The purpose of this blog is to request that you don’t strike Nepal off your bucket list. I want to write about some of the bright sides that may be overlooked as the media is providing enough coverage of the bleak picture of destruction wreaked by the earthquake on April 25, 2015.
While the nation mourns the loss of life and devastation caused by the earthquake, it is good to keep in things in perspective and keep Nepal on your map! Although such photos are not in the news, the world should know that buildings of pretty average structure are still standing strong. While donations for rebuilding are welcome, the actual return of the trekkers to Nepal will revive the spirits and the economy of this land that has suffered such devastation.
More positive points to consider:
- The magnitude was less than it could have been.
- The epicenter was in a less populated part of the country.
- It happened mid-day Saturday, possibly the best time of day possible for people to get out of their houses if possible.
- The Kathmandu Tribhuwan International Airport remained intact allowing aid and relief teams a relatively straightforward entrance to the country, though the access to the remote areas has been more complicated due to landslides.
- The buildings of Thamel, the tourist center of Kathmandu withstood the quake.
- Some regions including the popular Annapurna region have remained unaffected by the Earthquake. Trekkers in these regions of the country are following their programs as planned.
- It is reasonable to hope that it will be at least several decades before we face another quake of this scale.
- The earthquake affected the central region. The roads blocked by avalanches will soon be open. Lodges in some places have been damaged or destroyed, but the spirit of the Nepalese people is intact.
- The earthquake was not unexpected. Many government and non-government agencies were involved in earthquake preparedness. Media organizations were providing repeated warnings, such as the rather prophetic article written by Keshab Poudel in New Spotlight Magazine, January 2014, “Based on the seismic records of the number of earthquakes that occurred since 1255, earthquakes of magnitude greater than 8 occurred on average once every 80 years. The last great earthquake of magnitude 8.3 occurred in 1934”.
Since it was 81 years and 3 months since the last earthquake, scientifically speaking, it was should not have been a surprise.
While no one is ever really prepared for such a disaster, there are several reasons why the Nepalese in particular were ill-prepared.
Poverty takes a higher toll than the magnitude of the quake. In a country where 55% of people live under the poverty line and 37% live in abject poverty, the priorities are simplified: people need a roof over your head. Poor urban families struggle to find a single room at an affordable price, so it is easy to understand that they don’t spend time worrying about construction standards. Many such families were trapped in structurally weak homes.
The Nepalese are by nature extremely passive and tolerant toward hardship and traditionally have a fatalistic view. Rather than being proactive, they have for centuries been burdened with enough to cope with in the present which has kept them from thinking too far ahead. Thus, by the 3rd day after the earthquake, almost everyone had an earthquake kit ready. While their gentle ways appeal to visitors, these qualities are not effective for government leaders.
(The Nepalese are also incredibly resilient in the face of adversity. There are endless examples of the kind-hearted Nepalese sharing the little they have, even if it means going short themselves.)
Nepal is a historical city with many old buildings. The ancient buildings of the Kathmandu Valley, including several world heritage sites which withstood the earthquake of 1934, could not withstand the quake. Sadly, even after the heritage sites and monuments are restored and rebuilt, some of the magic of the surroundings will never be the same. The narrow ‘rabbit burrow’ alleys will surely be widened, and many homes will no doubt take on a modern appearance.
In a country that has been in transition for nearly as long as it was at war, Nepal has more loop-holes than regulations in place regarding implementation of laws including building safety codes. In the last 5 years the skyline of Kathmandu has been altered by numerous modern high rises which were sold as earthquake resistant condominiums, at high prices. Almost all of them suffered extensive structural damage and are now sitting vacant.
Perhaps the most reassuring thing to keep in mind for your visit to Nepal, is that the Nepalese people are more earthquake-conscious and prepared than they have ever been. In fact, with the impending disaster now in the past, and everyone’s earthquake kit still packed, it is likely a better idea than ever to plan your trip to Nepal!
Annapurna Foothills Treks had 5 teams out trekking in Everest and Annapurna regions at the time the quake struck. We are happy to say that all our clients and staff remained safe and sound.
Written by Karen Boyd, a Canadian living in Nepal since 2002 and working for Annapurna Foothills Treks and Expedition Pvt. Ltd.