Relief efforts after Nepal quake must be scaled up; $415 million needed: U.N.

By Nita Bhalla NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Relief efforts to help millions of Nepalis reeling from the aftermath of a massive earthquake must be scaled up, the United Nations said, launching a $415 million appeal on Wednesday as survivors grew frustrated at the slow delivery of aid. The 7.8 magnitude quake rocked the impoverished nation on Saturday, toppling thousands of buildings in the densely-populated Kathmandu Valley, where the capital is located. More than 5,000 people were killed and at least 10,194 people injured in the Himalayan country's worst earthquake in more than 80 years, and the many aftershocks that followed. The United Nations estimates that eight million people have been affected, with at least two million in need of tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months. "The timing of the intervention remains of the essence," said U.N. Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, in a statement. "Although I am heartened and encouraged by the progress of the response to date, efforts need to be maintained and stepped up to ensure vital assistance reaches all the affected, especially those in the remote areas." The appeal came as anger mounted over delays in delivering aid to those in need four days after disaster. In the capital Kathmandu, about 200 people protested outside parliament, asking for more buses to go to their villages and to hasten the distribution of aid. In Sangachowk village, about three hours by road from the capital, scores of angry villagers blocked the road with tires to stop aid trucks. Government officials admit aid has been slow. Broken bridges and roads blocked by landslides have made it difficult to reach rural areas closer to the epicenter of the earthquake. Rescue helicopters have been unable to land in some remote mountainous areas such as the worst-hit district of Gorkha as entire hillsides have collapsed, burying settlements, and making access almost impossible. PLEDGES NOT YET DELIVERED The United Nations estimates that 70,000 houses were destroyed and another 530,000 homes damaged across 39 of Nepal's 75 districts forcing many to sleep out in the open under makeshift tents in cold and damp conditions. "We're talking about families who now don't have so much as a tarpaulin to sleep beneath," said Mattias Bryneson, Plan International's Nepal country director, in a statement. "Tarpaulins and temporary shelters can save lives. If people, especially children, are exposed to bad weather all day and night, you'll be damp, wet, dirty and freezing cold – and the spread of illness will exacerbate this humanitarian crisis." The United Nations said the $415 million needed would be used to provide 500,000 people with shelter such as a tent or tarpaulin sheets, 1.4 million people with food, and 4.2 million with safe drinking water and toilets. Even before the appeal was launched, foreign countries and aid agencies have offered assistance - from search and rescue teams, sniffer dogs and equipment for heavy lifting to blankets, dry food rations, mobile hospitals and financial aid. As of Wednesday, the U.N. Financial Tracking System shows that $48.25 million has been pledged by foreign governments and international aid agencies since the quake struck. Yet only $22.2 million has actually been delivered. "As the monsoon season approaches, this is likely to become an added logistical challenge in providing humanitarian assistance," said the U.N.'s McGoldrick. "Funding is needed immediately to continue the relief operations." (Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Katie Nguyen)