Earthquakes in Nepal

What Happened? Background Information, Statistics, and More
 
Three years ago, on the 25th of April 2015, the worst earthquake since 1934 devastated Nepal, creating massive damage and loss of human lives. The earthquake measured a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, impacting roughly 8 million, injuring over 22,000, and killing nearly 9,000 individuals. To escalate matters, there were numerous aftershocks and an additional, massive earthquake just 17 days later, this time measuring at a 7.3 magnitude.

The series of earthquakes and aftershocks that shook Nepal in 2015 took place within 50 miles of the country’s capital, Kathmandu, immensely heightening the death toll and structural damage that occurred. Being one of the poorest nations in Asia, much of the infrastructure was not built to withstand an earthquake of this magnitude. Many historic temples collapsed which had held immense cultural significance for the country. Additionally, a massive amount of villages were destroyed, crumbling the homes and little belongings that the Nepalese had to the ground (Mercy Corps, 2016).

One of Nepal’s greatest sources of income is the tourism industry, which is heavily based around Mt. Everest, located on the Northern border of Nepal. Each year, thousands of individuals visit the country to awe over of the beauty of the Himalayas, and hundreds more attempt to summit the world’s tallest mountain. Due to weather and snow conditions, there is a limited time frame in which climbers can attempt to summit Everest, which unfortunately, falls between April and May. On April 15th, 2015, many climbers were at base camp acclimatizing and waiting to begin their voyage, while other expeditions had already begun their journeys, when a massive avalanche formed as a result of the earthquake, which had an epicenter just 150 miles away. The small, flimsy tents used by climbers were no match for the massive avalanche plummeting down the mountain, sweeping away everything in its path. The avalanche that resulted from the earthquake took the lives of at least 22 individuals and severely injured many others. Nobody was able to summit Everest that year (Wilkinson, 2015).

Nepal’s urbanized, rural, and mountainous regions were not the only areas impacted by the series of earthquakes in 2015. Surrounding countries, such as China, India, and Bangladesh, also endured the effects of these earthquakes, experiencing infrastructure damage and loss of human life as well (USAID, 2016).

Pre-Disaster Planning and Mitigation

Located in an earthquake-prone region and struggling from extreme poverty, Nepal had had numerous connections with relief organizations and had been the home to many aid agencies prior to the 2015 earthquake. Some agencies provided resources and financial aid, while others operated directly in Nepal, offering skills for the Nepalese to become self-sustaining once the organization had left. Some significant actors in Nepal that provided aid and preparedness prior to the earthquake in 2015 were: USAID, Mercy Corps, and nonprofits, such as GeoHazards International (GHI).

The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has been working to provide relief to Nepal for over twenty years and has invested significant resources into the country in order to reduce the risk of disasters, while also planning and preparing for them. Prior to the earthquake, supplies had been pre-positioned by USAID in vulnerable areas of Nepal to increase post-earthquake efficiency. The hospital preparedness project, which had also been established by USAID prior to the earthquake, worked with 11 major hospitals throughout Nepal to better prepare for disaster response, which proved immensely beneficial once the earthquake had hit in 2015 (USAID, 2016).

Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization that was originally founded in the United States but now operates on a global scale, also played a significant role in providing assistance to Nepal prior to the earthquake. The organization is mainly focused on “protecting, strengthening and expanding resilience strategies and opportunities among the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged families through economic, financial and risk management programs” (Mercy Corps, 2016). Nepal has been assisted by Mercy Corps for over 12 years, and significant contributions have been made. At the time of the earthquake, over 100 staff members of Mercy Corps were already located on Nepal’s grounds, which allowed recovery efforts to be conducted instantly and with increased efficiency (Mercy Corps, 2016).

Numerous other nonprofits, both large-scale and small-scale, also participated in equipping Nepal for a disaster such as the 2015 earthquake. GeoHazards International (GHI) is a nonprofit based in California with the goal of reducing the gap between poor and rich countries in terms of disaster effects and recovery. Underdeveloped nations are affected by large-scale, natural disasters with much greater severity than are developed, rich nations. In these poor nations, the death rate for disasters is nearly 5 times higher than it is in rich countries, which is the result of inadequate access to education, healthcare, infrastructure development, and other resources. Prior to the earthquake in Nepal, organizations such as GHI were active in training Nepalese teachers to educate individuals on earthquake preparedness and retrofitting schools and other structures to withstand major disasters, such as earthquakes. These efforts proved beneficial in saving many lives and decreasing the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal. GHI and other nonprofits are still a long way from closing the gap in disaster effects throughout the world, but continue working to strengthen education, development, and preparedness for poor countries commonly affected by major, natural disasters (GeoHazards International, n.d.).

Agreements Enabling the U.S. to Operate in Nepal

In 1947, the U.S. officially began to recognize Nepal, and since then, the two countries have maintained peaceful, diplomatic relations. Since then, the U.S. has continued to provide resources to Nepal, primarily in the form of economic aid (Office of the Historian (D.O.S.), n.d.). Being one of the world’s poorest nations, the U.S. works to “build a peaceful, prosperous, resilient and democratic society” within Nepal. One way that the U.S. strives to accomplish this is by decreasing Nepal’s dependency on humanitarian aid and make the nation self-sustaining. In return, Nepal provides an immense number of troops to peacekeeping missions that operate internationally. Two of the most prominent areas in which the U.S. assists Nepal are: economic development and disaster reduction and preparedness.

For decades, the two countries have overlapped in membership to many international organizations and agreements. Some of these include the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and World Bank. There is also a strong relationship concerning trade between the U.S. and Nepal. A significant agreement between the two nations exists concerning this; the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) increases efficiency for communication regarding trade, investment, capacity building, and future agreements (U.S. Department of State, 2016). In addition, the U.S. has allowed Nepal to become a part of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), providing preference in trade to Nepal, reducing or eliminating tariffs, and encouraging economic development (Office of the United States Trade Representative, n.d.). Each of these agreements, as well as the overlapped participation in international organizations and a strong relationship, have allowed the U.S. to be able to enter Nepal with relative ease, especially in disaster situations such as the 2015 earthquake.

International Response

After the earthquake occurred in 2015, nations all throughout the world provided assistance to Nepal. Some of the main actors were the United States, India, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, and Malaysia. In total, there were 4,000 individuals with boots on the ground in Nepal working on the behalf of the governments of at least 36 nations. The days following the earthquake were chaotic and unorganized to say the least, but these nations each worked to aid Nepal in any way possible (Nepal for Foreign Affairs, n.d.). While the U.S. was arguably the principal nation in providing assistance, they could not have done so alone. The coordination between the governments of nations, as well as between nonprofits and other institutions, was necessary in providing a great amount of relief for Nepal.

Multilateral Planning and Execution

When a disaster of this magnitude strikes a nation, international response is expected to be overwhelming, which was evident in the case of the Nepalese earthquake. Unfortunately, Nepal is amongst the world’s poorest countries, which made coordination and overall relief efforts more challenging than usual, which is further discussed later on. Although there were endless difficulties in coordinating relief efforts within Nepal, organizations and governments from all over the world attempted to facilitate assistance as efficiently as possible.

The United Nations (UN) was a major key in facilitating efforts between different agencies by using predetermined procedures and protocol (such as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework) to do so. Prior to the earthquake, the UN had worked directly with Nepal’s government in order to establish such framework, as well as other means of efficient coordination. When doing so, the UN partnered with institutions such as the National Emergency Operations Center, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Multi-National Military Coordination Center operating in Nepal to standardize disaster-related response procedures. As a result, once the earthquake struck, many of the institutions within Nepal were able to efficiently communicate with the UN, who could then communicate with international organizations and the governments of assisting nations.

Despite the efforts of the United Nations, which were beneficial to an extent, the multilateral planning and execution of relief efforts were a massive failure. Communication was not efficient, some relief efforts were duplicated while other were non-existent, there were significant airport and transportation issues, and the media did not follow any guidelines, sparking feelings of disrespect and anger from many (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Failures of Operations in Nepal

When any disaster of this magnitude strikes one of the world’s most underdeveloped countries, extensive challenges are to be expected. This was most certainly the case in Nepal following the 2015 series of earthquakes; a large portion of the country had been demolished, and as a result, relief operations were chaotic and unorganized. Though many governments and humanitarian organizations attempted to relieve Nepal immediately following the disaster, the unique circumstances and prevalent challenges immensely reduced response capabilities. While response and recovery failures were, unfortunately, ubiquitous, the main challenges and failures can be categorized into: inadequate preparedness efforts and poor coordination within Nepal, incorrect prioritization, and transportation challenges.

Inadequate Preparedness Efforts and Poor Coordination

Immediately following the Nepalese earthquake, there was an overwhelming amount of support that flowed in to Nepal to assist with recovery efforts. In any disaster scenario, governments appreciate any and all aid, but without proper preparation, too much humanitarian aid can create further stress and create chaos. After 34 different countries, including 18 of their militaries, as well as various international organizations and nonprofits responded to Nepal’s request for assistance directly after the earthquake had struck, Nepal quickly found itself overwhelmed. Though the Nepalese government had some preparation efforts and planning in place prior to the 2015 earthquake, these efforts proved flawed once the earthquake had stuck, specifically in the areas of: strategic planning and aid delivery, provision, and distribution. There were some agencies working to make coordination more efficient, such as the NGO Federation of Nepal and OCHA, but unfortunately, many organizations assisting in relief efforts decided to work independently. For example, “many aid providers initially bypassed government channels for relief coordination, distributing directly along highways and accessible roads” (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Overall, the government of Nepal and agencies attempting to facilitate coordination struggled to control the incoming relief and equally distribute resources. In some cases, there were too many organizations providing relief to high-impact areas, and not enough providing relief to low-impact areas of Nepal. Most of the relief agencies working in Nepal, whether governments, international organizations, or nonprofits, decided to work independently rather than hand-in-hand (or through the Nepalese government), which decreased efficiency and posed numerous challenges, such as unequal distribution of relief materials, increased confusion, and overall slower relief efforts. Many of these challenges could have been diminished had Nepal had a unified operations room (Ops Room) in place prior to the 2015 earthquake (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Incorrect Prioritization

As a result of poor coordination and relief agencies frequently working independently, the prioritization of resources delivered to Nepal following the major earthquake that struck in 2015 was highly inaccurate. While an overwhelming amount of resources, such as food, clothing, construction equipment, money, and volunteers, flowed into Nepal in April 2015, some of these resources were unneeded and organizations would have been better off providing other types of aid. Food in particular proved this – Nepal had recently undergone peak harvesting season, and therefore food had already been plentiful in the nation, even following the earthquake. Despite this, many relief agencies delivered food as a primary asset, and to make matters worse, much of the food delivered included beef and other food products in which Nepali citizens do not traditionally eat, due to religious or cultural beliefs. Additionally, clothing and blankets were a primary resource delivered to Nepal, but unfortunately, April is predominately Nepal’s hot, dry season, so heavy clothing and blankets were not needed. Medicine proved a similar challenge – the types of medicine delivered to Nepal were frequently unneeded, and those that were did not provide instructions in a language that the Nepalese or international volunteers could understand, so unfortunately, they were often discarded. On the other hand, the resources that the victims of the Nepalese earthquake actually required were not prioritized as high as they should have been. Some of these included tents and basic housing supplies, as well as simple, low-tech construction equipment that could have been used to rebuild small, rural villages (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Transportation Challenges

In addition to poor communication, planning, and prioritization, transportation efficiency proved a major failure in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, creating many challenges for humanitarian aid efforts. With the amount of relief flowing into Nepal, one international airport was not enough to handle the tremendous amount of resources and volunteers entering the country. Because the sole international airport of Nepal was only able to accommodate up to eight large aircrafts at any one given time, many planes entering the country had to divert not only to another airport, but to another nation as well. This resulted in volunteers entering affected areas with resources at a rate much slower than required. Once resources were finally able to enter Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital and the home to the nation’s only international airport, another challenge emerged – getting the resources from Kathmandu into the country’s rural areas. Being a mountainous, underdeveloped country, transporting resources into areas other than Kathmandu proved an immense challenge. There were little to no roads that had the ability to accommodate large trucks carrying supplies, and of those that could, many were inaccessible as a result of the various mudslides that occurred following the earthquake. Due to the lack of major airports and overall poor infrastructure within Nepal, aid took immensely longer than necessary to reach the most devastated regions of Nepal (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Successes of Operations in Nepal

Despite all of the failures surrounding the operations that took place in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake, many operations can still be considered successes – especially the overall amount of aid that was overwhelmingly delivered to Nepal directly after the earthquake occurred. Many of the successes that occurred were the result of what pre-disaster planning did in fact take place; Nepal is well-known as an earthquake-prone region of the world, so many individuals involved in the preparation efforts were well aware that a disaster of this magnitude had the potential to, and most likely would, strike Nepal at some point. Throughout history, Nepal has experienced a major earthquake roughly every 100 years. Prior to the 2015 earthquake, the last major earthquake to strike Nepal had been in 1934, so by 2015, government officials and other organizations such as the UN knew it was a ticking time bomb until another would occur. These two entities, the government of Nepal and the United Nations, had the largest roles in ensuring success of post-disaster operations in Nepal.

Though Nepal is an underdeveloped nation with little available resources and lack of financial stability, the government had attempted to prepare for major disasters, such as an earthquake of this magnitude, to their greatest capability. Prior to the earthquake occurring, the government of Nepal worked with various NGOs to create the National Disaster Management Center in 2002 and further establish a framework to standardize disaster management. In addition, the Nepalese government regularly created exercises in which the Nepalese military would work hand-in-hand with the militaries of other nations on disaster preparedness operations.

In addition to the efforts of the Nepalese government, the United Nations and its partners were a primary actor in ensuring post-disaster successes. The Logistics Cluster, which is a multi-agency organization designed to increase the efficiency of aid following major humanitarian disasters, and the United Nations worked together heavily prior to the earthquake to create a “humanitarian staging area” nearby Nepal’s international airport which would allow for a home base that multiple agencies could report back to and coordinate relief efforts following any major natural disaster (Logistics Cluster, n.d.) (Cook, Shrestha, & Htet, 2016).

Conclusion

Following the horrific disaster, an earthquake measuring a 7.8 magnitude on the Richter scale, that struck Nepal and the surrounding nations on April 25th, 2015, there were endless response efforts that different agencies, governments, and nonprofits throughout the world performed in hopes of providing relief to Nepal. Looking back on these efforts, there were plentiful failures, including inadequate preparedness efforts and poor coordination within Nepal, incorrect prioritization of necessary resources, and transportation challenges, but additionally a handful of successes, mostly including the efforts of the Nepali government and the United Nations (and the Logistics Cluster) prior to the earthquake striking. While institutions from all over the world partook in the relief efforts to provide aid to Nepal immediately following the earthquake and its aftershocks, the United States was amongst the biggest actor, providing on-the-ground assistance, the delivery of resources, and overall $130 million in relief efforts (USAID, 2016). The United States was able to operate efficiently in Nepal and pledge such a high amount of financial aid due to the long-standing relationship that Nepal and the United States have had; the two nations have partaken in diplomatic relations since the nation’s official recognition by the U.S. in 1947. With that being said, the United States could not have acted alone – the successes and high amount of aid delivered to Nepal were the result of the combination of multi-agency cooperation and various governments throughout the world. While the United States and other national governments had a large role in assisting Nepal, other agencies such as Mercy Corps, the United Nations, and small nonprofits such as GeoHazards International are each additionally responsible for delivering the highly necessary aid to Nepal following the 2015 earthquake that devastated the nation.

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