When the Ground Shook
An earthquake that pushed Nepal many decades back.
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.