Nepal: 'The Earth Moves Everyday - Aftershocks are Quite Big'

 Brian Sokol/MSF

The rain has started to fall in Nepal: monsoon season has begun. Within two weeks it will pour heavily for two full months. All the cracks in the slopes of the mountains will be filled with water and will create more landslides and mudslides to deal with.

Soon all the villagers we have been trying to rescue for the past two weeks will be faced with yet another nightmare. This terrain is surely the most complicated and violent I have worked with.

The earth moves every day – the aftershocks are quite large. On the ground floor of a hotel in Kathmandu, we are sleeping with headlamps, whistles around our necks ready to rush out every time we feel an aftershock.

My entire field experience is put to the test in this environment, on a daily basis.  We need to be creative, fast and extremely prudent and cautious with what we do and the way we do it.

The earth moves everyday – aftershocks are quite big. Located on the ground floor of a hotel in Kathmandu we are sleeping with headlamp, whistles around our neck ready to rush out each every time it is happening.

Helicopters have replaced cars in this mission and we are flying with two or three helicopters every day. But this multiplies the risks daily - especially in the Himalayas when the weather is unpredictable and volatile from one hour to the next.

The wind in the valley is our worst enemy. Even though Nepali pilots are reputed to be the best in the world, this country has the world record of flight accidents. The Himalayas are feature a paradox: its beauty to me is one of our world’s wonders, but the Himalayas are also a dangerous mistress – unpredictable and violent.

 Brian Sokol/MSF

Yesterday, we landed on a slope of a mountain with no more than just enough space to land the helicopter. After offloading the mobile team and cargo, a sudden loud noise occurred above our heads: a landslide. A rock the size of a car stopped 50 metres from myself, the pilot and the helicopter. We were lucky. It is not an easy terrain to navigate and we are learning everyday.

The large MSF response involves 120 international staff on the ground, working in four districts heavily affected close to the epicenter by the quake. Most of the members of our teams are from Latin America, and they are all used to working at high altitudes.

Based at 3 500 metres high we are surrounded by amazing landscapes and some of the highest peaks in the world – all above 8 000 metres. Of the 10 highest peaks in the world, 8 of them are in Nepal – as relayed by the guides who accompany us.

Working at the Tibetan border in the Manaslu Conservation Area offers striking surroundings. There is water everywhere: torrents, streams, cascades and water falls. Monasteries are everywhere at the outskirts of the villages. They dot the foot paths, lining the trails to the top of every peak.

The Nepalese have now gone from being an already remote and isolated population, to an almost completely abandoned one. Very few people - almost none – have arrived in the area to come to the aid of the people of Nepal.

It is devastating to land and see the scale of the disaster, but we are almost considered as heroes. We have been blessed so many times by the people living here.

I have even collected an assortment of sacred scarves: every time I head to the helicopter to descend to base camp 1000 metres below, I am adorned with the scarves placed around my neck by those peopled wishing us well.

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