When the Ground Shook

An earth­quake that pushed Nepal many decades back.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Sam­ina Wahid

On April 25, 2015, a mas­sive earth­quake (7.8 on the Richter scale) struck Nepal in which thou­sands of peo­ple died. More than 14,000 peo­ple were in­jured in the calamity while, ac­cord­ing to some es­ti­mates, more than 8,000 peo­ple may have per­ished. Sev­eral his­toric land­marks in the coun­try were de­stroyed as the road net­work was also badly af­fected and huge cracks emerged in it soon af­ter the quake was felt.

Among those who died were some 19 moun­tain climbers at Mount Ever­est. Min­utes af­ter the earth­quake, an avalanche swept across the snow­cov­ered moun­tain and killed the climbers. Mean­while, more than 200 climbers were res­cued as part of re­lief ef­forts that be­gan soon af­ter the dis­as­ter struck. Vast tent cities sprung up in cap­i­tal, Kathmandu, for those dis­placed or afraid to re­turn to their homes as strong af­ter­shocks con­tin­ued. Sub­se­quently, thou­sands spent nights in the out­doors.

Ini­tial re­ports sug­gested that many com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly those close to the moun­tain­side (in­clud­ing the

Sher­pas), suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant quake dam­age. "Vil­lages are rou­tinely af­fected by land­slides and it's not un­com­mon for en­tire vil­lages of 200, 300, up to 1,000 peo­ple, to be com­pletely buried by rock falls," Matt Dar­vas, a spokesman for aid agency World Vi­sion, told re­porters.

The United Na­tions re­ported that two dis­tricts close to the epi­cen­ter, Gorkha and Lamjung, were se­verely af­fected, but the ex­tent had not been fully as­sessed be­cause trans­porta­tion net­works were crip­pled. Jamie McGoldrick, res­i­dent co­or­di­na­tor of the United Na­tions, said, “Search and res­cue per­son­nel will face the chal­lenge of reach­ing vil­lages nearer the quake’s epi­cen­ter, where dam­age may be cat­a­strophic.”

Re­lief and as­sis­tance from other coun­tries be­gan pour­ing in in­clud­ing Pak­istan. Four Pak­istani air­craft car­ry­ing re­lief sup­plies reached the coun­try within no time. In line with Prime Min­is­ter Nawaz Sharif's di­rec­tive, the first two C-130s which reached Kathmandu car­ried a med­i­cal team of doc­tors and paramedics, a 30bed hos­pi­tal, medicines, tents, wa­ter, dry food and a search and res­cue team with equip­ment.

The avalanche on Mount Ever­est was a re­minder that the moun­tain had been overly com­mer­cial­ized and the climb­ing path was al­most like a traf­fic jam. Many moun­taineers and adventure trav­el­ers called it the McDon­ald’s of moun­tain climb­ing. Sev­eral re­cent deaths on the Ever­est were at­trib­uted to a danger­ous lack of ex­pe­ri­ence. With­out enough train­ing at high altitude, some climbers were un­able to judge their own stamina and did not know when to turn around and call it quits.

Avalanches are the lead­ing cause of death on Mount Ever­est and the cli­mate change is likely to make it worse in the com­ing years. As tem­per­a­tures around the world go up, the snow-capped peak of the Ever­est is suc­cumb­ing to the change as well. Ea­ger climbers, how­ever, have failed to pay heed to th­ese warn­ings and con­tinue to go up the moun­tain. Given that some of th­ese moun­taineers are in­ex­pe­ri­enced, they of­ten die while on their way up and their bod­ies are left be­hind by other group mem­bers who are still keen on mak­ing it to the top. This has caused the Ever­est to be­come an en­vi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter of epic pro­por­tions. As a Wash­ing­ton Post head­line aptly put it some years ago: “Decades of hu­man waste have made Ever­est a fe­cal time bomb.” The fact is that the more peo­ple climb the moun­tain and feel the call of na­ture, the worse the fe­cal time bomb gets. Of­ten, peo­ple leave be­hind oxy­gen can­is­ters, bro­ken climb­ing equip­ment and trash, trans­form­ing the once-pris­tine peak into a big pile of junk.

The re­cent earth­quake shifted the earth be­neath Kathmandu by up to sev­eral me­ters but the height of Mount Ever­est was likely to stay the same. There seemed lit­tle chance that suc­ces­sive dis­as­ters would se­ri­ously dull the lus­ter of Mount Ever­est for vis­i­tors. Some for­eign trekkers who had left the Ever­est af­ter the earth­quake or had their plans to visit stymied by the dis­as­ter, said that they hoped to re­turn to the moun­tain. Oth­ers said they had seen enough.

When mem­o­ries of the trauma sub­side, moun­tain en­thu­si­asts will re­turn to the Ever­est with the same zeal as be­fore. Ev­ery year some­thing goes wrong, say ex­perts but once enough time has passed – around six months – peo­ple will re­turn in the quest for adventure. Hope­fully, the Nepalese au­thor­i­ties will have fi­nally learnt their les­son about over­crowd­ing on the Ever­est and will ex­er­cise cau­tion in the com­ing years.

The writer is a free­lance jour­nal­ist who con­trib­utes reg­u­larly to var­i­ous lead­ing pub­li­ca­tions.

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