Once upon a time, Nepal was known for high mountains, Sherpas, and Sir Edmund Hillary with his trusty Tenzing Norgay. Come 25/04/2015, this has been warped into the images of destroyed villages, struggling survivors and the realization that high mountains don’t prevent high casualties –far gone are the romantic images of the past.
GPPW caught up with its Nepali contributors and friends to hear their stories and use the insights of those directly affected to talk about what happened, the intricacies of what happened next and the age-old question of what could have been.
At first glance, the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates are involved in a slow-speed rear-end collision (relative velocity: ~2 cm/year) vis-à-vis i.e. the more rapid sideways-collision of the American and Pacific plate (relative velocity: 10+cm/year) that has the US-American west coast waiting for ‘the big one’.
While Nepal and the Himalayans may not be on the laymen’s map of earthquake-prone areas, the comparable Nepal-Bihar earthquake of 1934 is still within living memory and in most recent history, we were told about the experiences of a magnitude 5.5 (Richter Scale) earthquake in 2013 ”It was only 30 or 40 seconds, but still I thought I was going to die, so [as an expatriate now] I cannot imagine how it was on April 24th, I mean it is no comparison to experiencing an 8-point [earthquake], but still at the time I thought that 5.5 was still bad.”.
So, what happened and how?
“It was [a] terrible Saturday noon. The houses were shaking like anything. When I left the room to go into the open space, one of my neighbour’s walls fell down just after a few seconds. Thank God it didn’t fall upon me. Pregnant women, senior citizens terrified after [the] after-shocks of [the] earthquake. One of the greatest humanitarian crisis in Nepal since the civil war.”
“It was really difficult, I mean it was around 90 seconds and for 70 seconds, I was not afraid of that because I already had training in that, but in the last 20 seconds I was sure I am gonna die. […]The house was moving at a 60 degree angle and I was in the fourth floor of our building, […] I was sure I was going to die. Luckily, nothing serious happened to our house.”
What was the immediate aftermath?
This current crisis is a of course a humanitarian crisis first and especially in a case where vast numbers of affected people are living in rural areas without easy access and connections to larger cities the biggest challenge now is getting the available supplies and aid to those cut-off areas as much as it is to get more of what is needed.
“[The] after-shocks have comparatively lessened. Now, very few shocks of 4 magnitude average [occur]. Oxfam America has been traveling from India to Nepal with full trucks of relief, the Nepali army and police [are] doing [a] great job in rescue along with Chinese, Russian, Indian, US etc. The monetary commitment is bigger but the release of funds is limited. [The]crisis of tents is a very big issue for homeless. The Nepal government brought 100,000 tents from India. Perceive notions of geopolitical tension in Nepal-China border also buzzing around media. Some TRP stunts by Indian Media and campaign of #gohomeindianmedia are also going on.”
“I am pretty much happy how [the] government has started responding to it. International aid agencies and relief funds have been activated and rescue operations are on the way. Technically, Nepal’s earthquake has created techno buzz and implication of internet use, it has jointly created broader contribution in fighting against this natural terror. The remote location has created obstacles in rescue but I am optimistic that life will be back to normal.”
How would you describe the government’s reaction and political consequences of the disaster?
“Despite fragile government mechanisms, the doctors and our army, police showed substantial position in disaster management. It can’t be compared with WHO role in mitigating the Ebola crisis in western Africa. Those countries failed to mitigate Ebola unilaterally and the role of international bodies was significant for those countries, but in the case of Nepal, international bodies have secondary support not the primary one.
Though, the government has shown a limited position in addressing geopolitical tensions that have been perceived having risen, but [in my opinion] Earthquake victims initially want their rescue and relief. I think, they do not bother about what’s going on in Nepal’s foreign policy. I think despite some poor briefing by Indian media, not the western ones, Nepalese bureaucracy, government and political leadership handled the disaster fairly and, they cannot be blamed at this time”
What is important now?
“I mean, [an] earthquake is a natural disaster. It doesn’t choose the area and damage has been already done. We have to work hand in hand to support those villagers instead of giving really strong political opinions.”
“Of course, in a developing world there are other priorities before addressing natural disasters. But, retrofitting in housing and other precautions can prevent [bigger] earthquake disasters. At some point, we are schooled in such a way that natural calamities are inevitable and there are no such things to respond against it. But, in a well-managed order, science vs nature, science has created opportunities to respond against it. Nepal lies in vulnerable zone to earthquakes and every generation has experienced small or bigger shakes. As I did.”
We would like to sincerely thank Ashna Theeng, Chrishna Giri and Saurav Raj Pant for talking to us and letting us tell their experiences from a personal point of view and would like to as encourage our readers to help the victims of the Nepalese Earthquake by donating (money or items), if you can, to local initiatives like the Local Development Plan or the Manavta Project.
Picture Credit: Brian Kelly for the International Organisation for Migration under a Creative Commons 2.0 (Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic) license