Aid still scarce in Nepal’s remote villages

By Katy Daigle and Todd Pitman, AP

MAJUWA, Nepal–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 �X 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 UK 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.