William R Collier Jr- The country of Nepal, where Mount Everest is located, has suffered a massive earthquake so large that loss of life has been reported also in norther India and eveen Bangladesh. The massive 7.9 quake, centered some 50 miles north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, has led to building collapses, larges cracks and holes in the earth, and such violent shaking that scores are now feared dead. Owing to its isolated location, Nepal will have to wait for outside help to arrive for some time.
Pictures of rows of dead bodies amidst toppled buildings now fill TV screens in the region as locals work to dig out and assess the damage while searching for survivors. The massive quake has reached its tentacles of death into India where the death toll sits at 11 on reports of collapsed houses in Uttar Pradesh. In Bangladesh, at least person has died and others were injured in a building collapse. Tremors were felt far afield including Lahore in Pakistan, Lhasa in Tibet, and in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But as for Nepal- the damage is described as near apacolyptic in scope, including a row of hotels which host the many tourists who come to visit the country with April being a peak season.
One of the first buildings to fall in Kathmandu was Dharahara Tower, a tall and iconic tower built in the 1800’s by the country’s rulers. The entire tower came down at once and is now a pile of rubble, under which it is feared may people are trapped.
Nepal is a country steeped in traditions and superstitutions, described by some as a “very spiritual place” and by Christian missionaries as a very dark place. It is best known in the West for Mount Everest, where the quake caused a massive avalanche that, fortunately, did not reach “Base Camp” where many mountain climbers rest before or after a trek up the mountain. Some 30 mountaineers and guides, Sherpas, were reported injured by the avalanche, but no deaths.
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Nepal is a poor country, ill equipped to handle such a disaster, and getting aid in will be very difficult owing to the rough terrain and to the lack of serviceable airports that support large aircraft. The country’s only international airport, which is at Kathmandu, is closed.
Getting aid in to the devasted country will be critical, and yet difficult. Overland routes could take a week or more to be cleared and made ready, and coming in by air could be delayed for a day or two. This leaves the country to fend for itself, although one suspects the many tourists and mountaineers who may have more expertise will volunteer to help. Curreently, there are reports that people are using nothing more than their hands to dig people out of the rubble.
Any promises of foreign aid are unikely to impact the situation on the ground immediately, excepting for military aircraft or helos from neighboring countries which could ferry in limited, but badly needed, supplies and portable equipment and/or medical goods and food. Cities with serviceable airfields for smaller aircraft include Pokhara, Biratnagar, Nepalganj, Lukla, Pokhara, Simikot, Jomsom, Janakpur and Bharatpur. The extent of damage to these cities will determine whether smaller aircraft or helicopters can be used.
One of the “best” overland routes is from the Autonomous Region of Tibet (China) via a twisting highway beset with steep cliffs and mudslides that travels some 70 miles to Kathmandu. According to Wikipedia entry, “The Araniko Highway (Nepali: अरनिको राजमार्ग) connects Kathmandu with Kodari, 115 kilometres (71 mi) northeast of the Kathmandu Valley, on the Nepal-China border. It is among the most dangerous of highways in Nepal due to extremely steep slopes on each side of the road from Barabise onwards, massive landslides and bus plunges are not uncommon especially after rains.”
Other land routes into Nepal are along poor roads and while there are better highways in Nepal, the border crossings do not include such highways. Advice for people coming into Nepal overland involves, at one point, using rickshaws. Owing to the quake, these roads will be in even worse shape.
The countries most able to quickly send help would be China and India but geopolitical considerations will come into play as neither country wants to see the other use the pretext of sending in aid as means of setting up shop in the devastated country, so diplomatic communications will potentially snarl initial responses. It is most likely that the two neighboring counrties will send in equal amounts of aid. Private sources in India are most likely to be on the ground first, however, as Indian nationals, unlike Chinese nationals, are allowed across the border without the need for visas. These sources may not wait or concern themselves with the diplomatic back and forth between New Delhi and Beijing.
Other responders will likely include private entities out of Europe and America, with the Red Cross and Samaritan’s Purse being among the better equipped to rapidly deploy people and supplies. Both of those entities also have good ties in the region and would likely not have to wait too long to match people and supplies and get them moving into Nepal.
The tragedy in Nepal will, unfortunately, be heightened because outside help will be delayed by two factors: the natural difficulties of getting in on the ground and air and the diplomatic difficulties.
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