Nine days after a powerful earthquake devastated Nepal, the government officially announced that the search-and-rescue phase was over and the focus now was on retrieving the dead and providing relief to the affected.
India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), which had the largest presence on the ground with 16 teams engaged in search-and-rescue operations, said it was pulling out.
NDRF Director General O P Singh said: “We are now withdrawing ourselves in a phased manner. About 250 NDRF personnel are leaving Monday night by an Indian Air Force aircraft and another 150 personnel will leave by road Tuesday morning. The rest will be going back in a day or two.”
Earlier, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, Joint Secretary and spokesperson for the Nepal Home Ministry, told The Indian Express: “As per guidelines of the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG), the duration of search-and-rescue is for only seven days. So our Central Natural Disaster Relief Committee decided Sunday that those who helped Nepal, we would like to thank them, and now that their job is almost complete, we would like to request them to make exit plans.”
“Our friends who came here from 34 countries have done a very wonderful job and they have been with us at a very difficult time. We are very thankful to them,” Dhakal said.
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As many as 76 rescue teams and 70 medical teams with a total strength of 4,050 personnel and 129 canines were involved in search-and-rescue operations across Nepal, including 962 from India, 370 from China, 286 from Israel, 140 from Sri Lanka and 106 from Singapore.
“The teams saved 16 lives together with the Nepal Police and Nepalese Armed Forces,” Dhakal said. “Their main task was in the Kathmandu Valley and the urban areas since large structures require certain specialization. We are capable of retrieving the bodies from beneath smaller structures such as huts,” he said.
Almost 50 per cent of the foreign personnel, he said, were expected to leave by Tuesday and the operations would be wrapped up Friday.
A preliminary report said 200,552 houses were completely destroyed while 186,285 houses were partially damaged across Nepal.
According to the Home Ministry, the count of the dead until Monday stood at 7,365 people while 14,366 people were injured, and 6,085 under treatment. “It was predicted that the death toll could reach 10,000. We have information about bodies buried in remote areas, so we might reach that figure,” Dhakal said. As many as 54 foreigners died in the earthquake, while 52 were injured and 109 missing.
The Nepal government has decided to set up a Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Fund, hoping to collect $2 billion. It has transferred $2 million as seed money.
The government estimates that reconstruction could cost around NPR 200 billion. Foreign Affairs Minister Mahendra Bahadur Pandey discussed the issue with heads of diplomatic missions based in Nepal but gave no date on when it would start.
Pandey said utilization of funds would be transparent and open to audit. “The international community will have no reason to worry about it not reaching the targeted people.”
He asked diplomats to make specific commitments on how best they could contribute to the reconstruction effort. “We know you have all the right gestures for us. But a specific commitment will help us draw a plan for time-bound execution,” he said.
By Yubraj Ghimire & Hamza Khan