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Nepal Earthquake Triggers Shortages, Sparking Fears of Disease

Health organizations and officials appealed for urgent assistance in Nepal on Monday amid shortages of food and water.
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/ Source: NBC News

Health organizations and officials appealed for urgent assistance in Nepal on Monday as shortages of food and water sparked fears disease would spread among survivors of the country's deadly earthquake.

Locals in Kathmandu have been sharing food and staying outside overnight following two days of powerful aftershocks — but "supplies are running out," according to Phillip Ewert, operations director for the World Vision charity.

"It's not at the panic stage yet, but it's starting to get that way," he said.

Saturday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake left more than 3,700 people dead and thousands more injured. Officials have warned that the death toll could jump once rescuers reach isolated rural communities.

Complete Coverage: Nepal Earthquake

Aftershocks and damage to roads has made it difficult to reach communities outside of the capital city of Kathmandu, according to Oxfam.

"Telephone lines are down and the electricity and water supplies have been damaged," Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam country director in Nepal, said. "The number of people killed is continuing to rise; people need immediate access to adequate safe water, and sanitation facilities and food assistance."

Overwhelmed authorities have appealed for international assistance to cope with the shortages and threat of disease.

"The big challenge is relief," Nepal's top bureaucrat, Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudel, told Reuters. "We urge foreign countries to give us special relief materials and medical teams. We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to pull through this crisis."

Lila Mani Poudyal, the government's chief secretary and the rescue coordinator, appealed for tents, dry goods, blankets, mattresses, and medicines.

"We don't have the helicopters that we need or the expertise to rescue the people trapped," Poudyal told reporters, according to The Associated Press. Poudyal added that doctors, nerve specialists, surgeons and paramedics also were needed.

Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the United States would commit $9 million to earthquake relief on top of $1 million already announced.

The World Health Organization said it was “surging” medical supplies and health workers into the affected region, deploying more emergency health kits with essential medicines and instruments to cover the needs of 80,000 people for three months.

“There is an urgent need to replenish medical stocks to support the emergency response efforts,” said Dr. Poonam Khetrapal, WHO’s regional director for Southeast Asia.

The WHO said it was working with Nepal’s health ministry to coordinate the arrival and deployment of medical teams from abroad, adding that at least 20 foreign medical teams have offered support already with the first due to arrive in Kathmandu on Monday night.

The International Red Cross said its teams were working "around the clock" in "incredibly challenging" circumstances to prevent dirty water and poor sanitation from spreading diseases like cholera and dysentery in the battered nation.

“We know from experience that these are the possibilities because water and sanitation are always disrupted, so we are working on that already,” a spokesperson for the International Red Cross said. “We have to calm that quickly.”

Nearly 1 million children were living in areas severely affected by the earthquake were in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.