Saturday, 25 April 2015

Nepal Quakes

I have a lot of friends in Nepal after spending six to eight weeks a year, over eight years, project managing a hospital project in Kathmandu. So far all my friends in Kathmandu and Patan are safe and accounted for. In the Kathmandu Valley there are a number of District Earthquake emergency teams who are co-ordinating rescue, health and accommodation. Mostly it is the traditional brick built buildings which have taken the brunt of the damage. The worst damage is in the city of Bahktapur 10 kilometers outside of Kathmandu to the north east on the road to Dhulikeil, Jiri and the Khumbu (which is the area around Everest). The Valley hospitals have been designed to be up to Richter 8 resistant, as have many of the tourist hotels but it is between Kathmandu and Pokhara in the villages which perch on the tops of spurs and the edges of hanging valleys where most of the real problems lie.

These villages are often hard enough to get to from the main Kathmandu / Pokhara road when it is dry, they are are difficult to get to during the Monsoon when there are landslides due to deforestation (to create arable terraces and paddies) but in Nepal, this April, the monsoon has not yet dispersed, there are heavy thunderstorms forecast for the next week in the region between Kathmandu and Pokhara and on nights when the clouds clear, heavy frosts are forecast. Until the integrity of the runways at Kathmandu and Pokhara are checked, no relief flights can get into the two main airports serving the area. The integrity can not be assured until the after shocks cease which could be another 24 hours at least.

Unless you have walked in the Himalayan foothills you will struggle to imagine how hard it is to get from spur top to spur top village, just a few miles as the crow flies but eight hours on foot as you descend into the deep valley floor and climb back out again, the total descent and climb can be in the region of 20,000 feet as you descend from 9,000 metres to 6,000 metres and back up again - this is on a good day. The nearest road access is at the bottom of these valleys which is often over two days and a 6,000 metre climb to the villages. 


Search and support teams working between villages will not just have the usual monsoon land slips to deal with but the additional and far worse slips which have been caused by the earthquake - all before you start dealing with the needs in villages where homes will have collapsed and the injured stuck there because there is no way to evacuate them. Nepal's Military has a few ancient Puma helicopters but relief agencies will be reliant on the rather long in the tooth Mil charter helicopters, originally flown to Nepal by Russian pilots at the end of the Afghan War in 1982.

I am sitting here wondering how local people I have met and made friends with in both the Khumbu and Annapurna areas are doing. Some of these villages are over a two day trek from the nearest road or airstrip by the Sherpa themselves or three to four days by a European who is fully acclimatised to altitude. It takes a European four days on average to get down from Everest base camp to Namche which is still a day or more away from the airfield at Lukla, depending on the weather. If Lukla airfield is closed it is five to seven days further trek down to the road head at Jiri. Now imagine this descent if you are carrying or supporting an injured climber who is not critical enough for helicopter Casevac, given the excessive demands on the small helicopter resource normally available in Nepal.

So when you watch the news coverage of the earthquake damaged buildings in the Kathmandu Valley, take a minute and consider how much worse it will be for those in the isolated villages and towns in the Himalayan foothills, near the epicentre, where the heavy rain and thunderstorms forecast for the Kathmandu Valley with freezing nights, combined with day time temperatures over 12 C lower than they should be for this time of year, this incoming week, at a height 1400 metres. Then ponder what the same weather will be like at 9,000 metres in the remote villages where up to 80% of the buildings will have been destroyed.

This in a country which is among the 10 poorest in the world and in villages where the average, daily income is less than 2$ a day.


Namaste.

If you wish to donate to help may I suggest donation to Shelter Box.