One month on from the first of the Nepal earthquakes, Divyesh Thakkar of India Impex describes his experience in getting solar lamps across the Indian border to Nepal.
This time a month ago I was taking a call from my business partner, in the wake of the first Nepal earthquake. We had been asked to send out more solar lamps. In
fact, we were being asked for more of everything: water purifying systems, blankets, corrugated sheets. The list went on. Being an Indian-based company we have local and global contacts, some of whom we even met at AidEx.
By getting in touch with a few of them we managed to source a decent number of items. Yet in this case, supplies were only half the equation.
This is because while the Indian government is doing a tremendous job and is mobilising itself in a very humanitarian way, logistics were a huge problem. There wasn't enough transport available to get things there in time, and that was a huge concern.
Flying out 10,000 lamps would have meant getting approval to use Indian and Nepalese airspace, yet with limited capacity at Kathmandu airport that was not an option. So we were asked to look at road transport. Therein lay the next challenge: a truck going from Gujarat, where our stock is based, to the site takes seven to ten days. For 10,000 lamps that meant twenty trucks. That would have been quite a task in itself, but then enter into the equation the fact that the water purifying, blanket and corrugated sheet suppliers were being asked to do the same thing. That was really frustrating. You wanted to get the aid there but you couldn't.
Then there's the 'hindsight' factor. People are very quick to talk about what could
and should have been done. But how do you provide access logistically to get training to people in a village that is 16,000 feet up and who desperately need access to items to help them communicate and rebuild their lives?
The terrain is such that you can't get everyone together. I would suggest innovative ideas like making a broadcast over radio so people can tune in and learn what to do. Or strategically placing a solar light so you can charge a phone and contact somebody. This is what was done in Mount Sinjar.
It's easy to get bogged down by the difficulties. The issue is also a geopolitical
one with all neighbours involved. They have their own issues and you have to bear in mind that existing problems like terrorism and corruption don't disappear. But there are positive things. I saw women preparing chapatis around the clock, to be shipped out to the survivors. And in this way, these tragedies can also demonstrate what can be done when people come together. We are trying to do what we do best and see what can be done from our side. After all, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.