by Hyuntae Byun
On Sat., April 25, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal devastated hundreds of structures and resulted in a huge loss of life. Currently, nearly 5,000 are confirmed dead and over 10,000 have been injured.
The earthquake struck to at the heart of Nepal, with an epicenter slightly to the west of Kathmandu, its capital city. Kathmandu lies within a heavily populated region, and Kathmandu Valley is estimated to be home to at least 2.5 million people, more than nine percent of Nepal’s population of 27 million.
Following the earthquake, thousands of people slept on the streets at nightfall due to lack of shelter or fear of aftershocks. Various international humanitarian organizations have voiced concerns about the affected people. For example, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimated that at least one million children need help as a result of the earthquake. Unseasonal rains and storms are expected within the next few days and weeks, adding to the logistical nightmare of organizing masses of displaced people.
Following the original earthquake, several aftershocks hit the region, including a 6.7 magnitude aftershock to the east of Kathmandu on Sun., April 26, which induced panic, but so far does not seem to have added to the casualties.
The earthquake was followed by disasters such as landslides and avalanches, devastating the transportation system of Nepal. Nepal is a very mountainous country, and its lack of highly developed infrastructure means that many regions and villages around the main city of Kathmandu are still isolated.
Aerial photographs show collapsed houses, mudslides, and destroyed roads, leading many authorities to fear that the death toll may still rise as search and rescue and first responder teams begin reaching remote areas. To reach such areas, Nepal’s government has begun deploying helicopter teams.
To complicate issues, Mount Everest was also affected by the earthquake. The earthquake resulted in large avalanches, which destroyed several base camps and stranded climbers. As of Mon., April 27, 200 people were missing on Mount Everest, and at least 18 people were confirmed dead. So far, teams of rescuers recovered 11 bodies and saved 20 stranded climbers. On Sun., April 26, approximately 60 people were evacuated from base camps and the area around Everest.
Due to the effects of the earthquake and damage to infrastructure at Everest, the climbing season has been effectively terminated for at least the rest of the year. China also officially closed off public access to its side of Everest.
Unfortunately, Everest may exemplify the massive economic damage that the earthquake inflicted on Nepal, especially its tourism industry. Nepal’s tourism industry directly accounts for four percent of Nepal’s gross domestic product and indirectly accounts for eight percent. It will cost Nepal at least five billion dollars to rebuild. Given that Nepal’s GDP was 19.3 billion dollars in 2014, Nepal is one of the poorest nations in the world.
Nepal has a magnitude eight earthquake approximately every 70 years, with the last major catastrophe occurring in 1934, killing 10,000 people. Nepal is classified among other countries as high risk for major earthquakes. However, while other countries on the list such as the United States, New Zealand, Japan, Turkey, and Chile have constructed safer structures and educated citizens in order to mitigate potential impacts of earthquakes, Nepal has been unable to do so due to a lack of resources.
In fact, a week before the earthquake around 50 scientists and experts gathered in Kathmandu in order to evaluate the safety of Nepal’s building standards and brainstorm potential methods for lessening the impact of a major earthquake. The experts also feared that Nepal’s government would be unable to respond sufficiently to an earthquake, and current shortages in supplies and government mismanagement of the situation contribute to this fear. As a result of poor government management within Kathmandu, over 100,000 residents have already fled the city, and officials estimate that up to 300,000 total residents could leave.
So far, there have been four confirmed American deaths as a result of the earthquake, and the still-operating United States Embassy in Kathmandu is currently housing 305 American citizens. The United States, which previously pledged a million dollars in aid, announced on Mon., April 27, that it would send nine million more dollars along with 45 tons of supplies, a USAID disaster team, and a search and rescue team. Additionally, a US Special Forces team in Nepal that was practicing high-altitude maneuvers is aiding in rescue efforts.
The United States is one of 16 nations that pledged to send aid and search and rescue teams. The list includes China, India, France, Italy, Britain, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Israel, Switzerland, Norway, Singapore, and South Korea. The United Nation’s World Health Organization and the European Union are also sending aid.
Additionally, there are a variety of charitable organizations that are scrambling to help. The Nepal Red Cross Society is at the center of all efforts, and is the most direct way to help. It provides first aid, search and rescue, blood donations, and first responders. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies is working to provide much-needed food, shelter, water and sanitation. Save the Children and UNICEF are working to help vulnerable children and families. Save the Children is providing baby packs with clothes, blankets, and soap while UNICEF works to restore water and provide sanitation, protection, and health and nutrition services. Finally, the World Food Programme is working to provide food and is releasing money from its emergency funds.
(Sources: CNN, the Economist, NY Times, US News and World Report, Time)