In Nepal’s hamlets and villages, in the first days following the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, families sheltered under crude lean-tos, made of whatever relatively waterproof materials they had to hand.
Keshav and his family
Keshav Thapa Magar, who lives with his wife, son and two daughters on the southeastern edge of the Kathmandu valley in Kot Gaon, had a typical earthquake experience for families of his 100-household village. The village consists in Newars, Magars, Chhetris and Tamangs, who mostly lived in traditional mud-brick or mud-stone houses before the earthquake destroyed them. Keshav’s own house, his cousin’s (like his, a traditional house) and his mother’s concrete post-and-beam house were all destroyed on April 25.
It has been a month since a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit central Nepal on April 25. What happened next?
Having experienced a real threat of death, many survivors manifested avoidance (“I don’t want to talk about it!”), hyper-vigilance (“What’s that noise? Is the ground moving?”), intrusive thoughts (“What if the next big one may come while I’m asleep …?”) -- classic stress reactions.
Many Bank staff have had many sleepless nights as the aftershocks continued, more than 250 to date above a magnitude of 4, thirty above 5, four above 6, and—just when we first thought that life was becoming normal again—a 7.3 on May 12.
That one came like the first one, in the middle of the day, but it felt like an unwelcome nighttime guest, full of foreboding. People ran into the streets screaming, or silly giddy on realizing that they had survived another one—but even more terrified at what would come next. More people died; more buildings collapsed. People who had moved back into their houses moved out again.
Nepal is coping with the consequences of a disastrous earthquake. During the next months the government will be under a lot of pressure to respond quickly to the needs of the population.
Public procurement units across the country will also feel this pressure. They will be deciding over the purchase of goods and services with taxpayer money. On the one hand, the purchases are urgently needed. On the other, there is a risk that taxpayer money can be wasted if decisions are taken too hastily.
One instrument that can be helpful in this kind of situation is a framework agreement. This should be part of any country’s Disaster Risk Management plan. Its aim is to have a procurement system ready that responds quickly to an emergency. But this quick response should not increase risks beyond what policymakers have defined as acceptable. Special procurement procedures for emergencies should be part of disaster management systems and should especially include tailored framework agreements.
When disaster strikes, air transport is often the only feasible mode of transportation for first responders and urgently needed relief supplies. Following an earthquake, tsunami or hurricane, most roads, rail tracks and even ports become unusable, as they are blocked for days by debris. Airports, on the other hand, are remarkably sustainable and, within hours, usually become operational again.
The main reason of this sustainability is that runways are on open space where debris of a disaster can be removed quickly. Furthermore, a runway usually suffers remarkable little damage even by a strong earthquake, such as experienced last week in Nepal or in Haiti in 2010. And even if there are cracks and holes in the runway, modern relief aircraft like C-130s can operate safely for some time.
However, the challenges of operating relief flights can quickly become overwhelming, especially for airports in developing countries that usually experience only moderate traffic. In Haiti, for example, more than 74 aircraft landed on a single day following the earthquake to unload supplies. Such traffic poses risks in the air; air traffic control, often hampered by inadequate or damaged surveillance installations, can’t cope managing all arriving aircraft. On the ground, where tarmac and taxiways are small, congestion quickly reigns which prevents the arrival of more flights.
By now everybody is witnessing the devastating consequences of the 7.8 magnitude (Richter scale) earthquake in Nepal. According to the latest figures, more than 7,000 people have died and more than 10,000 have been injured. These numbers are likely to increase as the authorities and relief agencies reach more remote locations.
In light of this event we asked ourselves a series of questions for our region:
When will the next catastrophic earthquake hit?
Where will it be?
Is it going to be in East Europe and Central Asia (ECA) region?
Are we prepared for it?
The answers to these questions are both simple and complex.
It is Day Ten since the earthquake struck Nepal and the scale of the devastation is only just becoming evident. The official death toll has now crossed 7,000, of which 5,000 have been confirmed in remote rural areas. As many as 15,000 people are injured, many critically. Aftershocks continue to rattle central Nepal and most people are still too jittery to come to terms with what has happened.
The World Bank South Asia Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
We visited the older neighborhoods of Bhaktapur, Basantpur and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. A majority of the collapsed houses in these areas were old brick and mud structures that had become weak with age. These were densely built neighborhoods with narrow streets and removing debris from the area is extremely challenging. We also visited an area called Gongabu, a relatively new developed suburb with tall framed-structure buildings. We found a lot of collapsed buildings and many 5-6 storey buildings completely tilted which will have to be demolished. These type of suburbs are going to pose a big challenge in Kathmandu.
From Gorkha, epicenter of the earthquake
Over the past few evenings we have been meeting journalists returning from the field. A journalist who had returned from Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake, described an area that had been very severely impacted. The roads were not passable and he had to walk over 5 kilometers to access villages. Every cluster of hamlets he visited, he found almost all the houses to have collapsed. Families had lost all their stock of grain, which is usually stored inside the house, and were trying to dig through the rubble to salvage whatever they could. This story repeats in most other rural districts which have seen major devastation.
On Saturday I drove to Sindhupalchok, in the mid-hills of Nepal, to the northeast of Kathmandu. The narrow road climbed up and down the shoulders of the hills, along clear streams, through green forests and among fallow terraced fields with neat piles of cow dung waiting to be spread.
In the shade of a pipal tree, one girl sits picking lice out of the hair of another younger girl, her sister perhaps. The road is good, streetside shops are selling breakfast, or groceries, or other supplies, and along many parts of the road the scene from a distance is bucolic: calm, peaceful, normal.
But get closer, and it is quickly obvious that there is little that is normal in Sindhupalchok today. The farther we leave behind the richer neighborhoods of the Kathmandu valley, the deeper we reach into the rural areas, the greater the destruction of April’s earthquakes.
A few kilometers after we cross the Dolalghat River, we come across a hillside hamlet, Pauwathok, where only a few buildings remain standing. Plot after plot along the winding paths contains a ruddy, dusty pile of stone, brick, roof tiles and lumber, the rafters stained black from the indoor kitchen fires.
The women gather near the local temple or a visiting water bowser, or rummage through the rubble of their houses to retrieve what can be reused. An old lady laments the death of one daughter and worries about the fate of another, brought to the hospital in Dhulikhel, 30 km away.
It has been one week since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, its epicenter 75 km northwest of Kathmandu, and the toll is only beginning to be counted.
As the number of dead rose, to more than 6,000 today, early reports of the destruction inevitably focused on search-and-rescue efforts in the easily-accessible Kathmandu valley, the deadly avalanche at Everest’s base camp, and the collapse of many of the historic Hindu temples in the palace squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.
Stunned by the original quake and the long line of aftershocks—some as large as 6.5 or 6.8 in magnitude—most Nepalis in the first days focused on their immediate needs: connecting with their families, mourning the dead, getting medical treatment for the injured, setting up camp outside of their homes, and laying aside key supplies for the coming days and weeks.
Overnight the Kathmandu valley was interspersed with IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, as people pitched tents and built tarpaulin lean-tos in their yards, in public parks, on traffic roundabouts, on sidewalks and plazas, and even on the streets--too frightened to return to their homes as the aftershocks continue to rumble through. For a week they have hunkered down on a bit of grass or pavement, under tarps and blankets, in cold rainy nights made darker by the loss of electricity. For many, it was misery.