MAJUWA, Nepal (AP) — With help still not reaching some isolated villages a week after Nepal’s devastating earthquake, a top international aid official said Saturday that more helicopters were needed to get assistance to the farthest reaches of this Himalayan nation.
Many mountain roads, often treacherous at the best of times, remain blocked by landslides, making it extremely difficult for supply trucks to get to the higher Himalayan foothills.
“We definitely need more helicopters,” Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the U.N.’s World Food Program, told The Associated Press in the village of Majuwa, in the quake-devastated Gorkha district. Aid agencies have been using Majuwa as a staging area to get supplies deeper into mountainous areas. “Even seven days in this is still very much considered the early days, because there are people we still haven’t reached. So we need helicopters to reach them.”
“This is one of the poorest places on Earth. If the global community walks away, the people of this country will not receive the assistance that is required for them to rebuild their lives,” she said.
Cousin said shelter was a more urgent priority at this point than food.
More than 130,000 houses were destroyed in the quake, according to the U.N. humanitarian office. Near the epicenter, north of Kathmandu, whole villages were in ruins, and residents were in desperate need of temporary shelters against the rain and cold.
The magnitude-7.8 earthquake killed more than 6,840 people, with the death toll continuing to rise as reports filter in from isolated areas. The U.N. has estimated the quake affected 8.1 million people — more than a fourth of Nepal’s population of 27.8 million.
Other teams conducting search and rescue operations also said their work was hampered by a lack of helicopters.
David O’Neill of the U.K. International Search and Rescue said a team from his group drove and then walked for several hours to reach remote villages that had reported 80 percent fatalities.
Most of the residents of Golche and Pangtang villages died in a major aftershock a day after the quake, O’Neill said in Chautara, a village in Sindhupalchok district.
He said the team had hoped to reach the areas by helicopter from Chautara, but none were available to charter and they could not get on choppers flown by Nepal’s army, so they were returning to Kathmandu.
Nepal’s government renewed its appeal to international donors to send tents, tarpaulins and basic food supplies, saying some of the items being sent are of little use. It also asked donors to send money if they cannot send things that are immediately necessary.
“We have received things like tuna fish and mayonnaise. What good are those things for us? We need grains, salt and sugar,” Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat told reporters Friday.
Three senior officials were sent to remote villages after criticism that authorities had not reached some of the areas a full week since the earthquake.
“Our target now is for our officers to reach each of the villages that have been affected by the earthquake,” Chief Secretary Lilamani Poudyal said.
There was enough food and grain, but the immediate need for tents and shelter remained, he said.
Information Minister Minendra Rijal said Nepal would need 400,000 tents and so far has been able to provide only 29,000 to those in need.
Life has been slowly returning to normal in Kathmandu, but to the east, angry villagers in parts of the Sindhupalchok district said Saturday they were still waiting for aid to reach them.
In the village of Pauwathok, three trucks apparently carrying aid supplies roared by without stopping.
“What about us?” screamed villagers, as the trucks sped on. Of the 85 homes in Pauwathok, all but a handful were destroyed.
“Nobody has come here to help us. No government, no police, no aid,” Badri Giri, 71.
Anger and frustration at the slow pace of aid delivery have been growing among residents of remote Himalayan villages.
In the nearby village of Jalkeni, mounds of broken wood and stone line the road, the remains of homes flattened by the quake.
On top of one mound, surrounded by a pile of dusty rocks, a broken TV, shredded clothes and bags of whatever she had managed to save from the debris, Sunita Shrestha sat cradling a young girl. The mound used to be her two-story home.
“No one has come to help us yet,” said Shrestha, as the sun beat down. “I don’t know if they ever will.”
Associated Press writer Binaj Gurubacharya in Kathmandu, Nepal, contributed to this report.