Nepal Earthquake

Fact File

  • The main earthquake scored a magnitude of 7.8, and hit on April 25th, 2015, between Kathmandu and Pokhara
  • There was a major aftershock on 12th May 2015, of magnitude 7.3
  • It was the worst earthquake to hit in 80 years

Causes

Natural

  • The Himalayas are caused when the northern part of then tectonic plate containing India and Australia pushes up towards the Eurasian plate. Both plates are continental, so relatively light- the crusts both push upwards when they collide, causing huge mountains to form as the Himalayas. Because these rocks started as sedimentary rocks from the sea floor, before the continents collided, seashells can be found in rock faces along the Himalayas
  • Kathmandu is located on soft rock, which, when shaken undergoes “liquefaction”- where solid rock effectively becomes a liquid under stress. This undermined building foundations, causing huge property damage
  • Weak rocks and steep slopes combined to make the aid operations very difficult in the area.

Human

  • Bureaucracy stopped a lot of aid progress, hindering recovery efforts and fostering mistrust between locals and aid organisations
  • Political haggling has effectively stopped aid efforts
  • Corruption among aid workers, particularly Indian aid workers, led to Nepalese blockades in progress, which, according to the Nepalese government, are more damaging than the earthquake itself, economically. Blockades have stopped the flow of construction materials, greatly increasing the costs of rebuilding.
  • Nepal is known as a corrupted country, slowing down aid work and reducing the ability of redevelopment
  • As the earthquake started during the working day, many farm workers were out in their fields, which helped protect them from injuries from falling masonry

Impacts

Short Term

  • Almost 9,000 people were killed, between Nepal, India, Bangladesh and Tibet. Within Tibet, foreign nationals of various countries including Australia, China, India and the USA were killed.
  • People panicked upon seeing the damage and were too scared to return home- this had psychological effects on many individuals, but likely probably helped some people’s safety. As Nepal is hit by frequent tremors, many people are still terrified by small ground movements on a regular basis
  • Dubar Square, a noted UNESCO site was utterly flattened by the shaking
  • 600,000 homes were destroyed
  • 21,000 people were injured
  • The earthquake damaged water supplies from springs down to people causing huge clean water shortages.
  • In the Langtang valley, entire villages were wiped out by avalanches.
  • Many Tibeto-Burman villages were destroyed, as the ethnic group like to settle high up on rocky slopes, making them especially susceptible to land slides and avalanches.
  • Avalanches caused by tremors on mount Everest killed 18 people, making it the day with the highest fatalities on Everest. At least 60 people were injured, and some had to be taken out by rescue helicopters.
  • 4 million people are still living in temporary shelters

Middle Term

  • Many people have taken out large loans to help fund house rebuilding, plunging them into debt.
  • Violent crime rates, particularly against women, greatly increased.
  • Women struggled to get aid, leading to even greater gender disparity within the region
  • People no longer had access to decent sanitation, or to toilets, so there were fears of outbreaks of diseases such as cholera

Responses

Short Term

  • Aid agencies quickly started distributing out survival items like food, bed sheets and crude shelter-making materials (like iron sheets) to help protect people.
  • Airports were reopened as soon as they were safe. That said, some had to be reclosed very quickly afterwards due to aftershocks. During these, people were moved out of the building and onto the runway temporarily, to minimise the risks of injury due to damaged building work.

Middle Term

  • Very few of the roughly 800,000 flattened buildings have been rebuilt.
  • Pledges of US$3×10^9 were made, but 3.5 million Nepalese people have still yet to receive more than very basic aid.
  • The government is starting to give out about 200,000 rupees to the worst effected homes- but only 660 families have received anything so far out of 100,000 eligible, and that is no where near enough to build up new houses or recover losses to the family. Just buying sand for a single room can cost 60,000 rupees.
  • To receive this money, 150,000 of the rupees must be spent on home-building, using a 7 step plan to build earthquake-proof homes. In theory, this would greatly reduce the impac of future earthquakes. In practice, each of the 7 steps is very expensive to locals, who have no means to pay for all of it. If they flout the building rules, they get no compensation.
  • Only about 30% of foreign aid goes to beneficiaries; meanwhile, over 40% is just in admin, breeding discontent between locals who view them as corrupt and the aid companies, slowing down the rebuilding. In Nepal, 43% of the aid money goes to the government. Corruption watchdogs have said that local officials may siphon off even more money

Evaluation of Responses

International aid have been trying to help the area, and on a small scale, they have worked relatively well. Where they can work without funding, such as by building small evacuation camp latrines out of bamboo and rock, they are very effective. However, corruption, and growing irritation at the corrupted system has lead to complications and delays to the extent where very little has really been achieved by aid workers, despite their best efforts.

Many locals would probably be fine helping themselves to build housing, as many people are using loaned money to build their homes faster than they could on the government money, if the supply were supported, instead of being crippled by protest groups.

It’s understandable why they are protesting- at a time when their country needs all the help it can sensibly receive, the government has been redirecting funding away- but their protests merely exacerbate the issues they are complaining about, at least from an outside perspective. It’s unlikely they will change anything with corruption soon.

References

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-36089960

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/apr/25/earthquake-survivors-stranded-nepal-aid-bureaucracy

https://www.theguardian.com/careers/2016/jul/18/nepal-earthquake-emergency-sanitation-red-cross

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