the international organizations providing aid in the field are Doctors Without Borders (MSF) who were among the first to respond to the natural disaster. I spoke to the head of the Czech branch of Doctors Without Borders Pavel Gruber about the extent of aid being provided and the country’s most pressing needs.

Bhaktapur,  Nepal,  May 14,  2015,  photo: CTK
“At the present time Doctors Without Borders has about 120 volunteers (of all nationalities) and corporations working in Nepal. We are trying to focus all our operation activities out of Kathmandu. Our inflatable hospital is built in Arughat and from there we try to access the remote parts of the country where the damage is really the worst.”

So what kind of aid are you providing primarily at this point?

“Well, the key is our big inflatable hospital where we treat about 100 patients a day - there is a surgical unit, trauma unit, deliveries are possible – so that is one big part of the operation, the second is our mobile clinics. As I said we try to access the remote areas and in this case mobile clinics mostly mean helicopters, because accessing the remote areas is a huge struggle.”

What presents the biggest problem at present –is it a lack of medical facilities, lack of shelter, clean water?

Pavel Gruber,  photo: Czech Television
“Basically, everything that you mentioned is a problem. A lot of the country’s medical facilities are damaged and those that are not damaged are overloaded. The logistical situation is very bad and presents numerous difficulties – both in terms of getting aid to Nepal and distributing it where it is needed. Water and sanitation also present a problem. We built WATSAN systems in refugee camps close to Kathmandu. So that’s also an issue. And the monsoon season which has just started also presents a big problem. So our window to act and really support the people is shrinking.”

What are your long-term plans in the country? How do you foresee the coming weeks and months?

“From our perspective as an emergency organization we foresee our presence here in terms of months. We address the biggest needs in the wake of a disaster, reconstruction is not our mission, however what may change our plans is that the second earthquake worsened the damage of the Nepalese health sector. If we see that the situation is worsening and the Nepalese health system is not able to cope with the country’s needs then we will be ready to stay and support it.”

What is the mood of the people now?

“The Nepalese people are used to coping with natural disasters, this is nothing new for them, but of course it is difficult…it is difficult every day that you are without shelter, every time an after quake hits. So the situation is not easy, but the people are quite brave. ”

Do you feel that there is enough international aid pouring into the country or do you think more is needed?

Bir hospital in Kathmandu,  Nepal,  May 13,  2015,  photo: CTK
“It is always difficult to answer this question, however at the moment it seems there is quite enough aid getting into the country. It is even creating the problem that I mentioned –the infrastructure is overburdened –getting a slot at Kathmandu airport is quite difficult because of the mass influx of international aid pouring into the country and the same goes for the badly damaged roads between India and Nepal. Now we just need to make sure that the aid is well focussed, well distributed and is not overlapping. ”