One emergency to another: Nepal to Iraq

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Pushpak Newar has dedicated a decade of his occupational therapy career to Handicap International. Instrumental in our emergency response to the 2015 Nepal earthquake, he joined colleagues in Iraq in 2016, to coordinate rehabilitation. He recently reflected on the two emergencies:

A natural disaster caused Nepal’s emergency, and people got back on their feet fairly quickly; they had no one to blame. In Iraq, we’re dealing with a chronic, man-made crisis. You can feel the anxiety, fear, and frustration when you talk to our beneficiaries. It’s very hard for them to be optimistic. That’s not something I had come across before.

In Nepal, I think of Nirmala and Khendo, girls who had their legs amputated after the earthquake. Because Handicap International provided them with appropriate care and follow-up within hours of their amputations, they were fitted with new legs and on their feet quickly afterward.

The Iraq conflict almost killed a similar-aged child from Mosul. He couldn't get rapid and proper care, so his leg was amputated. He’s still in a critical condition and lives in an area that’s almost impossible to access. I’ve lost count of Iraqi children in the same situation.

In both kinds of emergencies, fractures, spinal cord injuries, amputations, and head injuries are the norm. Many people in Nepal were trapped beneath the rubble during the earthquake. Those who had to undergo amputations afterward generally had no other option because it wasn’t possible to “save” their arm or leg. However, in Iraq, a lot of people are injured as they flee conflict zones.

They often have to have an amputation due to a lack of post-operative care or serious complications. Access to hospitals is difficult and controlled. Check points and other procedures often prevent the injured from receiving the health care they urgently need. And when they finally do reach health facilities, these are generally overcrowded and their staff completely overwhelmed. They can’t stay as long as they need to and recover properly from their injuries.

Most of our beneficiaries don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next, if they are going to be injured in an attack or will need to flee again. We give them hope. Physical therapy helps prevent disabilities or injuries from getting worse, but most of all it reminds our beneficiaries that their accident does not mean life is over. I find hope in small victories. That’s what keeps me working.