28th September 2020

Saving Gurkha veterans’ lives through monsoon and pandemic

Dr Anil Maharjan has worked with us for just over a year. His job is to visit Gurkha veterans and widows at their homes in rural parts of Nepal to deliver medicine, check their health and refer them to local hospitals if they need further treatment.

“I like visiting Gurkha veterans and widows at their homes because you get extra time to talk to them and hear their interesting stories. I feel like most of their stories could be made into a great movie or TV series with lots of actions and emotions.”

Battling the monsoon

From around mid-June to the end of September, Nepal suffers an annual, devastating monsoon. It’s important for Dr Anil to reach Gurkha veterans and widows at their homes during this particularly difficult time.

“We have to travel mostly off-road to visit the Gurkha veterans and widows. The road conditions are not good all year round and particularly worse during monsoon. We do not know what to expect during our journey. We usually make only essential field visit during monsoon because the travel takes around three to four times longer than at other times.”

“On a recent visit to a vulnerable Gurkha veteran’s home, we travelled on motorcycles. The wheels were almost immersed in the muddy road.”

“After riding for almost five hours, the front brakes stopped working and there was no way to complete the journey in that slippery road without the brakes. Fortunately, we found a small repair shop and managed to repair the brakes just enough to return back to our office safely.”

COVID-19 pandemic

When Nepal first went into lockdown, we temporarily restricted our home-visits to essential and emergency only. This meant that Dr Anil had a backlog of people to visit at the end of the summer, clashing with the monsoon.

“Pre COVID-19, we usually took shelter in the pensioner’s house or nearby hotels. However, we could not use either and we had to arrange our own accommodation in tents in open fields even during heavy rainfall. After a hard day’s work, it was difficult to prepare our food with limited resources. We even had difficulties in finding water to prepare food.”

“Our office only has GWT-owned motorbikes and no cars as we usually rent 4x4s. Because of COVID-19, we aren’t allowed to hire vehicles.”

“Carrying all the medical instruments, medicine, and occasionally individual aid for vulnerable pensioners and equipment has been very difficult via motorbike.”

Monsoon aftermath

Across Nepal, it takes three weeks to recover from monsoon flooding and landslides on average. However, in Anil’s area of responsibility, it’s likely to take much longer than that.

“We have had so many landslides this year in our area that it might take a few months to repair the road.”

“We can also clearly see in a number of locations where landslides will likely occur in the next few days or so. The roads become very narrow after removing all the debris from landslide. Floods usually settle in a few weeks but the damage caused by flood usually takes few months to be managed.”

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