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.
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.
The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.
The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.
The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.
Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.
The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.
We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.
It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.
In early 2014 I saw a video circulated by a colleague, wherein someone from Japan had put together all the earthquakes that struck Japan between January 2011 to September 2011, essentially capturing the early tremors, the Great Tohoku earthquake of March 11, 2011 and subsequent aftershocks. It was a compelling visual which brought home the sheer intensity of the earthquake event. While the video was a visual representation of an event, could the same concept be used to create a product that could become a tool for raising awareness to a serious issue?
The Story of One Thousand Earthquakes
Over a one-year period from May 2013 to May 2014, there were a total of 1,247 recorded earthquake events of 4.0 magnitude or higher. It's time to get prepared.
With over 600 million people living along the fault-line across the Himalayan belt, South Asia’s earthquake exposure is very high. To further compound the problem, South Asia is urbanizing at a rapid pace and a significant growth in mega-cities, secondary and tertiary cities / towns is happening in high risk seismic zones. The region has experienced three large events over the past 15 years, the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, the Sumatra earthquake of 2004 (leading to the Asian tsunami) and the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. While there have been no major earthquakes these past 9 years, the region is akin to a ticking bomb for an earthquake disaster. Keeping this in mind, we mapped a region of 3000 Km radius from the center of India and analyzed earthquake events over a one-year period from May 2013 to May 2014. Only those earthquakes recorded by the United States Geological Survey’s global earthquake monitoring database (USGS) greater than 4.0 magnitude on the Richter scale were considered. We found a total of 1,247 recorded earthquake events. The story of a 1000 earthquakes was born and was a story that needed to be told.
We decided to create a video that would become an awareness tool and effectively communicate the risk the region faces. We deliberately steered away from talking about work being undertaken to reduce seismic risks or policy mechanisms that can be adopted. There are other mechanisms, mediums and opportunities to take that agenda forward. This is a short 90 seconds video and hopefully communicates the urgency of investing resources and efforts into earthquake safety. Increase the volume, enjoy, get scared. and then be prepared!
While many impacts of climate change are already evident around the world, the worse is still to come. Having a clear picture of future risks is essential to spur action now on a scale that matches the problem. The World Bank has prepared the following infographic to communicate the risks for one of the world’s most vulnerable countries—Bangladesh.
The data comes from the 2013 World Bank report Turn Down the Heat: Climate Extremes, Regional Impacts, and the Case for Resilience. This report combines a literature review and original scientific modeling to build on a previous effort that found that the world will become 4°C (7.2°F) hotter during this century in the absence of deep and fast cuts to global carbon emissions. In this scenario, hotter local temperatures, greater water challenges, higher cyclone risks, and lower crop yields will create a hotspot of risks for Bangladesh.
Bangladesh already has a hot climate, with summer temperatures that can hit 45°C. Heat waves will break new records in a 4°C hotter world, with 7 out of 10 summers being abnormally hot. Northern Bangladesh will shift to a new climatic regime, with temperatures above any levels seen in the past 100 years and monthly deviations five to six times beyond the standard.
A smiling Mosammet Sukkur Jahan, walks to her thatched home in Datiar Char (shoal) in northern Bangladesh to prepare lunch for her family. While eating, Jahan and her neighbors Sharifa, Amena, and Halima were at ease as flood water rushed around their homes located in the middle of vast Teesta River during August and September 2014. They live on a shoal, which is an elevated sandbar that keeps their homes dry.
Chars or Shoals form through siltation along riverbeds. The constant interplay of erosion and accretion creates and sustains the shoals. There are mainly three types of chars: dead, mature, and running. Dead chars are usually permanent land formations. Mature chars are the ones that have not faced any major changes for 10-15 years. Running chars face regular changes and continuous emerge and disappear. The emergence and erosion determines the intensity of vulnerability in the ‘chars’. Typically a new char land requires at least 10 years of continuous presence before it becomes habitable for people.
My mother Manel Kirtisinghe encapsulated what the loss of a loved one in the tsunami meant, when she wrote in her diary “What you deeply in your heart possess, you cannot lose by death." On 26 Dec. 2004, Prasanna went away leaving behind for me a lasting vacuum and a silent aching grief.”
Prasanna was my brother and this year when we observe religious rituals in memory of him, my mother will not be there with us. She left us earlier this year. Prasanna was our bulwark and the trauma of his death was so intensely felt that it took us seven years to rebuild and return to our beloved house. My mother was happy to be back in the house she had come to as a bride in 1944, but she stubbornly refused to go to the back verandah or to walk on the beach - a ritual she did twice a day before the tsunami.
As my mother did, we all had our coping mechanisms to handle the pain. The grief is still with me hastily boxed and lodged inside me but about this time of the year the lid flies open and the horror spills out. The images gradually become more vivid, intense, horrifying. Like a slow moving movie, they appear…and the nightmares return.