LAST Saturday morning, with my wife and children, I drove out of Kathmandu for a walk in the hills. We first headed with a guide for a walk through a narrow path at the side of one of Nepal’s many grand and high hillsides. My one-year-old son was on my wife’s back and I was looking after our four-year-old daughter.

Then the enormous bang of the earthquake hit. We crouched to the ground huddled tightly and my wife prayed fervently as my daughter cried. A house nearby swayed back and forth, and villagers ran for cover. After a few minutes the shaking stopped and we headed to the middle of a muddy field and sat on our waterproofs. I received an SMS: “Section heads please account for staff and family members”. The Unicef machine kicked into gear almost immediately.

I had my satellite phone and mobile and although reception was intermittent I was able to account for Unicef Regional Office for South Asia’s health team. Thank God they were all safe.

After an hour we started to walk slowly, crouching for aftershocks, to the Namobuddha resort where we had left our vehicle. This small collection of cottages had sustained some bad damage, but they were standing. It was now about 3pm and rather than attempt to drive two hours back to Kathmandu not knowing whether the city had survived, we decided to stay the night. Pulling two single mattresses into the open, the four of us lay covered in duvets, experiencing aftershocks every few hours throughout the night.

Seconds before every aftershock during the night the hills felt like they were crying out in agony, as throughout the surrounding terrain thousands of Nepalis stranded outside shouted at the top of their voices as soon as a shock occurred. The ripple of sound across the foothills was like a kind of early warning system.

In the morning we teamed up with USAID people we had met and travelled slowly in convoy back to Kathmandu. The journey was littered with destroyed buildings and some cracks in major roads.

We decided to go to our apartment first and sadly the damage was very extensive – we’ll never live there again and it will likely be demolished in the coming weeks.

My wife and I left the children in the car and made the decision to run in and get critical documents and items. Inside was harrowing. In the foyer of the building was a large goldfish tank which had smashed. We waded through plaster, glass and dead fish to get to the stairs and go up to the first floor. Inside enormous cracks, with brick that looked like it was about to fall out, was everywhere. We left quickly and headed to my boss’s house to stay. More aftershocks followed, one very severe on Sunday lunchtime.

THE next day I evacuated my family to London and headed to work, where many staff members and families were camped on the lawn. The challenges ahead for Nepal are enormous. With thousands dead and injured (and the number expected to rise) the initial response is critical to save lives. But many, many more people are in trouble. Millions of people are affected by the crisis and two out of five of them are children.

Unicef started responding immediately using our pre-positioned supplies – tents for hospitals, hygiene kits and water delivery to informal camps in the Kathmandu Valley. There is an urgent need for temporary toilets, water purification tablets, food and nutrition, and many other essential items. Diarrhoeal diseases are a big risk, and we need to prevent them promptly. But, there are other challenges ahead. For example, about 80 per cent of health facilities in five severely affected districts are heavily damaged. The health system has taken a massive blow.

As a Scot I know the needs in Nepal are enormous, and I too have experienced losing my home. I also know that my fellow country men and women have big hearts. At Unicef we’re currently appealing for £34 million towards the response and I ask you to dig deep into your pockets with the love and compassion that characterises our country.

Douglas Noble is Unicef Regional Health Advisor based in Kathmandu

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