June 17, 2015
Four additional quakes with magnitudes between 4 and 5.2 rocked Nepal earlier today, taking the total number of aftershocks to 320 after the devastating earthquake struck the country in April.
The first aftershock of 4.4 magnitude was recorded at 5.58 am (local time) with epicenter at Ramkot, 7 kilometers west of the capital Kathmandu.
The aftershock was strong enough to get people fleeing for open areas.
A 5.2 magnitude tremor recorded at 6.14 am (local time) with epicenter at Sindhupalchowk district was shortly followed by another aftershock of magnitude 4 with epicenter in the same area.
The fourth tremor of 5.1 magnitude was recorded at 8 am (local time) with epicenter at Sindhupalchowk-Tibet border area.
Nepal is still recovering from two major quakes and scores of aftershocks that have killed 8,800 people and left a trail of destruction that will take years to recover from.
June 16, 2015
Yesterday, in an effort to bring in tourist dollars, the Nepali government reopened six heritage sites, in spite of warnings from UNESCO.
Sites include Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath, Lumbini, Kathmandu Durbar Square, Patan Durbar Square and Bhaktapur Durbar Square.
The historic value of the three Durbar Squares of Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan, are invaluable to the culture and economy of Nepal. They date back to the period between the 12th and 18th centuries, when the Kathmandu Valley was divided into three Hindu kingdoms. They and the temple complexes of Changu Narayan and Swayambhu were the most damaged by the earthquakes. Two other heritage areas in the valley, Boudhanath stupa and Pashupatinath temple, suffered only minor damage and remained open to the public after the earthquakes.
And it is true that Nepal’s tourism industry has been devastated by the disaster that struck the country almost two months ago. Out of a total 741 shrines across Nepal – major tourist draws – 133 were completely destroyed. The Nepal Economic Forum, a Kathmandu-based think tank, says 80 per cent of hotel reservations have been cancelled since the quake. There’s no doubt that this lack of tourist dollars will further detain renovations and reconstruction overseen by a cash-strapped government. It’s estimated that in the first year a Rs. 1.8 billion budget is required for restoration and renovation of shrines, which will be but the first phase of reconstruction.
But how wise is it to rush things and spin an optimistic assessment of the sites’ safety? What are the risks for further damage to the monuments as well as gambling with sightseers’ safety?
In a statement released last week, UNESCO raised serious safety concerns calling the situation “precarious” and advised against reopening. urgeing the tourism and archeological bodies “to carefully plan the reopening process, prioritizing safety and security.”
Yesterday, Christian Manhart, head of UNESCO’s Nepal office in Kathmandu, told the New York Times that he believed that two of the sites, in particular, were still either unsafe or vulnerable to theft because the rubble from the earthquake was not yet cleared:
“At Kathmandu Durbar Square there is the huge palace museum — one very big building which is totally shaky,” he said. “The walls are disconnected from one another so this big wall can fall down at any moment. There is still a risk that buildings might collapse.”
Mohan Krishna Sapkota, spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation sees it differently:
“Tourists will have to take guides with them who will know about the safe routes around the monuments.”
When asked about the museum, Nepal’s Tourism Department said yesterday that the museum would remain closed.
Mr. Manhart, however, insisted that even allowing visitors close to the museum could be dangerous. Referring to the ministry, he said, “They say that there is some pressure to reopen those sites so they can request entrance fees, which is badly needed.”
Perhaps Simon Watkinson, a British travel agent in Nepal, should have the last word. In an interview with Agence France Presse, he said the reopening of the heritage sites would not bring back tourists. “It does not change anything given that foreign countries have issued advisories saying that Nepal is unsafe,” he said.
In the meantime, Nepal continues to have aftershocks above 4.0.
June 12, 2015
According to Republica, a massive landslide triggered by incessant rainfall hit six VDCs in Taplejung District on Wednesday night, leaving 55 people dead as of Thursday evening, local time. Scores are missing.
The affected VDCs are Khokling, Liwang, Santhakra, Thinglabu, Lingtep and Khamlung, with Liwang, where 26 people were killed, the hardest hit in terms of casualties. There were no casualties in Khamlung.
The dead include 9 in Khokling, 12 in Santhakra, 5 in Thinglabu and 3 in Lingtep, apart from the 26 in Liwang, according to locals.
The death toll may rise as the search and rescue operation is still underway.
The landslide has placed the human settlements near the Tamor and Mewakhola rivers at risk. The landslide has converted Ramduwali Bazaar into a riverbank and swept away nine households from there. They are still out of contact.
The dense human settlement at Dobhan, or the confluence of the two rivers, is also vulnerable to landslide, according to the area police office. There are around 100 houses at Dobhan.
"We've already urged the locals to move to safer locations from the riverside areas," said police inspector Devi Prasad Phago.
Meanwhile, Chief District Officer (CDO) Damaru Prasad Niraula informed that the rescue operation has been hampered by bad weather conditions and rainfall. The Meteorological Forecasting Division (MFD) has recorded 129 mm rainfall in a period of 24 hours on Wednesday.
"Even the trekking routes to the landslide area have been swept away, which has adversely affected the rescue work," he said.
CDO Niraula claimed that security personnel are trying their best to expedite the rescue operation despite the bad weather.
Police say they are finding it difficult to rescue people as rains have caused water level to rise in rivers and rivulets. A rescue helicopter flew to Taplejung from Kathmandu but could not land in any of the landslides-hit villages due to adverse weather. Police and locals are digging the landslide debris to recover bodies.
A landslide in Myangkhama village of Taplejung has also blocked part of the Mechi Highway, making it difficult for additional rescue teams to arrive in the distric
A Nepal Army (NA) rescue team from the capital airlifted 10 injured to the district hospital from Liwang and Lingtep on Thursday morning. Dr Kumud Bhattarai, who is involved in the treatment of the injured, said that the condition of most of the victims admitted to the hospital is critical.
"The patients have sustained serious injuries to the head, legs and other parts of the body," said Dr Bhattarai.
Meanwhile, issuing a press release, NA's Directorate of Public Relations said that helipads are being constructed at the landslide-hit areas to facilitate the rescue operations.
Jharendra Thapa, a local eyewitness in Khokling, recounted his own experience:
It rained heavily, stopped for some time, and then continued again incessantly. Thunder and lightening accompanied the rain. We felt scared and we stayed on the alert. All of a sudden, nearby rivers and rivulets became filled with muddy water. Then we learnt about the landsides taking place upstream. Informing all our neighbours, we ran helter-skelter to save our lives. Many of us who managed to run to safety on time have survived. Our village turned into a landslide area in a while.
Two children who didn't know about the landslide died on the spot. Lam Kumari Lamgade was swept away while trying to escape from the village. Even the place we moved to was not safe from landslides, but it was somewhat safer than our village.
June 7, 2015
The following analysis was posted by colleague Jayadeva Ranade, written for yesterday’s edition of The Sunday Dispatch:
By mid-2015 there has been no reduction in intensity of the anti-corruption campaign unleashed by Chinese President Xi Jinping within weeks of the 18th Party Congress in November 2012. It continues to be vigorously implemented and remains unprecedented in duration and scope. It has also impacted on the economy with a flight of capital abroad estimated at over US$145 billion, with the accompanying austerity drive adversely impacting restaurants, hotels, jewellery sales etc., resulting in a nearly 2% drop in GDP.
At the Third Plenum of the National People's Congress (NPC) — China's version of a Parliament — in November 2013, Xi Jinping brought China's 2.3 million-strong People's Liberation Army (PLA) within the purview of the Party's anti-corruption watchdog body, the Central Discipline Inspection Commission (CDIC). With a single bold, deft move Xi Jinping immeasurably tightened his and the Party's grip on the PLA and diminished the PLA's sense of privilege. No PLA officer can now ignore the Party's directives with impunity. The fact that the CDIC is chaired by Wang Qishan, a fellow "princeling", school friend and member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC), who outranks all members of the Central Military Commission except for its Chairman Xi Jinping, ensures that there can be no interference with CDIC investigations. This move was followed by stringent rules on financial discipline and audit teams were sent to inspect PLA headquarters and Military Regions.
CDIC investigations have been swift and thorough. Within weeks, China's official media reported that Major General Gu Junshun was under investigation and that he was part of a network, which included senior officers. Numerous PLA generals were soon listed by the CDIC's official website as either under detention or investigation. Many, like Vice Admiral Ma Faxiang and Rear Admiral Jiang Zhonghua, committed suicide to avoid shame and allow their families to receive post-retirement financial benefits. In a stunning move, this year in January and February alone, 30 generals were placed under detention for investigation on corruption charges. Considering that the PLA has 32 generals, 134 lieutenant generals and 978 major generals in service, the number is sizeable. A total of 4,300 officers, or 30% of the PLA's officer cadre are currently under investigation.
The campaign certainly has political overtones. Many of those under investigation are linked with Generals Guo Boxiong and Xu Caihou, former Vice Chairmen of the Central Military Commission, who owe loyalty to former Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin and whom Xi Jinping's predecessor Hu Jintao found difficult to remove. The vacancies created will undoubtedly be filled by Xi Jinping loyalists.
One area which Xi Jinping has been pushing is modernisation and reform in the PLA. This entails downsizing the PLA by another 800,000 personnel and reorganising the present seven Military Regions. There are indications of reluctance in the PLA to implement the reforms, but the ongoing anti-corruption campaign can be expected to lend strength to Xi Jinping's exhortations to advance military reforms. He has simultaneously enhanced and enlarged the authority and role of political commissars in the PLA.
Discontent at the rising incidence of corruption and ostentation in the PLA has been voiced by senior PLA officers for a long time. In the late 1980s, a Hong Kong TV documentary depicted luxury limousines being towed underwater to China under PLA Navy protection. Jiang Zemin had also tried to divest the PLA of its numerous business enterprises. In the run-up to the 18th Party Congress, which was in many ways a watershed event for China, numerous "princelings", who normally keep a low profile, spoke out against the ostentatious lifestyles and extravagance of PLA officers. One "princeling" observed that in a particular year the expenditure on purchase of luxury limousines exceeded the national defence budget.
The high-risk anti-corruption campaign in the PLA has undoubtedly created uncertainties. While the anti-corruption campaign will undoubtedly strengthen Party control over the PLA, some observers worry it could blunt the PLA's fighting capability at least in the short term. Credible reports additionally state that Chinese President Xi Jinping and CDIC Chairman Wang Qishan have both received assassination threats. One indication is the report disseminated by Boxun, a US-based news service, on 4 March 2015 — the opening day of China's two big political meetings, the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). It claimed that a plot by the Central Guards Ninth Unit 8341, entrusted with the task of protecting the senior leadership, to assassinate Xi Jinping had been foiled. Though the report erroneously misinterpreted the promotions of the commander and other senior officers of the Central Guard Unit, it nonetheless adds credence to reports of dissatisfaction with the campaign. Xi Jinping, though, appears determined to push ahead with his agenda and further tighten his already firm grip on the PLA.
Jayadeva Ranade is a former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India. He is president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.
June 5, 2015
The following open letter from Geneva, written by Kedar Neupane, was sent five days ago to the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. (Translation of letter has been condensed and edited by Mikel Dunham.)
Mr. Kedar Neupane is the president of “We for Nepal”, an association based in Switzerland. He is a retired member of the United Nations staff, who has worked for over 38 years in countries of Asia, Africa and Europe.
His e-mail is Neupanek1950@gmail.com.
Attention: Chief Secretary Mr.Leela Mani Paudyal:
Five weeks have elapsed since the 25 April 2015 earthquake, which shook Nepal and continues to shake Nepalese confidence. Local media continues to report that government assistance is not reaching the more remote areas, where the most vulnerable people are. It is remarkable that many individuals, youths and NGOs are offering relief items. However, the political establishment and the ruling government in Kathmandu appear unable to agree on a command-and-control structure for post-disaster coordination and a way forward in crisis.
Commendable ideas have been floated by distinguished personalities, economists, administrators and experts. But is anyone in the government listening? Judging from media reports, the answer is ‘No’. The establishment suffers from a disease called “consensus-building” on everything this nation faces. What Nepal is really clamoring for is a “unity government”. The notion of “consensus-building” has already mangled the government’s primary duty to the people of Nepal: For seven years the government has been unable to fulfill its promise to write a new constitution.
The government must take a few urgent steps to demonstrate that it is ready to work with international cooperation and assistance. Normal business of the government should not be combined with the extraordinary requirements of post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. The government faces two important tasks; (1) deliver a new constitution while overseeing day-to-day affairs of the state; (2) deal with post-disaster recovery and reconstruction. These are two distinct responsibilities. Both require very different strategy, mechanism, policy approach, expertise, and management and coordination skills. Disaster management is a specialized skill and it should not be part of political and bureaucratic debate. This calls for a separate and effective management and command structure for post disaster management.
POST-DISASTER RECONSTRUCTION RECOMMENDATIONS:
The government should take the following steps to establish governance credibility:
1) Established an autonomous Post-Disaster National Reconstruction Authority (PNRA), for a two-year term, headed by a capable former bureaucrat.
2) Assign Nepal Army (already it has displayed a commendable work) to assists the Authority (PNRA).
3) Establish a separate fund for PNRA to receive reconstruction funds from donors, cut bureaucratic obstacles, ease disbursement procedure so that funds and goods received are not held by the government departments.
4) Establish staging warehouses in strategic locations (erect rub-halls) and deliver relief and reconstruction materials in these warehouses under the direct control of PNRA and the Nepal Army to deliver relief materials to affected population.
5) Do not impose taxes and levies on relief and construction materials managed by the PNRA. The government should not contemplate raising government revenues out of this national tragedy by imposing taxes on relief material and supplies. This disaster recovery is not a revenue-making venture for the government.
6) PNRA should prepare a code-of-conduct for managing the reconstruction program within its structure. If necessary, co-opt reputed ex-officers (untainted former senior bureaucrats, ex-UN/multi-lateral international organizations, Nepalis who have international credibility) and skilled volunteers to assist PNRA, prepare exit strategies -- as and when activities are streamlined and services are mainstreamed with government/local departments.
7) Ensure that PNRA is NOT headed by any political party protégé and/or party representative.
8) Planning Commission and PNRA, in close collaboration, prepare post-disaster recovery Marshall Plan for Nepal.
9) Organize periodic donor briefings and consultations, jointly co-chaired by India and China, and internationalize the disaster recovery and reconstruction plan by soliciting major donor participation (not limited to funding only); consider implementing reconstruction plan by geographic location for clarity of responsibility and accountability and also to avoid duplication of efforts.
10) Table a conscientious-raising resolution at the UN Security Council (this is the body which can act and assist, not only at the UNGA - which lacks action).
The above suggestions are not an exhaustive list of steps but merely an indication of some important confidence-building-process preceedure. The Government of Nepal should seriously focus on this and take a firm decision forthwith.
We for Nepal
30 May 2015, Geneva.
We for Nepal is a non-profit, non-political, non-religious, non-commercial voluntary association of like-minded people who care for Nepal and Nepalese, based in Geneva, Switzerland.
June 3, 2015
At least four persons, including three Nepalis and a Dutch woman working for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) were killed on Tuesday when their helicopter crashed while returning after distributing relief materials to earthquake victims in Nepal's mountainous region.
The four bodies were recovered by a soldier from Gorakh Bahadur Battalion, a senior army official said.
The chopper, seen flying at low altitude, crashed into a high-tension electric line, according to eyewitnesses.
The victims on the 9N-AJP chopper included the pilot, Captain Subek Shrestha, said Shrestha Mountain Air Manager Basanta Bhandari. The chopper was being chartered by Medecins Sans Frontieres through Mountain Air.
Other members of the Nepali crew were Dr. Sandip Mahat and Sher Bahadur Karki (photo not available).
A Dutch doctor working with Medecins Sans Frontieres, also killed in the helicopter crash has been identified as 32-year-old Jessica Wilford from Eindhoven.
According to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) acting General Manager Birendra Prasad Shrestha, the helicopter had left for Dolakha from Kathmandu with relief materials. TIA Air Traffic Controller chief Bharat Sharma added that another helicopter had been dispatched to the site for search and rescue operations.
This is the second tragic helicopter accident to have occurred in earthquake-ravaged Nepal in the last month. On May 12, a US military helicopter engaged in quake-relief operations had come down in Nepal, killing six US Marines and two Nepalese soldiers.
A Medecins Sans Frontieres spokesperson said that they were “currently working on confirming the identities of the victims of the crash. It is really tragic. Three of our staff were onboard that flight."
For carrying out relief work in the quake-hit country, MSF has hired two helicopters from Nepal to run mobile clinic services in far-flung areas like Sindhupalchok, Rasuwa, Gorkha and Dhading.
It ran several sorties to Sindhupalchok, the worst affected district in the country, to rush relief and medical aid.
A United Nations official on Tuesday said up to 2.8 million Nepalese people are in need of humanitarian aid following the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks, including more than 800,000 who live in remote, mountainous areas.
June 1, 2015
Published 27 May, UNESCO Consultant David Andolfatto discusses his work since the earthquake:
The recent earthquake in Nepal, and the following aftershocks, have resulted in dramatic damage to cultural heritage. Current response by UNESCO, the Department of Archaeology, and other related stakeholders, is to assess the affected sites. It is clear, even from a superficial glance, that the damage to heritage is unprecedented. However, in order to safeguard, not just the pieces of fallen monuments, but also the hopes to rebuild, it is important to conduct well documented archaeological surveys and to responsibly store the salvaged parts. UNESCO has deployed several experts’ to assess and document the locations; one of them is UNESCO consultant David Andolfatto.
David is an archaeologist from France, working in Kathmandu for 8 years. He is currently doing a PhD on western Nepalese archaeology. Between 2009 and 2010, he also worked on documentation of Buddhist sites of the valley. Since the earthquake, David, with professionals from UNESCO, Department of Archaeology, and volunteers, has been assessing damages at several heritage sites. David reckons that one of the most interesting, and challenging, surveys has been at Swayambhu. The assessment began on May 1 upon the request of Rajesh Suwal of the Federation of Swayambhu Management and Conservation. The surveying team comprised of Ludovic Dusuzeau and Pierre Gérard-Bendele, volunteer French architects; Dominique Baudais, an experimented French archaeologist; Debendra Bhattarai, Department of Archaeology; Amrit Man Buddhacharya from the local community; and; Joy Lynn Davis and David from UNESCO.
An exciting discovery happened while studying what remained of the Tashi Gomang Stupa (called Mangal Bahudvar Chaitya in Sanskrit). This unique white plastered stupa with multi-tiered niches adorning votive sculptures is to the south-west of the Swayambhu Stupa. Upon closer inspection it was found that there was another stupa inside with sculptures in terracotta. The terracotta sculptures closely resemble those found at Mahabouddha, Patan so it is preliminarily thought that the sculptures could be from a similar timeframe. The discovery of the inner chaitya could also indicate the practice of adding layers creating a multi-shell structure, something characteristic of larger mahachaityas, to also be true in this unique smaller stupa. Several other artefacts were also found in the ruins, which are now kept in a secure location.
Besides these interesting findings, there have also been many challenges. Frescos from the walls of Shantipur (one of the five Purs of Shantikaracharya, as per the creation myth of Swayambhu) have fallen and the structure itself is not stable. It is recommended that the frescos be moved to the nearby Chhauni National Museum. However, David mentions several sensitivities in this case, including the community’s fear to relocate the frescos. Shantipur is an Agam, not just sacred but a secret cult space. Ergo, there are very few people permitted into the inner chambers. David and the team intend to work on the outer chamber, by covering the access to the inner chamber. It is however recommended that rebuilding this secret chamber should be indirectly overseen by the professional team.
After the second major quake, on 12 May, the main stupa has suffered a large crack. As of now, safeguarding the stupa during the monsoons, using a temporary solution is a possibility; however use of tarps to cover the monuments is not a practical solution here. A unique challenge at Swayambhu is actually the need to deal with the monkeys. Tarps covering the monuments are invariably removed by the irksome yet popular monkeys of Swayambhu. Besides these, there have been damages to both Pratappur and Anantapur, the two shikhara style monuments flanking the eastern stairway, and two of the Gombas have collapsed.
Although David has been engulfed in the assessment of Swayambhu, he has also worked in several other sites since the earthquake. Upon the request of the UNDP team working in Irkhu, Sindhupalchowk, David has surveyed four structures – three temples in Chautārā and one gumba in Mājagaon. The area and the structures are either heavily damaged or in very precarious conditions, a report has been presented to UNDP regarding their current conditions including the immediate measures that need to be taken to document and safeguard the monuments. Many buildings in the Chhauni National Museum are also damaged. The central wing of the Historic Gallery, built 200 years ago by Prime Minister General Bhimsen Thapa show no visible damages, but the two, 150 years old, annex buildings are heavily damaged. Artefacts that could be accessed have already been moved, while the inaccessible ones will have to be transferred by reaching them, using cranes. The complex is very well secured, with 40 security personnel on site, therefore there is a possibility of storing artefacts. Yet there is a need to coordinate with experts specialized in collection transfer and preservation and to properly inventory the transferred artefacts.
For the immediate future, David intends to continue working at Swayambhu. Several NGOs, groups of restorers and volunteers may be involved in different stages of work at this site. However, the next foreseeable step is to get approvals from concerned authorities to have people work here, primarily to clean all the modern Gombas and houses. The other immediate concern is to address the crack formed in the main stupa.
May 27, 2015
One month after Nepal’s April 25th 7.8-magnitude earthquake and it’s 7.3-magnitude follow-up on May 12th, the aftershocks keep coming. Two days ago, a 5.0-magnitude tremor was recorded in western Nepal's Gorkha district, with a 4.1-magnitude tremor following further east in the Dolakha district.
Since April 25, the death toll has risen above 8,600 people and the number continues to rise.
Over one half million buildings have been severely damaged or flattened.
The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has confirmed that 8.1 million people are in need of humanitarian support while another 1.9 million require food assistance.
According to OCHA, some 315,000 people in the 14 most affected districts remain in areas inaccessible by road while 75,000 others cannot even be reached by air.
The U.N. agency UNICEF has reported that an estimated 70,000 children under the age of five now risk malnutrition.
The Nepalese government has said it will take over $7 billion, or one-third of the country's gross domestic product, to rebuild, and little reconstruction is expected during the rainy season, predicted to begin in less than three weeks.
Jamie McGoldrick, U.N. resident coordinator in Nepal, said on Monday that the
international community's response to Nepal’s devastations has been disappointing.
The U.N. appealed for $423 million to be able to provide up to two million survivors with basic relief such as tents or tarpaulin sheets, dry food rations, safe drinking water and toilets for the next three months. As of Monday, the U.N. Financial Tracking System showed $92.4 million has been raised, 22 percent of the required funds.
Said McGoldrick: "I am disappointed in the sense that there was such an impressive response in terms of search and rescue - all the teams that came in to do the work, they did very impressively and comprehensively - and maybe they think that's the job done…The talk now is about reconstruction, but we are trying to remind people that in between search and rescue and recovery, there is a phase called relief and we can't forget that."
McGoldrick said the slow response was partly due to donor fatigue where governments were being torn between competing humanitarian crises across the world such as the civil conflict in Syria or in Yemen.
Nepal's traditional donors were also more "development" focused and were likely holding back funds for long-term reconstruction and recovery projects, he added.
But he warned that there was only a small window of opportunity to buy and get relief supplies delivered to survivors in remote mountain hamlets ahead of the annual monsoons which run from June to September.
The heavy rains in areas which were already damaged by the earthquakes would "complicate relief efforts all the more" as they would trigger more landslides and block roads, hampering the delivery of aid by trucks.
May 25, 2015
"With monsoon season coming, there are hundreds and thousands of people without permanent shelter, so finding shelter solutions over the next two months will be extremely important, especially in rural areas," warned Mark Smith, senior director of emergency affairs at World Vision.
Clean water – especially in light of the upcoming monsoon season – is of major concern in Nepal.
Water is already fairly scarce within the Kathmandu valley even at the best of times.
Moreover, with Nepalis resorting to camping outdoors, the lack of proper hygiene facilities and broken sewage systems heighten the risk of diarrheal disease epidemics.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that only 27 percent of the population has access to adequate sanitation, adding that diarrheal diseases, dysentery, cholera and typhoid are the primary causes of death in the country
PLOS Medicine, a peer-reviewed weekly medical journal covering the full spectrum of medical sciences, just published its latest evaluation of Nepal after the recent earthquakes and the vaccine-preventable diseases looming on Nepal’s horizon. PLOS’s dispatch was written by Lorenz von Seidlein and posted on May 21, 2015:
In the wake of the recent devastating earthquakes, PLOS Medicine Consulting Editor Lorenz von Seidlein visited Nepal to assess outbreak risks. Lorenz travelled with Anuj Bhattachan, International Vaccine Institute, Seoul, Korea and guidance from Deepak C. Bajracharya and Shyam Raj Upreti from the Group for Technical Assistance, Kathmandu, Nepal. The assessment was requested by the epidemiology and disease control division of the Ministry of Health of Nepal and facilitated by Stop Cholera. Here he reports on the damage he witnessed and considers the choice of administering vaccines pre-emptively versus reactively in response to an outbreak.
The two earthquakes in April and May 2015 seem to have selectively erased much of northern Nepal’s architecture and history. Many buildings in urban Kathmandu were constructed during the last 20 years. These buildings, in many cases multi-storey or high-rise, did not collapse during the recent earthquakes. The older buildings in urban Kathmandu are brick and mortar constructions without a frame. These vintage structures give Kathmandu its characteristic charm but they fell like dominoes during the first earthquake on 25th April. In rural districts the buildings are mostly stone and clay; they are perfectly adapted for the high altitude climate of the Himalayas but offer very little resistance against an earthquake. Most of the stone houses completely crumbled or have large enough cracks to suggest imminent collapse. According to government figures, 488,579 houses were destroyed and 260,026 damaged. The probability of a quick reconstruction is small because of the widespread damage. Furthermore, majority of men of working age are employed abroad, leaving a denuded local labour force.1
[Current estimates suggest that more than 8,600 people died and nearly 18,000 people were injured in the two quakes.. As it stands] most health care is required for acute trauma but trauma will be replaced by other presentations during the coming months. Water resources of the 660,000 to 1.3 million people were affected and between 850,000 to 1.7 million need sanitation support. Concurrently 945 health facilities, mostly village health posts, are partially or totally damaged. Health services have been severely compromised. Routine childhood vaccinations had to be suspended in some districts. The makeshift temporary living conditions, disruptions to water supply and sanitation, and strained health services foreshadow an aftershock of a different variety: enteric diseases may seize this opportunity to spread through an already devastated country.
Enteric diseases are infections caused by viruses and bacteria that enter the body through the mouth or intestinal system, primarily as a result of eating, drinking and digesting contaminated foods or liquids. Direct contact with contaminated feces or vomit is a secondary method of contracting enteric ailments. The name for this class of diseases is derived from the Greek word enteron, which means intestine. Cholera, typhoid fever, salmonella and Escherichia coli, or E.coli, infections are some of the most common enteric diseases.
Two vaccine preventable enteric diseases are endemic in Nepal and have potential for outbreaks. Kathmandu is considered by some the typhoid fever capital of the world. The transmission of the typhoidal Salmonella species is facilitated by poor hygiene and public sanitation conditions. Although the Vi polysaccharide typhoid vaccine was found to be safe and effective in clinical trials in Nepal in 1987, to this day immunization against typhoid fever has not been included into the country’s public health armamentarium.
Cholera is another enteric disease endemic in Nepal that has a high outbreak potential. The largest recent cholera outbreak in Nepal occurred in Jajarkot district in 2009. More than 30,000 reported cases and 500 cholera deaths were reported during the outbreak in Jajarkot and surrounding areas in 2009. In 2014 a cholera outbreak was reported in Rautahat district in the low altitude region of Nepal bordering India. In response the MoH undertook a vaccination campaign with oral cholera vaccine (OCV) which has become available through a stockpile mechanism administered by the WHO. This mechanism allows countries to quickly obtain low-cost vaccines including OCV, meningococcal and yellow fever vaccine.
There are some mitigating circumstances which could reduce the risk for cholera outbreaks. For example, the landslides, which have made access to the northern villages impossible, also likely prevent importation of cholera into these remote villages. During our assessments of areas outside Kathmandu, we witnessed helicopter deliveries of food and basic medicines by airdrops. On the other hand, should a cholera outbreak occur in these isolated areas, it may take weeks before it is detected and a response mounted. Such delays will result in high case fatality rates.
The availability of a safe and protective vaccine against cholera has raised a debate whether OCVs should be used reactively (in response to an outbreak) or pre-emptively (to prevent an outbreak) during the post-earthquake period in Nepal. Of course prevention is smarter, but the damage is widespread; who should receive the vaccine? Predicting where a cholera outbreak will occur remains impossible, the total amount of OCV on the world market is limited, the population currently at high risk for cholera secondary to the earthquake is much larger than the available product, and the vaccine and its administration costs money.
Most importantly, large vaccination campaigns are more technically challenging during the aftershocks of a massive earthquake and in isolated areas where access is difficult. Earlier this week we visited a district health officer in Gorkha— one of the most severely affected districts— who had no time to talk with us. When he finally had two minutes available, he told tell us that he is overwhelmed by the demands of disaster management, there are (at the moment) no cholera cases in his district, and a cholera vaccination campaign was simply not on the cards. A range of emergency measures had precedence on this day and will have precedence in the weeks to come. In the absence of evidence and experience policymakers are reluctant to select one community over another.
Reactive oral cholera vaccination seems to be the more feasible alternative if the detection of cholera cases and an immediate response can be guaranteed. Reactive vaccinations rely on accurate and complete surveillance. The current Nepalese cholera surveillance protocol demands the immediate reporting of suspected cholera cases (i.e. watery diarrhoea) by the health posts to the district health centre, which are then forwarded to national health laboratory, which will send transport media for sample collection to the affected health post and return the samples to the laboratory. The results are reported to the MoH, which takes appropriate action. That this process can fail was demonstrated in Jajarkot district in 2009 when no earthquake had happened. Cholera cases have to be detected rapidly for timely measures (case management, water supply, sanitation, hygiene education as well as vaccination) to be put in place. Oral cholera vaccination campaigns will require the completion of paperwork, approval by an international coordinating group, shipment of vaccines, planning and implementation of a vaccine campaign. Under optimal circumstances this process can take two months. Circumstances in Nepal are currently not optimal for a rapid response. If a cholera epidemic is progressing slowly, a linear increase in the number of new cases can be manageable. If the number of cases increases at an exponential rate, the containment of the outbreak is unlikely and a catastrophic outbreak similar to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe 2008-2009 or Haiti 2010-2011 is the more likely scenario.
There is no easy solution. At the moment the path of least resistance is to ramp up surveillance as much as possible to be able react to an outbreak as quickly as possible. Considering the current circumstances, the shocks to the health care system, and the priority for reconstruction nobody will object to such an approach. Yet if this plan doesn’t work out and cholera spreads we will regret the decision not having acted pre-emptively. Indeed the majority of mass cholera vaccination campaigns have been pre-emptive. Considering the damage and the suffering caused by the recent large cholera outbreaks in Zimbabwe and Haiti a large pre-emptive campaign may be the best solution for Nepal.
May 22, 2015
An estimated 200 Buddhist nuns and monks died after more than 1,000 monasteries collapsed in the 14 districts hit hardest by the earthquakes, according to the Buddhist Philosophy Promotion and Monastery Development Committee (BPPMDC). The committee, under Nepal’s Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, said that all 215 monasteries in Sindhupalchok district were flattened by the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks.
A total of 150 Buddhist monasteries collapsed in Gorkha, 105 in Dhading, 60 in Rasuwa and 60 in Solukhumbu. There are reports of them destroyed in Nuwakot, Dolakha, Ramechhap, Okhaldhunga, Makwanpur, Lamjung and Syangja as well. “What we have is a preliminary report of damages caused by the quake,” said Bhadra Bahadur Golay, under-secretary at the BPPMDC.
The devastating earthquake has destroyed many well-known monasteries including Seto Gumba in Ramkot; Rato Gumba in Sitapaila; Khumchey Gumba in Gorkha; Chrighyang Gumba in Dolakha and Chirite Gumba in Sindhupalchok.
Karma Tsering Tashi Lama, president of the BPPMDC who recently visited many of the earthquake -affected areas in Sindhupalchok and Rasuwa with an inspection team, said he did not see a monastery that stands straight. “The monasteries we visited had either fallen or were on the verge of collapse,” said Lama. “Of those that remain, there is eerie silence.”
With the collapse of monasteries along with their houses in the area, most Buddhist disciples said they feel helpless. “If only the monastery had remained, people would have gone to pray for the departed souls,” said Udar Man Tamang, 37, of Baskharka Village Development Committee. All the eight monasteries in the VDCs have been destroyed by the quake. “People here have nowhere to go,” he said.
The Buddhist committee said it has deployed teams to the districts for a survey of the monasteries . The teams have been collecting the details of destruction in coordination with the local authorities. “Since monasteries are often built on hilltops, landslide has cut off the way for rescue,” said Lama. A total of 2,200 monasteries have been registered with the committee but officials say there are about 5,000 in the country. “The death toll could rise as we have been collecting data only from the registered monasteries,” said Lama.
May 21, 2015
Joint Task Force 505 is drawing down its earthquake relief operations as the Nepalese government and international aid agencies have postured for long-term recovery and reconstruction efforts.
Nepal announced its transition from relief operations to the recovery phase of disaster response on Tuesday
"We are grateful for the essential contributions of Operation Sahayogi Haat to the post-earthquake relief efforts,” said Peter Bodde, U.S. ambassador to Nepal. “The joint relief missions conducted by the U.S. and Nepalese militaries brought life-saving aid to those who needed it most and reinforced the United States’ close partnership with Nepal and its people."
The responsible redeployment of Joint Task Force 505 units in the coming days is able to occur quickly because the capacity of Nepal and the international community to meet the needs of the relief effort continues to grow and “together they are able to meet the requirements the U.S. joint task force would otherwise provide,” said Bill Berger, the U.S. Agency for International Development’s disaster assessment response team leader.
Emergency Food and Supplies
During the operation, Joint Task Force 505 delivered about 114 tons of emergency relief supplies, including plastic sheeting, shelter kits, blankets, water, medical supplies and emergency and supplemental food in support of USAID. In addition to delivering aid, the task force transported 534 personnel and conducted 63 casualty evacuations.
Demand has decreased for unique Joint Task Force 505 capabilities in further recovery efforts, said Marine Corps Lt. Gen. John Wissler, the task force’s commander.
As recovery efforts have progressed over the past weeks, for example, the logistical expertise of the 36th Contingency Response Group, a uniquely qualified Air Force unit out of Guam specializing in airfield management, is significantly reduced at Tribhuvan International Airport. Aid stockpiles are no longer backlogged, as the group has trained Nepalese army and airport personnel during their ongoing operations.
During operations, the U.S. military set up an earthquake-resistant blood bank, emergency operations centers and other facilities. It also provided training for the Nepalese military on techniques to quickly repair Nepal’s main airport runways and engaged in bilateral disaster-reduction exercises.
“We will continue to work closely with our Nepalese partners and USAID to ensure we meet the needs that may emerge during the coordinated transition and retrograde of our military capabilities as long as we remain in Nepal,” Wissler said. “Once we have returned to Okinawa, we will reset our ability to respond to any future disasters requiring our support. We stand with Nepal.”
This experience has forged a stronger relationship, Wissler said. “I look forward to future training opportunities to further improve our interoperability, refine our bilateral and multilateral processes, and continue to learn from our experiences working side by side,” he added.
Joint Task Force 505 contributed three Marine Corps UH-1Y Huey helicopters and four Marine Corps MV-22B Osprey tiltrotor aircraft to the relief effort throughout Nepal. Additionally, four Air Force C-17 Globemaster IIIs, four Air Force C-130 Hercules and two Marine Corps KC-130J Hercules aircraft, as well as various ground and aviation command and control assets, contributed to the effort.
About 900 U.S. military and civilian personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps contributed to the Nepal relief efforts under the joint task force’s auspices. About 300 task force personnel worked in Nepal, 320 others worked in the main headquarters in Japan, and 280 worked at the intermediate staging base in Thailand.
Joint Task Force 505 initiated Operation Sahayogi Haat, -- meaning “helping hand” in Nepali -- to limit further loss of life and human suffering in response to the devastating magnitude-7.8 earthquake that struck central Nepal on April 25, and continued the response after the magnitude-7.4 earthquake that struck May 12. More than 8,600 people died, and more than 16,000 were injured as a result of the earthquakes, according to latest official numbers.
"We, people, are men and women of the armed forces,” said Maj. Gen. Binoj Basnyat commandant of the Nepalese army’s command and staff college. “We understand each other; we know what the need is. So it has been a tremendous help for us while you were here, and helping us to get things in the proper direction. It's been a great help."
May 17, 2015
The bodies of six US marines and two Nepalese soldiers who were aboard a Marine helicopter that crashed during a relief mission in earthquake-hit Nepal have been identified, officials said today.
The wreckage of the UH-1 “Huey” was found Friday following days of intense searching in the mountains northeast of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. The first three charred bodies were retrieved Friday by Nepalese and US military teams, and the rest were found yesterday.
Captain Christopher L. Norgren, from Kansas, was the pilot.
Lance Corporal Jacob A. Hug, from Arizona, was the videographer.
Captain Dustin R. Lukasiewicz, from Nebraska, was the navigation safety officer.
Sergeant Ward M. Johnson IV, from Florida, was crew chief, in charge of helicopter maintenance.
Sergeant Eric M. Seaman, from California, was public relations.
Nepal Army Captain Tapendra Rawal.
Nepal Army JCO Basanta Titara.
REST IN PEACE ..............................................
May 15, 2015
The wreckage of a U.S. military helicopter lost on an earthquake relief mission was found today, high on a mountainside in Nepal, with three bodies spotted and the other five people on board presumed dead.
A U.S. search team identified the wreckage as that of the missing Marines UH-1Y Huey helicopter deployed after the Himalayan state was hit by a massive earthquake last month that killed more than 8,000 people.
Crash debris was found just 8 miles (13 km) north of the town of Charikot, said Army Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman for the U.S. military’s regional Pacific Command.
“The assessment of the site is ongoing and a thorough investigation will be conducted,” he added in a statement.
“The wreckage of the helicopter was found in pieces, and there are no chances of any survivors,” Nepal’s defense secretary, Iswori Poudyal said. He did not give the nationalities of the three victims, only saying their remains were charred.
The helicopter was carrying six Marines and two Nepalese army soldiers.
Lt. Gen. John Wissler, commander of the Marine-led joint task force, told reporters in Kathmandu that his team could not immediately identify the cause of the crash or identify the bodies found.
“It was very severe crash, and based on what we saw in the condition of the aircraft, we believe there were no survivors,” he said. “Due to the extremely difficult terrain of the site of the mishap, below-freezing temperatures and violent winds and thunderstorms, I made the decision to cease the recovery efforts for this evening,” he said. “We cannot afford to put US or Nepalese service members at any further risk.”
The recovery mission will resume at first light Saturday.
The discovery of the wreckage, first spotted by Nepalese ground troops and two army helicopters this morning, followed days of intense search involving U.S. and Nepalese aircraft and even U.S. satellites.
The Huey was spotted near the village of Ghorthali at an altitude of 11,200 ft (3,400 m), Nepal Army’s Major General Binoj Basnyat told Reuters earlier, as helicopters and Nepali ground troops converged on the crash site. “It was found on a steep slope,” he added, explaining that Nepali and U.S. teams were investigating the site and were expected to announce their findings at news conferences later today.
The area’s tallest peak soars to more than 7,000 meters (23,000 ft). Hillsides are cloaked with lush forest that made it hard to find the chopper even though it came down just a few miles from Charikot, the capital of Dolakha district that lies half a day’s drive to the east of Kathmandu.
Charikot is also an army base, serving as a hub for operations to airlift and treat those injured in the two earthquakes.
The first quake, which struck on April 25 with a magnitude of 7.8, has killed 8,199 people. The death toll from a 7.3 aftershock on Tuesday has reached 117, with many victims in Dolakha. The combined toll is approaching the number of just over 8,500 who died in an earthquake in 1934, the worst ever natural disaster to hit the poor Himalayan nation. Some 76,000 more have been hurt while hundreds of thousands of buildings - including ancient temples and monuments - have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly three weeks after the first quake, aftershocks continue to rattle the country.
Nepal mobilized 600 soldiers to search for the Huey. It went missing after the crew was heard over the radio saying that the aircraft was experiencing a fuel problem.
Two more U.S. Hueys, two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor planes and Nepali and Indian choppers had been involved in the search for the helicopter, which was part of a joint task force sent in by the United States to provide assistance at Nepal’s request.
The UH-1Y Venom helicopter was assigned to part of the Marine Light Attack Squadron 469, based in Camp Pendleton, California.
May 15, 2015
MORE ABOUT THOMAS L KELLY
Over an extensive career as a wanderlust photographer, Kelly has published ten books including Fallen Angels, Mongolia-The Land of Blue Skies, Sadhus the Great Renouncers, TIBET- Reflections from the Wheel of Life and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Visit his website:
May 14, 2015
My long time colleague and internationally acclaimed photojournalist Thomas Kelly has generously provided me with photographs that document the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal. Thanks so much, Thomas.
MORE ABOUT THOMAS L KELLY
Over an extensive career as a wanderlust photographer, Kelly has published ten books including Fallen Angels, Mongolia-The Land of Blue Skies, Sadhus the Great Renouncers, TIBET- Reflections from the Wheel of Life and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Visit his website:
May 13, 2015
The latest earthquake which shook Nepal yesterday at 12:52 pm was large enough – 7.3 – to trigger its own sequence of aftershocks as stress redistributes around the ruptured fault line.
It is part of the same fault system as the April 25 earthquake.
When a fault ruptures during an earthquake, the stress along the portion of the fault that slipped is relieved while the stress at the locked ends increases. Located between Kathmandu and Mount Everest, yesterday’s event and its aftershocks are far enough east of the older earthquakes that it appears a critical stress threshold was exceeded and the adjacent segment of the fault system ruptured. While unfortunate, this is not uncommon.
Cumulative damage is absolutely a problem with this latest earthquake. The intense shaking was a trigger to set off another round of landslides in the dramatically steep terrain, further complicating transportation within the region. It was also enough to collapse already-damaged buildings, although thankfully the causalities from this latest disaster should be lower with people already evacuated from the previous earthquakes.
The upcoming monsoon season will no doubt increase the possibility of landslides.
May 12, 2015
Today, Nepal has been hit with a magnitude 7.3 earthquake, and aftershocks as strong as magnitude 6.3 are still being felt. It has been just over three weeks since the magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the country, leaving more than 8,000 dead, scores injured and millions displaced.
Sadly, scientists had predicted that another earthquake was coming—and many more will come in the future in this seismically active region.
The Himalayan region had been overdue an earthquake, since the last one that hit Kathmandu 80 years ago. During the earthquake on April 25, however, not all of the pent-up seismic pressure was released. This left room for more earthquakes in the near future.
That near future, however, could have been days—or years—away. Predicting the precise location and timing of an earthquake is not possible. There are simply no signals from the movement of the Earth’s crust that can definitely point to when a quake is triggered.
And then one occurred today, about 18km below the surface and east of Kathmandu. It is not clear yet if this quake has indeed released all the remaining pent-up pressure.
The movement of the Indian plate, which collided with the Eurasian plate and gave birth to the Himalayas, makes the region a seismic hot zone. On average, the Indian plate moves about 18 millimeters towards the Eurasian plate and slips underneath it. This movement loads up some of its energy into earthquake faults, which extend on a line from east to west, and the process is much like loading energy in a spring. And every so often that energy is released in snap, resulting in an earthquake.
Eric Hand and Priyanka Pulla explain in Science (paywall):
Most of the region’s substantial earthquakes have occurred south of the line, where the plates are locked together and strain builds up. North of this “lock line,” however, the Indian plate dives downward and the character of the rock slab changes. Under higher temperatures and rising pressures, the brittle rocks become more plastic, and they creep past the Tibetan crust without rupturing. Or so researchers had thought.
What happened on April 25 makes things worse for the region. When the fault unloaded its stored energy, it tore through a region underneath Kathmandu that had been previously deemed impervious. “We therefore have the potential for bigger earthquakes than we might have otherwise expected,” Gavin Hayes of the US Geological Survey told Science.
This finding raises the possibility of magnitude 9 earthquakes, which would be as large as the earthquake that happened off the coast of Japan in 2011 and triggered deadly tsunamis. This warning is not just for those in Nepal but also for those in India. The central seismic gap that makes this area so earthquake-prone extends all the way into the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand, where its structure is even more poorly understood.
Roger Bilham, a geologist at the University of Colorado, told the Indian Express, “The Indian government’s attitude to seismic studies is apparently to ‘shoot the messenger’.” He claims to have been expelled by the Indian government in 2012 when he ascertained that Nepal is better prepared than India at handling large earthquakes.
Report written by Akshat Rathi, Madhura Karnik and Manu Balachandran.
May 12, 2015
According to the Government of Nepal's "Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction Portal", as of today, the following data has been collected. Obviously, the numbers will change, especially those figures that have been rounded off to the nearest thousand.
As of today, 8151 are identified as dead, 14,997 injured, 10,790 government buildings destroyed, 14,997 government buildings partially destroyed, 288,798 private houses destroyed, and 254,112 private houses partially destroyed.
Below is the breakdown of data from the 20 hardest-hit districts:
44310 private houses fully destroyed
18991 private houses partially diestroyed
9990 government buildings fully destroyed
12915 government buildings partially destroyed
27640 private houses fully destroyed
33215 private houses partially destroyed
16 government buildings fully destroyed
30000 private houses fully destroyed
15000 private houses partially destroyed
200 government buildings fully destroyed
28 government buildings partially destroyed
20000 private houses fully destroyed
15000 private houses partially destroyed
8000 private houses fully destroyed
1000 private houses partially destroyed
40 government buildings fully destroyed
14 government buildings partially destroyed
44607 private houses fully destroyed
13236 private houses partially destroyed
7000 private houses fully destroyed
2000 private houses partially destroyed
2 government buildings fully destroyed
93 government buildings partially destroyed
30000 private houses fully destroyed
18545 private houses partially destroyed
252 government buildings fully destroyed
259 government buildings partially destroyed
6344 private houses fully destroyed
5851 private houses fully destroyed
6 government buildings fully destroyed
5000 private houses fully destroyed
35000 private houses partially destroyed
363 private houses fully destroyed
497 private houses partially destroyed
17072 private houses fully destroyed
23149 private houses partially destroyed
21 government buildings fully destroyed
13 government buildings partially destroyed
2483 private houses fully destroyed
6176 private houses partially destroyed
11 government buildings fully destroyed
12 government buildings partially destroyed
8000 private houses fully destroyed
10000 private houses partially destroyed
18 government buildings fully destroyed
166 government buildings partially destroyed
4159 private houses fully destroyed
8545 private houses partially destroyed
1 government building fully destroyed
50 government building partially destroyed
2 private houses fully destroyed
21 private houses partially destroyed
5 government buildings fully destroyed
6 government buildings partially destroyed
2046 private houses fully destroyed
3217 private houses partially destroyed
5 government buildings fully destroyed
2 government buildings partially destroyed
7 private houses fully destroyed
49 private houses partially destroyed
14 government buildings partially destroyed
16 private houses fully destroyed
20 private houses partially destroyed
32 government buildings fully destroyed
95 government buildings partially destroyed
7430 private houses fully destroyed
May 10, 2015
My long time colleague and internationally acclaimed photojournalist Thomas Kelly has generously provided me with photographs that document the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal. Thanks so much, Thomas.
MORE ABOUT THOMAS L KELLY
Over an extensive career as a wanderlust photographer, Kelly has published ten books including Fallen Angels, Mongolia-The Land of Blue Skies, Sadhus the Great Renouncers, TIBET- Reflections from the Wheel of Life and The Tibetan Book of the Dead.
Visit his website:
May 9, 2015
My long time colleague and internationally acclaimed photojournalist Thomas Kelly has generously provided me with photographs that document the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal. Thanks so much, Thomas.
MORE ABOUT THOMAS L KELLY
Visit his website:
May 8, 2015
My long time colleague and internationally acclaimed photojournalist Thomas Kelly has generously provided me with photographs that document the aftermath of the earthquake in Nepal. There are so many of his photographs that are worth publishing that I’m going to split them up into several dispatches. Thanks so much, Thomas.
MORE ABOUT THOMAS L KELLY
Visit his website:
May 7, 2015
The death toll from the devastating earthquake in Nepal has risen to 8,413, according to Nepal Red Cross Society’s latest calculation today.
A Red Cross report put the number of injured at 17,576, adding 260 people were still missing following the 7.9 magnitude quake.
May 6, 2015
Over a week has passed since a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Nepali districts of Dhading, Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Sindhupalchowk, and many villages have yet to receive humanitarian assistance. While the most critically injured people were evacuated in the days immediately after the earthquake, those who remained are trapped in their villages, as avalanches and landslides have cut off roads and walking paths.
Since April 29, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical teams have been traveling by helicopter and on foot to treat people spread across some 15 isolated mountain villages.
On May 3, an MSF team also set up a temporary clinic in the area of Chhapchet, in Dhading district, and began providing basic health care and minor surgical interventions. The team will work to spread the word in the surrounding villages that people can now come to the clinic to receive care. On May 4, another team landed in Lapubesi in Gorkha district, and will stay there for three days to provide medical assistance in the area.
"We are seeing people in need of basic health care, as well as a number of people with wounds sustained in the earthquake that have now become infected," says MSF nurse Anne Kluijtmans. "We are cleaning and dressing wounds, as well as distributing antibiotics and pain medication. We have also treated cases of pneumonia, including among children."
With many villages completely or partially destroyed by the earthquake, the most significant need is for shelter, while some of the more isolated villages in the mountains are also facing shortages of food. MSF teams are distributing high-energy biscuits and blankets in Kyanjin Gumba, Rasuwa district, and in Nampa Golche in Sindhupalchowk district. They have also provided more than 500 shelter kits in Gorkha district. Teams are continuing to explore the most effective ways to transport both food and shelter materials into the mountains, where temperatures at higher altitudes can drop below freezing at night.
There are also significant mental health needs stemming from the traumatic experience of the earthquake. Mental health workers are being added to MSF teams to begin providing psychological first-aid in some of the most-affected villages.
While hospitals in and around Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu were overwhelmed with patients in the first days after the earthquake, the pressure has abated somewhat and the rush to treat patients with acute trauma has passed. People are now waiting for more minor or follow up surgeries, as well as treatment for regular illnesses.
MSF has made supply donations to some hospitals in the capital. In Kathmandu and Pokhara, the authorities responsible for emergency management have mobilized a unit of local nephrologists to treat cases of crush syndrome, a medical condition common following earthquakes, characterized by shock and renal failure after a crushing injury.
An MSF surgical team provided support for three days at the hospital in Bhaktapur, on the outskirts of Kathmandu, in order to help the staff there operate on waiting patients. In the town of Arughat, in Gorkha district, MSF is setting up a 20-bed inflatable hospital to provide initial treatment for wounded.
Serious logistical challenges, including continued congestion at Kathmandu airport and the fact that the majority of the most-affected areas are inaccessible by road, have hampered MSF’s efforts to scale up activities quickly. “Our priority is to reach people in places where no one else is going and who have not received assistance,” says Dr. Prince Mathew, who was one of the first MSF staff members to arrive in the country. “So it has been a huge challenge logistically to get the necessary supplies in through the congested airport, and secure the air transport we need to be able to provide medical assistance and deliver shelter and relief materials to the people in most urgent need.”
MSF now has more than 120 staff members in the country and has flown in more than 80 tons of supplies, including the inflatable hospital. In addition to flying supplies into Kathmandu, MSF teams working across the border in India’s Bihar State were able to quickly transport shelter, hygiene, and kitchen kits by truck to Gorkha, 200 kilometers [about 124 miles] northwest of Kathmandu and close to the earthquake’s epicenter.
“We will increase the number of clinics as quickly as possible,” says Dr. Mathew. “Our teams also plan to distribute tons of shelters, hygiene materials, and cooking equipment. With the monsoon season approaching, we’re worried that the window of opportunity to reach people in these areas is rapidly closing.”
May 5, 2015
The death toll from Nepal’s earthquake has now claimed 7,500 lives and still rising. Early predictions that the final count would eventually reach 10,000 seems ever more likely.
Of all the districts, the hardest hit is Sindhupalchowk. As of yesterday, the death toll the death toll has reached 3,656 with well over 4000 injured. According to field hospitals, spinal injuries and amputations are particularly high. A fresh landslide occurred on Friday in Dolalghat area, on the border of Sindhupalchowk and Kavre districts, triggering further panic in the already battered region. Roads have been ruptured by the quake, increasing the difficulty for rescuers and relief supplies to reach the remote areas.
Sindhupalchowk, a district endowed with immense natural beauty, is about 60 kms north from the capital city Kathmandu.
The quakes and subsequent aftershocks have destroyed approximately 90 per cent of the houses in Sindhupalchowk, according to a situation report released by the United Nation's humanitarian agency OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).
A UN official visiting the district to monitor the situation said: "The local government officials themselves, are the victims of the quake, so how does one expect timely help?
Still, relief and is beginning to be seen. At least 200 bodies being recovered from Sindhupalchowk on a daily basis.
The district has a population of over 250,000 and international emergency response teams like the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) and Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres or MSF), besides other NGOs are providing the vital human link and compassionate touch amid the chaos.
MSF is sending mobile clinics in two helicopters and evacuating the critically injured, if needed.
The IFRC has supplied medical and non-food relied such as blankets, tarpaulins, kitchen-set and hygiene items among others for people in the far-flung area.
DDRC is busy collecting data of death toll using all the local level government mechanism, according to District Administration Office (DAO), Sindhupalchowk. Rescue teams consisting of Nepal Army, Armed Police Force and some foreign rescuers, including Norwegians, have been deployed for search and rescue operation.
Meanwhile, Police Inspector Rupak Khadka at District Police Office (DPO), Sindhupalchowk said that some 600 locals, who were in upper hills to pick yarshagumba at the time of earthquake, are still out of contact.
Also US choppers are beginning to make reconnaissance flights.
"Only the 'Hueys' (helicopters) have gone out so far for reconnaissance flights to try to identify areas in need of relief. No Ospreys have been out," a US embassy official told AFP on Monday.
The Ospreys and a US Air Force C-17 aircraft touched down in the capital Kathmandu on Sunday.
According to American ambassador Peter W. Bodde, besides assessments, the US units have two other aims: delivering relief supplies, and airlifting victims out of remote areas.
The report added that "the number of amputations has increased and the frequency seems to be accelerating".
Late Sunday climbing firms called off their Everest spring expeditions after a quake-triggered avalanche killed 18 on the world's highest peak.
Meanwhile, in Kathmandu, authorities say up to one-third of the city's residents have left since the quake. In the first days, bus stations were jammed with people fearing aftershocks or trying to get home to relatives in devastated villages.
Authorities do not know how many of those people have returned to the capital, but as of today people are still lining up and waiting for buses to leave.
Kathmandu police say nearly 900,000 people have left in the past 10 days. The population of Kathmandu valley — including the city of Kathmandu and smaller towns of Lalitpur and Bhaktapur — is 2.5 million people.
Life has been slowly returning to normal in Kathmandu. Schools are to remain closed until May 14 but some markets are open and trucks have been bringing in fresh food and vegetables every day, which is an encouraging sign.
May 4, 2015
From Mt. Everest in the north, to Lumbini – birthplace of Lord Buddha, a plains town situated along the southern Indian border – Nepalis are still reeling from the April 25 earthquake, a calamity from which it will take at least a decade to fully recover.
Still, hundreds of Tibetan refugees managed to visit damaged Buddhists shrines and monasteries to mark the birthday of Gautama Buddha and to pray for the country. Born in Lumbini around the year 563 BCE, Buddha’s birthday is celebrated on the full moon day of the Vaisakha month of the Buddhist calendar and the Hindu calendar, which usually falls in April or May month of the Western Gregorian calendar. The festival is alternately known as Purnima (“full moon day” in Sanskrit) and/or Jayanti (“birthday” in Nepali and Hindi).
Given Nepal’s recent catastrophe, of course, “birthday celebration” and “festival” are misnomers. The mood was somber. But in Bhoudanath, as well as at the base of the Swayambhunath shrine, located atop a hill on the northwestern edge of Kathmandu, hundreds of people chanted prayers Monday along with monks and nuns, as they walked around the hill where the white iconic stupa with its gazing eye is located.
Meanwhile, the death toll continues to rise as relief operations spread further away from centrally located Kathmandu Valley.
May 3, 2015
Yesterday, NPR published the following article on their website, written by Diane Cole.
I agree with Diane’s assessment. I would, however, add the proviso: If you are adept at removing dead humans and animals, Nepal will find a place for you. If you dont have that sort of moxie, my suggestion is, for the time being, donate to Red Cross, UNICEF, Doctors Without Borders or other tried and true organizations. There are also many scam organizations mushrooming. Be certain that your donations are going to be effective. I personally favor Red Cross for two reasons: 1) Emergency relief has been their forte for many decades and 2) They are prioritized and directly coordinated with Nepal Army’s Disaster Relief Operation, Operation “Sankat Mochan”.
A thousand people have already signed up to go to Nepal on the website for All Hands – a U.S. group that sends volunteers to help out after a disaster. Indeed, people around the world are eager to assist on the ground.
But will your presence hinder more than it will help?
We asked officials at several organizations working in Nepal. Their answer: It depends. On when you go; Whether you're part of an organized group or on your own; And if your skills and experience match what's needed.
Gary Shaye, senior director of humanitarian operations for Save the Children, sums it up this way: "Volunteers play a role, but rarely during an emergency." If you're thinking of volunteering, here's what to consider:
Just Showing Up: Good Intention, Bad Idea
"Showing up with a generous heart" is a noble thought, says Joel Charny, a former Peace Corps volunteer who is now vice president of humanitarian policy and practice at InterAction. But if you arrive without knowledge of the country, with no connection to a group already in place, and without the specific skills or experience the crisis calls for, you risk "getting in the way." To begin with, the busy professionals there will have no spare time to train a newbie.
Moreover, in many cultures it is "very impolite to say no," points out Mark Andrews, Habitat for Humanity's vice president of volunteer and institutional engagement. People whose own lives have been severely disrupted may nonetheless feel compelled to share their scarce resources and assist volunteers in getting their bearings — rather than the other way around.
It's also hard to hit the ground and begin work right away if you're unprepared for the scope, sights, smells and sounds of a disaster. "This is not like working at a soup kitchen," says Dave Hartman, emergency communications officer at Save the Children. "A lot of people don't understand the scale of these environments, working 18 to 20 hours a day for weeks, not in comfortable conditions."
But if you have useful skills to offer, that's a different story. Professionals with experience in disaster relief, medical and surgical interventions, search and rescue, firefighting, engineering and other needed areas could be invaluable. "If my house was on fire, I don't want people to stop and say, 'Oh where do I find a bucket?' " Hartman says. "I want trained firefighters."
No Special Skills But Still Want To Go? Join A Group
So now we're talking about those people knocking at the All Hands door. They range in age from 18 to 60-plus. And they're determined.
What You Need To Know Before Donating To Earthquake Relief For Nepal
Even if you try to dissuade them, they'll want to go, says Erik Dyson, CEO and executive director of All Hands. His organization provides a way for volunteers without specific skills to be productive as part of a team — and without straining community resources.
Since 2004, All Hands has fielded about 30,000 volunteers at 50 disaster sites around the world, filling needs or "gaps" other agencies can't. "There are many tasks that don't fit into the programs of other organizations," Dyson says, "and we can be flexible and fulfill those unmet needs." These are "typically the most difficult and back-breaking work," says Dyson: clearing rubble, carrying sacks of rice, or (as they did in one town after the tsunami in Japan) hand-digging to clear silt from drainage channels.
The organization has staff in Nepal and a shelter that can house 100. Dyson expects the first volunteers to arrive in the next week or so. (The volunteers pay their airfare and All hands provides shelter and food.)
Once the capacity of 100 is reached, people are put a waiting list. "[We] work to schedule them as their schedule allows, capacity is available, and work is needed," he says.
Waiting isn't a bad idea.
There will be plenty of work for volunteers after the immediate crisis passes into the rebuilding stage. "It's going to be a large reconstruction effort," says Andrews of Habitat for Humanity. The focus for his group and other organizations is long-term recovery. So volunteers might not be deployed until three to six months after a disaster.
There's another option for would-be volunteers. Hone your skills for future disasters by signing up for emergency or disaster training at the Red Cross or other organizations, says Hartman. Unfortunately, he notes, "there is going to be another typhoon, earthquake or tsunami."
May 2, 2015
The following report was filed today by Seth Robson for STARS AND STRIPES:
KATHMANDU, Nepal — Four tilt-rotor V-22 Ospreys, other U.S. aircraft and 150 military personnel headed to Nepal to boost earthquake relief efforts have been delayed a day and are now expected to arrive Sunday.
The delay was not related to capacity at the airport in Kathmandu, said Marine Capt. Cassandra Gesecki, a spokeswoman for Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Brigade commander, who arrived Wednesday in the Nepalese capital with an advance party of Pacific Command troops. A wide variety of factors contributed to the delay, with aircraft, personnel and equipment coming from Japan, Guam, Thailand and the Philippines, she said.
“We are bringing in significant capacity,” Kennedy said Friday of the U.S. assets, which will include Air Force personnel out of Guam who can control air traffic, repair airfields and offload supplies with heavy equipment. He said the assets were originally scheduled to arrive Saturday.
In addition to the Ospreys and three UH-1 Hueys, other U.S. aircraft that will assist include four Air Force C-17 Globemasters and two Marine Corps KC-130s, according to Chuck Little of the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, public affairs office.
The Ospreys and Huey helicopters will be tasked with ferrying relief supplies and personnel from the international airport in Kathmandu to outlying areas, Kennedy said.
The Nepalese government, which has only a few helicopters, is rushing much-needed aid to isolated villages hit by the April 25 quake, estimated to have killed more than 6,200 people.
Some of the locations where the helicopters will fly are 18,000 feet above sea level.
Ospreys have seen extensive service in Afghanistan and deployed to the Philippines during relief efforts after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Flying in the Himalayas will be a new challenge, Kennedy said.
“They have never been in anything that approximates this,” he said.
However the mission in Nepal is something that the 3rd MEB is prepared to handle. The unit trained for earthquake response in Nepal twice in 2013 and again last year, Kennedy said.
“It seems unlikely that an amphibious force would come to this landlocked country but … this is a thing that we have anticipated for a few years.”
Kennedy, who visited Nepal during the disaster training, said beautiful brick buildings that he had seen in Kathmandu had been reduced to rubble by the earthquake.
The response of Army Special Forces troops out of Okinawa, who were doing cold weather training in Nepal when the earthquake struck, has been impressive, Kennedy said.
“They went to Mount Everest and started pulling people out,” he said. “It wasn’t just at Base Camp. They went up the mountain and they were pulling people out.”
The soldiers recovered the body of Google executive Dan Fredinburg from the mountain, he said.
“As soon as they were done with that, they were down here going out to villages doing first-aid and even search-and-rescue,” he said.
May 1, 2015
Yesterday, I attended a briefing at Nepal Army (NA) Headquarters, presented by Maj. Gen. Binoj Basnyet, who is coordinating the army’s disaster relief operation “Sankat Mochan” (loosely translated as “solving the crisis”).
The clear-cut information provided by the five speakers was in stark contrast to the governmental press releases and interviews, which seem defensive and short on details. Nepal Army has always led the way in Nepal, in terms of professionalism, dedication and discipline.
The briefing was divided into four sections:
2. Multinational effort: MNMCC (Multinational Military Coordination Center)
3. Medical Aspects
Phase 1: Immediate response – what transpired immediately after the 7.8 earthquake shook Nepal. In the first 24 hours, NA utilized five helicopters (the extent of available aircraft in the first day) and conducted 65 missions.
Phase 2: Coordinating Rescue and Relief. On the second day after the earthquake the Indian National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) brought into Nepal an additional 6 helicopters and conducted 29 missions. Air assessment missions were conducted by both NA and NDRF to see which areas were hardest hit so that the NA could begin the process of prioritizing.
Phase 3: Current Recovery operations, which include multi-day long range patrol and air assessment, focusing on rescue and relief operations, further mobilization (of personnel located in areas not affect by the earthquake), SAR (search and rescue), addressing collapsed structures, Medivac and blood donation drives, creating temporary shelters, designating camp areas (which had been pre-designated during the last two years), provision of essential services (food, water, shelter, sanitation) and recovering dead bodies.
MULTINATIONAL EFFORT COORDINATION (MNMCC)
As of yesterday, there are now 25 countries participating in Operation Sankat Mochan.
Countries include, India, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Bangladesh, Israel, Netherlands, Bhutan, Poland, USA, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, France, Spain, South Korea, Singapore, Thailand, Belgium, Russia, Norway, UK, Switzerland, Germany and UAE. India leads the countries in personnel with 962 and China comes in second with 370. Israel has set up the biggest field hospital, located in Kathmandu, but they have also brought in search and rescue teams, including dogs. Many of these missions are military but others are conducted by civilians.
Immediately after the earthquake, the Nepal Army Hospital evacuated 200-300 inpatients receiving treatment. And almost immediately, outpatients began to pour in. First response was provided. Tents were set up to accommodate the inflow of injured. The evening of the earthquake, the NA addressed the extent of civilian casualties and injuries, but it also addressed injuries, which had been incurred within the army itself. The NA also set up a record-keeping plan that included patients received, patients discharged and other details including OT, victims who had been heli-lifted and deaths.
The following day the Nepal Army Medical Corps and multinational groups began the air-lifting missions, bringing victims to the NA hospital. Small medical teams were deployed to affected areas. A field hospital, outside the Kathmandu Valley, was set up.
It became apparent that most of the injured suffered from orthopedic problems.
To address public health concerns, the NA, (in coordination with the Ministry of Health), and medical teams started providing and dispersing sanitation, water and medicine.
In the first 72 hours, SAR and medical teams were deployed to affected areas and set up field hospitals.
After the first 72 hours the army has provided human resources, transportation and security for protecting the relief materials.
Airport coordination is conducted by the Airport Coordination Center (ACC). This includes off-loading supplies, transporting supplies to warehouses and securing these supplies for the distributors. The NA has also provided materials from their own war-stock including to date 2110 blankets, 795 tents, and 40 tons of food items.
There are several logistic limitations recognized by the NA
1) There is an inadequate number of military vehicles, in part because of earthquake damage.
2) Although civilian vehicles are available to help, few drivers are coming forward to volunteer.
3) There is a lack of heavy equipment such as fork lifts to help remove rubble.
4) Damage of army infrastructure has slowed down the process.
5) Relief materials security needs to be improved.
6) Loss of assets including ammunition depot, barracks, armories and military vehicles (25-30% of the military vehicles have been damaged) has slowed down the operation.
To view video of OPERATION SANKAT MOCHAN
April 29, 2015
Rishi Khanal was on the second floor of a seven-story guesthouse in New Bus Park Gongabu, Kathmandu, when the earthquake hit on Saturday.
It wasn’t until last night that he was finally rescued.
Below is his story, first reported by oninekhabar.com, a Nepali news site, and just translated into English by my assistant, Govinda Rijal:
During the day of April 28, a Nepali Armed Police Force (APF) and a French Search and Rescue Team were combing the area where Rishi Khanal was buried. They entered a seven-story building heavily damaged. The French team was equipped with “detectors” which could determine whether there were any people still alive in the rubble. The “detector” indicated that there were people somewhere in the building still alive.
The teams began shouting, hoping to get a vocal response. But they heard nothing.
Just then, an APF inspector arrived at the scene, went inside and began shouting, “Please respond! Please respond!” And it was he, who first heard the faint sounds of a man. Finally, the teams were able to determine where the voice was coming from. It was below a corner of a room on the second story. The floor was concrete.
On the technical advise of the French rescue team, the APF cut a hole in the concrete. What they saw below were three trapped individuals, Khanal among them. Khanal looked up and pleaded, “Save me.” The other two people, however, were motionless.
At first, the teams thought they could simply pull Khanal up and out of the hole. But it became apparent that his legs were pinned under a slab of concrete.
About this time, the Inspector General of the APF, Kosh Raj Onta, arrived and instructed his team to forget about other bodies (which had been discovered in the adjacent building by a Chinese team) and to concentrate on rescuing the three who were visible from the hole.
Soon after, a team of doctors arrived and made a visual assessment of the three victims. Khanal was able to speak, but the other two were unresponsive with obvious head injuries and excessive bleeding. The doctors pronounced the other two dead.
The rescue team descended into the hole with an oxygen tank and managed to partially lift the concrete slab (resting on Khanal’s legs) with the help of a jack.
“Back pain,” Khanal kept repeating.
The slab was far too heavy to lift so the precarious process of cutting the slab into smaller pieces began.
After ten hours of intensive work, they finally managed to lift Kanal out of the hole and way from the rubble. It was near midnight.
Khanal was rushed to the nearest hospital and the rescue teams moved on to other buildings.
April 28, 2015
Latest death toll now exceeds 4400 and it is expected to rise significantly. In fact, this morning, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala predicted that the number could rise as high as 10,000.
April 28, 2015
Yesterday morning, Christopher Dickey, Foreign Editor of The Daily Beast. contacted me en route to Istanbul asking if I would write an experiential piece on witnessing the quake firsthand. Below is the resultant article, published in The Daily Beast about 12 hours ago:
I was in the middle of Thamel, (Kathmandu’s unofficial pre-base camp for Himalayan trekkers and mountaineers), when the 7.8 earthquake struck on Saturday 25 April 2015. It was almost noon.
Thamel is a warren of glorified alleyways hemmed in with cheap guesthouses, restaurants, massage parlors, bars, travel agencies and handicraft shops catering to Western visitors. The three-and-four-story buildings lean out over the pavements and, when looking up, you see a fuliginous loom of electric and telephonic wires that, at every street corner, converge on one another like overpopulated beehives.
We – I and my assistant – were in the middle of one such lane heading north, when suddenly several people shoved past us yelling, “earthquake”.
“New house!! New house!” my assistant screamed.
We darted into an empty doorframe that looked relatively new and grabbed each other tightly just as the brick building opposite came crashing down. We said nothing to each other. We were merely four legs conjoined and trying hard to adapt to the violent hula dance of the stone threshold beneath us. Throughout the shaking, there was the raining of debris and the percussive explosions created when shop owners dropped their iron storefront curtains. Were they thinking of looters even at that awful moment?
I should mention that I’m based in Los Angeles, no stranger to tremors, but this quake seemed hell-bent on destroying the world. And it was long. An impossibly long two minutes transpired before we could convince ourselves that the worst was over.
We were wrong. The next wave of terror came when people in the street got up off the ground and, like us, tried to think in which direction the nearest open space might be. It was a two-way stampede. We joined the northern current, evaded fallen power lines, got jostled by local women heedless of the drape of their saris, and dodged as best we could the cruel confetti of shattered glass.
At the next intersection a new tremor throttled the buildings around us and I believe that was when I experienced real panic. I remember staring at an abandoned motorcycle, lying on its side, and making calculations: We had not yet reached open ground and there was a good three minutes before we would reach the broad avenue going by Amrit Science College. The avenue was within view from where we stood and yet it telescoped away from us, as if unreachable given the obstacles – both human and architectural – barring our way.
But we did eventually reach it, just as a young Nepali man, bare-chested and grayish-white from dust, emerged from a mountain of crumbled brick and screamed at no one in particular, or perhaps he was screaming at the whole world. We hurried on.
We ran left at the avenue intersection and headed toward the west gate of Narayanhiti Palace. The absence of any sort of vehicle was unnerving. When we reached the palace, we turned northeast onto Lazimpat – one of best roads in the city, widened during Maoist Baburam Bhattari’s brief stint as prime minister. I had dubbed it “Baburam Boulevard” but it didn’t feel like a cute quip during our exodus. Despite the breadth of Baburam Boulevard, we were careful to remain in the middle of the street.
We passed the military barracks to the left where soldiers and civilians alike were frantically digging through the remains of a demolished brick wall under which people were begging for help. Just then a third major tremor caused all the people on both sides of the street to race toward us, toward the center of the avenue.
I’m not quite sure what happened next. But it was about that time that I first noticed the high whine of sirens. Army vehicles, ambulances, police vans, and open-backed civilian trucks filled with injured people began to overtake us, adding to our own confusion even though we were witnessing (and thankful of what appeared to be) a very rapid response from the government. Presumably, these vehicles were speeding toward TUTH, the teaching hospital less than a kilometer away, just up the hill.
We finally reached Shangri-La, my hotel. Local people were funneling into the hotel parking lot – a safe haven from tumbling buildings. They were frantically trying, without success, to reach their loved ones on their smart phones. By then, helicopters were thrashing and zigzagging across the sky.
With each successive tremor, the vibrations became less punishing but somehow just as sickening: they were of a silent stirring nature that momentarily turned the ground to thick jelly. And we were the spoons.
More than forty-eight hours have transpired since the first harrowing quake. Things have calmed down in the city even as the real work and the true extent of the damage are just now coming into focus.
In the interim, I’ve experience so many bizarre Fellini-like moments.
One example: Yesterday afternoon, I photographed an impromptu community camped in an open space in the Lainchaur area. Some of the homeless Nepalis exuded torpor or hopelessness or both, while others busied themselves in a kind of forced optimism, by being over attentive to family members, etc. Afterward, I returned to my hotel. Upon entering the lobby, I decided to head down the corridor that leads to the garden in the back. The sun was low in the sky but earlier cloud coverage had departed. And this is what I saw: a large contingent of female Chinese tourists, who were gleefully showing each other how to properly wrap their recently purchased saris. They giggled and struck unconvincing “Nepali” poses – chins extended, arms crooked upward. Their girlfriends snapped away with their iphones, making suggestions for newer, even more extravagant poses. Giddiness abounded while, down Baburam Boulevard, you could hear the sirens wailing.
Every time I check the local news the number of dead and injured rises steadily. There is a shortage of water, food, medical supplies and a severe lack of safe housing. People and their families have created tented camps in every park and plaza, including the huge Army Parade Ground in the middle of Kathmandu.
As I write this, it’s precisely 9:39pm April 27, 2015, Kathmandu time. A tremor just shook the hotel for three seconds. You learn to time these things. One thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three. Done. Good. But the thumping returns – what I imagine would be the thump of a Chitwan deer’s heart just before the silent leopard swats its prey to the ground.
No time to think about all that. Let’s concentrate on the work ahead. The years of reparation ahead of us, long after the international press has moved on to the next country in pursuit of the next catastrophe.
India, Pakistan, Sri Lank, China, Turkey, Israel, Bangladesh, Poland, Australia, New Zealand and the United States have already arrived with their rescue teams and engineers. No doubt there are other nations that have landed. Good for them. INGOs and NGOs like Doctors Without Borders have arrived. Good for them. There’s so much work to be done before the international donors eventually lose interest.
And what about the districts outside the Kathmandu Valley, where the worst destruction has taken place? Few TV units have visited these places. Too hard to get to, I suppose. They have covered the avalanche on Mount Everest, of course. That should be enough, right? That’s the sort of thing people really want to hear and read about.
A news media outfit asked me to write a piece for them, suggesting that I say something about the destruction and irretrievable loss of famous ancient buildings – how it will effect Nepal’s cultural climate. I asked my assistant, who’s young enough to be my son, what he thought about the possible cultural shift. “Yeh,” he said. “Remember, in 2007, the temple in Durbar Square where we filmed the first anniversary rally celebrating Jana Andolan II? Now it’s gone. Gone. When I was a teenager, that’s where we used to take our girlfriends.”
At this very moment, who can think about cultural losses? The common grounds by the ghats are in use day and night now. The cremations are as unceremonious as they are endless.
April 27, 2015
As of 10:08am, April 27, 2015, the latest update of deaths caused by the Nepali earthquakes is 3218 with 62,000 plus injured. This was released by the Home Ministry. In total, an initial estimate has calculated that 6.6 million Nepalis have been affected by the catastrophe. Below is a breakdown of casualties by Districts:
DISTRICTS DEATHS INJURIES
Makwanpur 32 72
Dolakha 44 62
Solukhumbu 22 65
Sunsari 7 15
Kavre 140 606
Kathmandu 766 2399
Jhapa 2 0
Ramechhap 29 21
Bhaktapur 219 961
Sindhupalchowk 662 239
Parbat 0 5
Siraha 0 2
Dhading 199 256
Kaski 2 13
Rolpa 1 1
Gorkha 160 72
Okhaldhunga 15 12
Bhojpur 2 5
Nuwakot 160 400
Tanahun 1 14
Sindhuli 9 65
Lalitpur 152 791
Rukum 1 1
Bara 2 3
Parsa 3 4
Dhankuta 0 0
Lamjung 4 18
Dang 0 2
Rasuwa 150 100
Achham 1 0
Sarlahi 1 21
Taplejung 1 0
Chitwan 3 12
Rautahat 1 4
April 26, 2015
Today, another earthquake of 6.9 magnitude with a 10 kilometer depth shook Kathmandu at 12:56. The epicenter was in Banepa, approximately 22 kilometers from the nation’s capital.
The death toll is now 2500 and it is expected to rise; at least 5000 are injured.
Scores of centuries-old historical monuments, including the iconic Dharahara of Kathmandu, were reduced to rubble in the massive earthquake that hit the country on Saturday afternoon.
The combined earthquakes and attendant aftershocks have destroyed around 80 percent of the temples in Basantapur Durbar Square. Several temples, including Kasthamandap, Panchtale temple, the nine-storey Basantapur Durbar, the Dasa Avtar temple, Krishna Mandir and two dewals located behind the Shiva Parvati temple, were demolished by the quake. Kasthamandap, a temple that inspired the name Kathmandu, is an early 16th century wooden monument. A few other monuments, including the Kumari Temple and the Taleju Bhawani, among others, have partially collapsed.
Outside the Valley, the Manakamana Temple in Gorkha, the Gorkha Durbar, the Palanchowk Bhagwati, in Kavrepalanchowk, the Rani Mahal in Palpa, the Janaki Mandir in Janakpur, the Churiyamai in Makwanpur, the Dolakha Bhimsensthan in Dolakha, and the Nuwakot Durbar were partially destroyed.
Prushottam Lochan Shrestha, a historian, said these monuments could be lost forever, as rebuilding them is technically difficult and expensive.
“We have lost most of the monuments that had been designated as World Heritage Sites
in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur.
They cannot be restored to their original states,” said Shrestha.
PATAN BEFORE AND AFTER:
BHAKTAPUR BEFORE AND AFTER:
RESCUES IN KATHMANDU:
Although damage has been reported on the Baudhanath Stupa, the extent of damage has not been verified.
For detailed scientific information concerning the earthquakes
April 22, 2015
Mikel Dunham speaking at the Kathmandu launch of Elizabeth Hawley’s monumental work, “The Nepal Scene.” To the right is Lisa Choegyal, (Honorary Consul of New Zealand), Peter Bodde (American Ambassador to Nepal) and author Hawley.
The Nepal Scene: Chronicles of Elizabeth Hawley (1988-2007), a two-volume set focusing on one of the most tumultuous eras in Nepali history, was launched yesterday at Dwarika’s Hotel in Kathmandu. Published by Vajra Books, the two-volume set is edited by Lisa Choegyal and Mikel Dunham.
Peter W Bodde, the US Ambassador to Nepal, innaugurated the program, which also saw the presence of foreign as well as Nepali dignitaries. Guests included former foreign minister and seasoned diplomat Bhekh Bahadur Thapa, author-publishers Kunda Dixit and Kanak Dixit, former chief of the Nepali Army Rookmangud Katawal, Christian Manhart, UNESCO Director, and Australian Ambassador Glen White, among others.
Today’s issue of Kantipur included details about the actual production of the book, which was two years in the making:
“While Lisa Choegyal, who is also the honorary consul of New Zealand to Nepal, contributed in editing and standardizing the entries for publication, Mikel Dunham, who is an expert of Nepali and Tibetan affairs, played an instrumental role in fact-checking and creating its glossary.” Book design and cover art were also by Dunham.
“The book also owes its publication to a kickstarter campaign initiated by Dunham, which brought in donations from all over the world.”
All proceeds from the book will go to the Himalayan Trust and the Himalayan Data Base.
Mikel Dunham’s speech at the launch:
For seven or eight years, the raw version of this book had been languishing, incompletely organized, on a shelf in a passageway in Elizabeth Hawley’s home.
How I came to discover it was quite by accident. I was at her residence filming an interview, which morphed into a free-flowing conversation that somehow funneled into my main passion for Nepal, it’s political history. It was during that conversation that Miss Hawley mentioned in passing that she, herself, had kept monthly chronicles of Nepal’s political situation for many years.
I was a little shocked. I’d never heard about her chronicles and couldn’t believe that in all my reading and research I had never come across her book.
“What’s the title?” I said. “I need to read that book.”
“There is no book,” she answered. “It’s never been published.”
“But the manuscript exists.” I said.
“Of course,” she said. “Go down the hall, continue past the dining room, take a left and right behind you, you’ll find it.”
I followed her instructions, went down the hall, past the dining room, turned left and there they were, in all their dusty glory, in oversized binders with the year of the contents written on the spines.
It was no accident that the first binder I took down from the shelf was labled “2001”. I turned to “June 1” and began reading her report on the palace massacre. I’ve read a hundred versions of the tragedy. What was exciting about her entry was that it was written in real time, or almost real time…at any rate written within days or, at most weeks, after the massacre took place. And wha was unique about her “voice” was Elizabeth’s abiding sense of sobriety and reliability because her information was carefully underlined by scrupulously identifying all of her many and varied sources. Miss Hawley is nothing if not an ironclad verifier of facts.
I pulled down other folders and scanned other passages. In one of the earliest volumes she was detailing the constantly shifting building blocks of what would eventually profoundly inform the 1990 Jana Andolan, told at just the moment when that cauldron was beginning to simmer and about to boil. All of this priceless information! It was thrilling. It was buried treasure.
I don’t know how long I remained standing there…certainly long enough to feel what I imagine an archeologist must feel when he stumbles across a shard protruding from the ground, and when he starts digging around it, and realizes that it’s just the tip of a magnificent artifact begging to be retrieved.
Eventually, I returned to where Miss Hawley was, by then, busying herself with something else. In the interim, I had become resolved to sit down with the author and convince her that I was the man to help her get the Chronicles published. Later that day, I returned to my hotel with a provisional agreement.
Since I am based in Los Angeles and would be working on the editing process from there, I needed a partner here in Nepal – a partner with a good working relationship with Miss Hawley, the energy of twin jet engines, the wit of a Rhodes scholar and a friend, tried and true. There was only one person on my Rolodex who fit that bill: Lisa Choegyal. I called her and she immediately signed on to the project.
I also felt strongly that this, of all books, must be published in Nepal. My next call was to Bidur Dargol, the publisher of Vajra Books. He, too, immediately signed on.
It was incredibly easy to get the project off the ground. There were hurdles, of course. One was that only part of the manuscript was in hard copy and the rest was stored in Miss Hawley’s computer and some of those files, at least in the beginning, were difficult to locate. Transcription was going to be an arduous undertaking. My personal assistant Govinda Rijal was one of several Nepalis who came to our rescue in that department.
And then there was the question of how to finance such a huge book. When all was said and done, the manuscript was nudging toward 2400 pages!
For that, I turned to social media and created a kickstarter fundraiser and people from all over the world made generous contributions – some of you are here today. Thank you very much. You and I and everyone else who contributed in their own fashions may now share the honor of having played our parts to save Elizabeth Hawley’s 19-years of brilliant work from oblivion.
The two-year publication adventure ends here, today, with Vajra Book’s beautiful first edition. But the historical importance of this book … today is just the beginning.
April 19, 2015
Surya Bahadur Thapa, the octogenarian politico, who perhaps knew more about the impermanence of leadership than anyone in Nepal, died this week and was cremated at one of the great holy sites for Hindus, the Pashupatinath Temple in Kathmandu.
During his lifetime he served under three kings and became Nepal’s Prime Minister a record five times (1965-1969, 1979-1983, 1997-1998 and 2003-2004). His political career spanned an astounding 65 years, beginning in 1950 when he became involved in an underground student movement that prefigured profound changes in Nepal’s political landscape.
In 2009, I interviewed Thapa at his home in Kathmandu and, after -reading the transcript of that meeting, I think it’s relevant to re-publish it here -- not only because his views from an historical standpoint were unparalleled in clarity, but also because it emphasizes how little, astoundingly little! the political leadership since 2009 has been able (or willing) to move the nation forward, toward a stable and permanent democracy. And that – a stable and permanent democracy in Nepal – was Surya Bahadur Thapa’s greatest wish.
Mikel Dunham’s interview with Surya Bahadur Thapa, May 30, 2009
DUNHAM: What was the political atmosphere like in the 1950s, when you began your political career? And how does that atmosphere differ from today’s political scene?
THAPA: It’s quite different today. When I was a young man, the major power was the king. The parties, still testing their wings, were struggling to be represented in the government. The parties just weren’t very strong.
Prior to 1950 and the Ranas’ fall from power, there was the Praja Parishad party. [Nepal’s first political party established in 1935– a secret society fueled by Kathmandu intellectuals but supported by a broad spectrum of castes and ethnic groups, dedicated to ushering in democracy to Nepal.] The Praja Parishad’s reach was basically limited to the Kathmandu Valley. They were an underground group. They had to be. If the government caught them, they were imprisoned and silenced in that way.
By 1950, the leading democratic party was Nepali Congress. It had a socialistic base and had entered into an armed struggle to overthrow Rana rule, which resonated throughout the country. But also there was a communist party in Nepal that was growing rapidly. And there was the Gorkha Parishad party, [a party formed in 1951 by a group of Rana revivalists – no longer existent]. When the Rana dynasty was overthrown, the Rana clan created the Gorkha Parishad in reaction to the governmental shift. They attempted to project democratic concepts, but it was too rightwing, too old-school to gain much popularity. There were other parties emerging, though with less impact than the ones I have mentioned.
And that was basically the political scene: It was an uphill battle for all the parties to gain ground. The king had a very strong power base. The concept of the monarchy, as well as the king himself -- both were popular with the people.
DUNHAM: I’m interested in the 50s because it was a remarkably dynamic and transitional time for Nepal. Up until the 1950s, Nepal’s borders had been closed to the outside world. Suddenly, there was an influx of Western notions coming in. What was it like, to experience the dramatic infiltration of outside cultures?
THAPA: Yes, prior to that time, the Ranas had maintained a closed society. The only outside presence to be found in the Kathmandu Valley was the British legation. Then after the Ranas were overthrown, we suddenly felt the impact of Indian presence. They had just gained their own independence from the British a few years before.
But beyond that, at least for the first few years, there was not much additional foreign presence felt here. Treaties were made with America, Russia, China and some other countries. Embassies followed. But there was no tourism yet. There were no roads leading out of Nepal yet. There was a small airport that was constructed but the influx of foreign presence remained extremely limited.
Then the first road was built: Tribhuvan Rajpath, which linked Kathmandu with the border town of Birganj. It was constructed by the Indian government. This, of course, allowed a significant flow of traffic from India. But I must say that, even then, the introduction of foreign culture into Nepal remained limited.
The Kathmandu Valley is, historically, very rich, very dense in culture and religion. And those foreigners who came to Nepal, didn’t try to influence or alter our customs.
Socially, on the other hand, there was definitely a shift. Many advisors and experts arrived, especially American advisors, who set up residence here. They didn’t socialize with commoners. They mixed with the privileged classes and within that group you could see that a social fusion was taking place. Our social customs began to reflect some of the Western ways. There was also an introduction of various political ideologies that had a significant impact on Nepali intellectuals. And people working in Nepal’s government were sent abroad for training –especially to America and, to a lesser extent, to Britain and India – and that had a big impact in so many fields: administration, agriculture, technology.
Remember, during most of the 1950s, there was still no university in Nepal. Naturally, many young people began going to the universities of our nearest neighbor, India. And that experience -- getting an education outside Nepal -- colored every aspect of their lives. It was profound. They learned other languages, cultures and attitudes of foreign societies. And when they returned to Nepal, there was a huge impact here – the social structure of traditional Nepali society began to expand -- slowly at first, but continually reaching out to a broader community. And eventually, foreign social elements became more and more acceptable to Nepali society. What I want to say is this: When you ask about the modernization of Nepal, those early years of our young people going abroad to study – that was what really got the wheels turning in a new, more modern direction.
DUNHAM: One of my major interests in Nepal is the impact of its youth – both now and in the past. I’ve interviewed so many young people here. Today, the effect of brain drain on Nepal is increasingly significant. So many talented and intelligent youths are leaving Nepal and not coming back, to the detriment of Nepali society, which needs all of its human resources to build a stable, modern Nepal. What’s your take on this? How can Nepal’s leaders, whichever party is in power, reverse the pattern and persuade the youth to remain in Nepal?
THAPA: Yes, you are right about its significance. But to be fair, I think this is a phenomenon prevalent in all the third-world countries.
Still, that’s no excuse for what is going on here in Nepal. It’s true. We are facing a problem with our youth that we didn’t have in the past. Just as we were discussing: In the early days, after the youth received their higher educations, they came back to Nepal to help with its development. They contributed to all sectors of society: political, economic, health, education -- all sectors.
But now we are facing a different trend. Job opportunities in Nepal? Where are they? Show them to me! There is a stalemate here – wanting to keep our youth here but failing to be able to offer them opportunities here. Complete stagnation – that’s what the youth see. The youth see their future in job opportunities in America, or Australia or Europe. Those who are brilliant and studied abroad and find themselves competitive with the job opportunities in that country, will remain there. Not being able to keep our youths in the country is one of Nepal’s weakest points.
I see two problems. Until and unless we create an atmosphere of political stability in Nepal and until Nepal’s economic horizon is broadened, we do not have a persuasive argument to keep our youth in Nepal. And who wants to stand in the way of their children’s opportunities? The dilemma actually falls into the category of human rights, if you think about it. The youth should have the right to pursue a better standard of living; if a better standard cannot be offered here, what right do we older people have to prevent them from going elsewhere?
If we could provide political stability and economic opportunity for our youths, they would certainly return. But first and foremost, we must be able to honestly tell our youths that the country is politically settled and in a state of permanent peace. With peace established in Nepal, economic opportunities can follow and the youth will want to remain here.
DUNHAM: Then the next question is how do you achieve political stability? Obviously rule of law must be firmly established and the tradition of impunity must be reversed. But what about the integration of the Maoist army into the Nepal army? It would seem that nothing will move forward until that problem is solved – the Maoists won’t allow it.
THAPA: This is such a sensitive topic in Nepal. And it’s not the first time it has happened here.
Looking back in history, after the Ranas were overthrown, there was a similar problem with what to do with the armed faction of Nepali Congress supporters. They too came into the Kathmandu Valley and needed to be offered some sort of future. But the difference was that they were not trained ideologically. They were simply against the Rana rule. They did not espouse any sort of dogma that had been taught to them by party leaders. They were just open like common citizens, except that they were trained to raise arms against the Rana government. So they came here and when Nepali Congress came into office, they were then trained to serve in the police force. And the amalgamation process was a successful one. Some of the armed people even managed to join the national army, without negative results.
Of course those who were allowed to join the army had an entirely different background than the Maoist rebels today. Back then, the Nepali Congress armed fighters had fought in the Burma War during the era of World War II. They were top-notch soldiers, trained by the British in a completely professional fashion. So they could be integrated into the army and the police force without bringing into question their levels of proficiency in military expertise. Even more important: There was no problem because they didn’t come to the army with ideological differences.
The Maoist rebels came completely equipped with an extreme brand of communism. The Maoist command trained them first in ideology and second in military skills. That was the order of importance.
What happens if the ex-combatants are integrated into the national army? If you want to make a communist country, if you agree to have an extreme communist military force here, there is no problem. You can integrate them into the regular army. In five or six years, there will be a first-class revolutionary army in Nepal.
But just now, the Nepal army is very much independent from communist ideology. They don’t adhere to any ideology. They are a professional army, trained by world-class officers. If you compare army officers with civilian professionals who have, more or less, the same level of expertise in their fields, you will find that the army officers are far superior. Why? Because of their exceptional training. They have been sent all over the world for training: Britain, America and India.
And if you try to integrate the PLA into this highly trained organization, forget about having a professional army. So the people have a choice: they can choose to have an ideologically based army or a professional army. But they can’t have both.
More important: Does Nepal want a Maoist country or a democratic country? You can’t have both.
This is a vital question, particularly while the constitution is being written. The Maoists are very clever. They can make very beautiful speeches about democracy, but their real intentions lead in an entirely different direction.
Outside of the Valley, throughout the countryside, the Maoists have been able to control the people through the YCL -- by threats and intimidation. And no one has tried to prevent them from doing so, including our neighbor to the south. The Indians underestimated the Maoists. Before the election, the Indians never dreamed that they would, overnight, have an open border with a neighbor that was Maoist. India was not alert.
The army is the only institution that has remained alert. And that is why Prachanda was so determined to get rid of General Katawal – to break down the professionalism of the army. The Maoists are not interested in real integration.
DUNHAM: The Supreme Court supported General Katawal, but the SP is being attacked by the Maoists too.
THAPA: Yes, and the democratic parties must be very cautious about these attacks and come to the defense of the Supreme Court. That’s one thing. The second thing is the international community should be defending the Supreme Court as well. This is no time for the international community to remain silent.
DUNHAM: Yes, to take my country as an example, for instance: America. It’s been interesting for me to watch the difference in diplomatic approaches -- between Nancy Powell and James Moriarty. Moriarty, the former ambassador, never failed to speak his mind -- especially when it came to the Maoists. It’s been the very opposite with Ambassador Powell. The current embassy is very discreet.
THAPA: And I think this is a problem. Since there is no political mandate in Nepal, the people who want to see democracy work in Nepal, very much look to three countries -- USA, UK and India – to support their democratic ambitions. They want to hear theses countries’ voices.
Perhaps, to some extent, the Nepali government – whoever is in power – is to blame for international silence. Our politicians always like to give the impression to their constituents that, “We are a very independent country and we can judge and determine what to do without the interference of international powers.” But the reality is different. All parties, including the Maoists, are at least partially dependent on the attitudes and wishes of the three countries I mentioned. Those countries inspire much of how Nepali politicians proceed in governmental activities.
You mentioned, the previous American ambassador – Mr. Moriarty. He was very frank. He said what he thought. Now, whether it was diplomatically correct for him to do so or not is not for me to say. But personally I never regarded it as interference with our government.
I do understand that, in the diplomatic world, there are norms that cannot be stepped over. If a democratic government in Nepal is strong enough, then the foreign powers can act significantly to support that government. But if the international powers are watching how an unstable, tentative government proceeds, they will be hesitant to go too far in making their voices heard.
Still, given the current situation here, I find the international silence disturbing. In principle, it is OK to say that each sovereign country should make its own decisions, but in practice, these countries’ goals are to safeguard democracy throughout the world, so they should speak up.
.Your position -- as I understand it -- your desire is to bring the moderate parties together to create a meaningful block, as a response to the Maoists.
THAPA: Yes, as I’ve been watching this transition, what I’ve seen is that the Maoist have not come to Kathmandu to surrender their basic ideology. And if you think that is not the case, then you will be surprised one day. So in Nepal, just now, the democratic forces – and I’m not talking about any particular party right now -- all the democratic parties must speak up as one voice – to create a strong opposition to the non-democratic parties.
As it stands now, the democratic parties are off-balance and the Maoists are taking advantage of them, as well as the common people, to see how far they can go. If there were a strong democratic block in Nepal, the Maoists would be automatically checked.
In particular, I am asking Nepali Congress to get unified. There are many good, young people in the Nepali Congress party who understand the dynamics of the situation. Unfortunately, they are still not in the positions of power. They are not part of the upper echelon of the party hierarchy. But I’m telling the Congress party to please take the initiative. And I think what I am saying is beginning to have some resonance within the party. But without Koirala’s consent, no one can do anything. So it all hangs on what GP Koirala will do.
Highly recommended analysis by JAYADEVA RANA
Jayadeva Ranade, a former Additional Secretary in the Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the Founding Trustee of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy (CCAS). He is also its President and CEO. Mr Ranade is presently a Member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB); Member of the Core Group on China of the Indian Council of World Affairs (ICWA) and Distinguished Fellow with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS).
In the midst of reports of emissaries being exchanged between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s set-up and positive references to Buddhism by Chinese leaders, clearer indications are becoming discernible in recent months to suggest that Beijing is contemplating a new initiative on the Tibet issue. There has, at the same time, been no easing in the policies being enforced in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Beijing’s efforts to shrink the room for manouevre available to the Dalai Lama.
The latter has been highlighted by Beijing’s orchestration of protests against the Dalai Lama during his travels abroad by Shugden worshippers and groups of ‘nationalist’ Chinese students. This is reinforced by the steadily increasing diplomatic and economic pressure on foreign governments to refrain from meeting the Dalai Lama. Resultantly, the number of world leaders who have officially received the Dalai Lama has dwindled appreciably in the past couple of years. Examples are: Denmark shying away from scheduling any official meetings in the second week of February 2015; the Pope declining to meet the Dalai Lama in Rome in mid-December; earlier South Africa refusing him a visa; the Norwegian government refusing to officially receive him in May 2014; and, the capitulation of UK on the Tibet issue in the formal Joint Statement issued during Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit in April 2014. The US, however, declined to succumb entirely to Chinese pressure and invited the Dalai Lama to the annual breakfast prayer meeting in Washington on February 5, 2015, although US President Obama avoided any direct interaction with him.
All this has been accompanied by an apparent mellowing in references by senior Chinese leaders to the 79-year old Dalai Lama, prompting him to describe Chinese President Xi Jinping as “more realistic” and his government as “softer” during an interview to the Nikkei Asian Review on November 25, 2014. Interesting is the Dalai Lama’s remark of October 8, when he said "some Chinese officials, for example the Deputy Party Secretary in the autonomous region of Tibet, he also mentioned the possibility of my visit." Though reports of any formal contacts have been denied by the Dalai Lama’s set-up, fresh speculation was sparked by the Dalai Lama’s interview on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme on December 17, 2014, where he commented that he may not have a successor. He was quoted by BBC as saying "The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease. There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won't come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama."
Of particular interest are the activities of Prof. Jin Wei, a senior member of the faculty of the Central Party School in Beijing, which she joined in 1985. Jin Wei has a pronounced background in minority issues and is Deputy Director of Minority Issues in the Central Party School. The Central Party School is the crucible for training senior cadres of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) earmarked for upward progression and its faculty comprises CCP members hand-picked for their reliability. An ‘insider’ joke in the Central Party School at one time said that everyone drove carefully within its precincts as no one knew who would rise to become the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s General Secretary!
An important interview by Prof. Jin Wei, which was published on June 6, 2013, by the Hong Kong-based Chinese-language magazine ‘Yazhou Zhoukan’ (Asia Weekly), appeared to reveal important elements of the Chinese leadership’s new thinking on the Tibet issue and the Dalai Lama. Pertinent is that Simon Kei Shek Ming, the journalist who interviewed Prof. Jin Wei, used to be noticed accompanying Xiao Wunan, a former provincial level cadre of the CCP Central Committee (CC)’s United Front Work Department (UFWD), on his travels. Xiao Wunan is Executive Director of the Chinese government-sponsored NGO, the Asia Pacific Economic Exchange Foundation (APECF), and claims proximity to Chinese President Xi Jinping. Simon Kei Shek Ming accompanied Xiao Wunan when he travelled to Dharamshala in August 2012, and in a rare accomplishment met the Dalai Lama, Ughyen Thinley Dorje who is a claimant to the throne of the Gyalwa Karmapa [making him the 7th Karmapa], and the ‘Sikyong’ Lobsang Sangay, all in one day.
The APECF, incidentally, was also the first Chinese outfit to reveal its interest in Lumbini – the Buddha’s birthplace – when it unveiled a US$ 3 billion plan for re-development of the city. In December 2014 reports suggested that the Nepal government’s Social Welfare Council (SWC) had initiated proceedings against the APECF to black-list it for, among other reasons, lack of transparency and failure to submit its audit reports. In the process the SWC uncovered that while the APECF had made inroads into rural areas adjoining Lumbini like Dolakha, Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa and Nuwakot, it had not informed the SWC of the year-long education and three-year long agriculture projects run from 2013-2017 in these districts.
In her interview to ‘Yazhou Zhoukan’, Prof Jin Wei was categoric in her assertion that China must ensure that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation is found “inside China” and China must “make every possible effort to avoid the embarrassment of the “twin Panchen Lama” event”. She was critical of past policies and, advancing a new framework for talks, said it was necessary “to put aside disputes and break the current impasse” and acknowledge that the Dalai Lama is considered a “living god” by six million Tibetan people. China’s dealings with him, she said, “affects the feelings of thousands and thousands of Tibetans” and therefore “we cannot simply treat him as an enemy”. She described the Dalai Lama as a “key figure” in Tibet-related issues and recommended re-starting the talks with his representatives that have remained suspended since 2010.
Her views were swiftly and sharply rebuffed by Yu Zhengsheng, Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) member and Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and Zhu Weiqun, presently Director of the CPPCC’s Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee and former Vice Minister of the CCP CC’s UFWD. Zhu Weiqun said “when we refer to Mr. Tenzin Gyatso as the Dalai Lama we are recognising his spiritual rank. However, in the course of time, he has acquired another label which we should never forget. Because of his efforts to split China he has become a political refugee”.
Prof Jin Wei’s continuance at the Central Party School despite the opposition generated by her interview, suggests that her views have approval at some high level. This has been implicitly confirmed in the past few months with Prof Jin Wei having apparently been drafted by the CCP to publicise its ‘new thinking’ on the Tibet issue in influential circles abroad.
In late 2014, she travelled quietly to the US where she had closed-door meetings with select think-tanks and, more significantly, with some of the Dalai Lama’s key supporters in Washington DC and New York. More recently, she spoke at Oxford and addressed the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London on November 11, 2014. It is understood that she will very shortly be travelling again to London at the invitation of SOAS.
Prof Jin Wei’s remarks in the UK were interesting and hinted that Beijing could be re-evaluating its policy of aid to the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). In her talk at SOAS entitled ‘Opportunities and Challenges in Western China – a case study in Tibet’, she expressed doubts about the benefits of Beijing’s financial assistance to TAR. Noting that the autonomous region’s GDP had grown steadily since the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet in 1951, Prof Jin Wei observed that the region had taken “initial steps” in establishing a “modern economic base”. Tibetans now had access to “basic” health care and education, good quality housing, usually with electricity and gas, and life expectancy had risen by 31.5 years. She highlighted, however, that Beijing’s top-down economic policies in the TAR had created what she described as a “two-way dependency”.
She gave the following break-up of projects undertaken in the TAR:
Year Number of projects Investment in TAR (in 100 million RMB)
1984 43 4.8
1994 62 48.6
2001 117 311
2005 24 64.2
2007 188 137.8
2011 236 419.2
2014 670 599.9
Her analysis of figures highlighting investment in TAR by the Central Government and provincial authorities revealed that only RMB 7 out of every RMB 100 spent by the TAR authorities came from local revenues. This was despite TAR having the second highest expenditure of any province.
She said that despite the increasingly large amounts being invested in TAR, the rate of increase in GDP growth had plateaued. She hinted that Beijing should discard established policies and explore new ones. She concluded that while aid to Tibet and high-levels of central investment need to continue, the authorities need to tailor these to local conditions and the needs of Tibetans. While Prof Jin Wei said that not all projects had failed, she asserted that almost 70 per cent of the projects started in TAR had become bankrupt or been forced to close down. Citing examples of the failure of the top-down policy of development assistance, she mentioned a wool processing plant in Naqu in northern TAR which had been forced to close down due to poor management and lack of a market for the wool; a “new” hospital where, because of the heavy cost of maintenance that local authorities could not afford because of inadequate local revenue, the roof leaked so badly that the patients had to shelter under plastic sheeting; and the Potala Square in Lhasa, which is the centrepiece of Beijing’s massive urban redevelopment of Lhasa, where the work unit in charge of the square had told Prof. Jin Wei that they lacked the funds to maintain the road surface which was badly potholed and cracked.
Prof Jin Wei said she had often travelled to Tibet since 1984 and on each occasion she had been touched and moved by the Tibetan people’s belief in religion. She disclosed that this has raised major concern among scholars and leaders in China. Prof Jin Wei pointed out that in 1950, the year before the PLA entered Lhasa, there had been a total of 2,711 temples and monasteries in the TAR and 114,103 monks and nuns. This had fallen to 553 and 6,913 respectively in 1965 but had increased to 1,787 and 46,000 respectively by 2014. Commenting on the issue of controls over monasteries and nunneries in China, Prof Jin Wei observed that though the number of monasteries and monks in TAR had increased since 1965, most officials in TAR saw monks as “trouble-makers”.
Commenting on the issue of the tightening controls over monasteries and nunneries in China, she said that the new policies introduced in 2011 included linking monasteries with towns by road, providing them electricity, requiring them to display photographs of Chinese leaders, fly the Chinese flag, and enrolling monks and nuns in social security schemes. She said “the most significant reform” had been to place more officials inside monasteries and nunneries and on the Monastery Management Committees. She disclosed that for every six monks and nuns in the TAR there was one official based in the monasteries across TAR. Stating that the officials stationed in the monasteries felt marginalised and didn’t like the job, Prof. Jin Wei described the policy as “unsustainable” but implied that there was little chance that the authorities would change their approach since most officials in TAR saw monks as “trouble-makers”. Prof Jin Wei commented that “policy makers” and those who “oversee policies on religion” were themselves not religious which also made it difficult for them to formulate “ideal” policies. She acknowledged that these reforms had increased “internal tensions”.
Within weeks of Jin Wei’s visit, TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen led a high-powered 8-member delegation to Canada and the US from November 30-December 6, 2014. It was the ninth overseas trip by Tibetan legislators since 2009. The delegation included two Deputies of the National People’s Congress (NPC) as well as Tenzin Lhundrup (Ethnicity: Tibetan) Deputy Secretary General TAR People's Government; Phuntsok (Ethnicity: Tibetan), Deputy of the TAR People's Congress and Director of the Standing Committee of Ngari (Ali) Prefectural People's Congress; and Zhang Yanqing,( Ethnicity: Han) Mayor of Lhasa and Deputy of the TAR People's Congress. The delegation visited five cities in North America. Tenzin Lhundrup, Deputy Secretary General of the TAR government and a member of the delegation, told Global Times that the “Tibet question groups" set up by more than twenty western parliaments to assist "Tibet independence" forces were “the key targets of, as well as barriers to, our communication efforts."
In Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa they met overseas Chinese, Tibetans and Canadian officials. Lobsang Gyaltsen met Daniel Jean, acting Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Victor Oh, Canadian Senator and Chairman of the China-Canada Parliamentary Association in Ottawa, who officially invited the delegation.
During his meeting with the Canadian officials, Lobsang Gyaltsen explained the CCP’s Tibet policy and the ‘tremendous’ social and economic progress that Tibet has made under the CCP’s leadership. He reaffirmed that “Tibet is an inalienable part of China since time immemorial” and that the “CCP liberated Tibet peacefully” more than 60 years ago. Lobsang Gyaltsen stressed that the TAR authorities fully adhere to the policy of religious freedom, promotion of religious harmony and strengthening the management of religious affairs according to law. He described the current situation in Tibet as the best period in its history and appealed to Canadian officials to take an impartial view of Tibet and recognize the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue. He requested them not to provide any scope for anti-China activities in order to cement the healthy and friendly relations between the two nations.
Welcoming the delegation led by TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen, Canadian officials affirmed that Tibet is an inalienable part of Chinese territory and that Canada does not support the "independence" of Tibet and is not willing to see the Tibet issue obstruct the development of relations between the two countries.
Lobsang Gyaltsen left for the US on December 2, 2014, where he visited Washington and New York. He spoke at the Brookings Institute and met journalists, overseas Chinese and overseas Tibetans.
Interesting too are the reports circulating in the US and West which, quoting reliable Chinese sources, state that Xi Jinping had conveyed to the Government of India that he would like to meet the Dalai Lama during his visit to India in September 2014. These sources claim that the Indian government did not respond.
In a fresh development laden with political overtones, on January 29, 2015, Xiao Wunan, a former provincial level official of the CCP’s United Front Work Department (UFWD) and Chief Executive of the APECF, released a video tape of his meeting with the Dalai Lama in August 2012 through the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). It clearly depicts Xiao Wunan informing the Dalai Lama that there is a void at the top in China's Buddhist religious circles. He suggests that this could be filled by the Dalai Lama and offers the Dalai Lama the job. The video also attempts to portray that China allows a modicum of personal religious freedom by showing a room in Xiao Wunan's house that has been set aside as a shrine for worship of the Buddha. The video shows that in this room a photograph of the Dalai Lama has been given pride of place. It is obvious that the release of such a video, which is unprecedented, has been 'cleared' at a high level in the CCP.
To view this BBC interview, go to http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-30983402 and scroll down 2/3 of the page.
It is perhaps the first time that there has been such a brazen and publicised propaganda push to lure the Dalai Lama back to China. The video reveals that the main objective of China’s efforts and of Xiao Wunan’s visit to Dharamsala in 2012, was to persuade the Dalai Lama to return to Beijing to a religious post. It is interesting too that Xiao Wunan, who refers to himself in the video as a practising Buddhist, is described as a “former official” and that he has been able to inject the suggestion that he has a family relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
China has in recent months seemingly stepped up engagement with foreigners on the Tibet issue. Examples include the participation by foreigners in the Tibet Forum in Lhasa in mid-August 2014, tour of Beijing-based foreign military attaches to Tibet the following month and the release in late January 2015 of Xiao Wunan’s video via the BBC. Simultaneously, Chinese officials appear to be trying to bring increasing pressure to bear on Tibetans. During a visit to Nepal in October this year, TAR Chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen asserted that “China doesn’t have any refugee as such” and those crossing the border into Nepal are “illegal”. This appeared to hint that China could at some point question the status of ‘political refugees’ accorded to escaping Tibetans.
Separately, members of Chinese think-tanks have been noticed raising the Tibet issue during meetings with their Indian counter-parts in India and abroad since late 2014. They generally observe that the Dalai Lama's presence in India is an obstacle to India-China relations and that while the "Dalai Lama has a religious colour" the "present person" is a political individual indulging in anti-Chinese activities.
January 8, 2015
Jayadeva Ranade, a member of India’s National Security Advisory Board and former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is also president of the Centre for China Analysis and Strategy. Ranade published this yesterday in the HindustanTimes.
In the midst of reports of emissaries being exchanged between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s set-up and positive references to Buddhism by Chinese leaders, recent developments suggest that Beijing has decided on a new initiative on the Tibet issue. At the same time, there has been no change in the policies being enforced in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) or Beijing’s efforts to shrink the room for manoeuvre available to the Dalai Lama.
Chinese officials are simultaneously bringing increased pressure to bear on foreign interlocutors on the Tibet issue. The latter was highlighted by the Pope’s refusal to meet the Dalai Lama in mid-December, South Africa declining him a visa and the Norwegian government declining to receive him last year in May. While visiting Nepal in October last year, TAR chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen asserted that “China doesn’t have any refugee as such” and those crossing the border into Nepal are “illegal”. Implicit is the hint that China could question escaping Tibetans being accorded the status of ‘political refugees’. Separately, members of some Chinese think-tanks visiting India late in 2014 observed that the Dalai Lama’s presence in India was an obstacle to India-China relations and that while the “Dalai Lama has a religious colour” the “present person” was a political individual indulging in anti-Chinese activities.
This has at the same time been accompanied by a noticeable mellowing in references by senior Chinese leaders to the 79-year-old Dalai Lama, prompting him to describe Chinese President Xi Jinping as “more realistic” and his government as “softer” during an interview to the Nikkei Asian Review on November 25, 2014. Interesting is the Dalai Lama’s remark of October 8, when he said “some Chinese officials, for example the deputy party secretary in the autonomous region of Tibet, also mentioned the possibility of my visit.”
Though reports of any formal contacts have been denied by the Dalai Lama’s set-up, fresh speculation was sparked by the Dalai Lama’s interview on BBC’s ‘Newsnight’ programme. He was quoted by BBC as saying “The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease. There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won’t come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries-old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama”.
In recent months China also seemingly stepped up engagement with foreigners on the Tibet issue. Examples include the participation for the first time by foreigners in the Tibet Forum in Lhasa in mid-August and the invitation to Beijing-based foreign military attachés to tour Tibet the following month.
Particularly interesting are the activities of Professor Jin Wei, deputy director of minority issues in the Central Party School in Beijing, which she joined in 1985. The Central Party School is the crucible for training the senior cadre of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) earmarked for upward progression and its faculty comprises CCP members hand-picked for reliability.
In an important interview published on June 6, 2013, by Hong Kong’s Yazhou Zhoukan (Asia Weekly), Jin asserted that China must ensure that the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation was found “inside China” and “make every possible effort to avoid the embarrassment of the ‘twin Panchen Lama’ event”. Stating that “we cannot simply treat him as an enemy”, she advanced a new framework for talks and recommended breaking “the current impasse” and re-starting the talks — suspended since 2010 — with the Dalai Lama’s representatives.
In the past few months Jin has travelled to the United States and Britain to publicise the CCP’s new thinking on the Tibet issue. During her visit to the US a couple of months ago, she had closed-door meetings with select think-tanks and, more significantly, with some of the Dalai Lama’s key supporters.
In November 2014, she spoke at Oxford and addressed the School of Oriental and Asian Studies (SOAS) in London. Hinting that Beijing could re-evaluate its policy of aid to the TAR, she suggested that while policies to aid Tibet and extend high-levels of central investment should continue, they should be tailored to local conditions and the needs of Tibetans.
Jin disclosed said that while the number of monasteries and monks in the TAR had increased since 1965, most officials in the region saw monks as “trouble-makers”. She attributed the increased “internal tensions” in the TAR to the policy of placing officials inside monasteries and nunneries and on the monastery management committees. The officials stationed in the monasteries, she said, felt marginalised and the policies are “unsustainable”.
Within weeks of Jin’s visit, TAR chairman Lobsang Gyaltsen led an eight-member delegation to Canada and the US from November 30 to December 6, 2014. Meeting Canadian officials, Gyaltsen appealed them to take an impartial view of Tibet and recognise the importance and sensitivity of the Tibet issue. He requested them not to provide any scope for anti-China activities in order to cement healthy and friendly relations between the two nations. In New York and Washington, which he visited from December 2 to 6, Gyaltsen spoke at the Brookings Institution and met think-tanks, journalists, overseas Chinese and Tibetans.
China has increased the frequency of ‘informal’ contacts with the Dalai Lama’s establishment, possibly to ‘soften’ his stance prior to inviting him to China. At the same time it is working to undermine his influence and support base abroad.
December 18, 2014
Filed by Times of India on December 18, 2014
To effectively counter terror activities mounted by Pakistan from Nepal, home ministry is working on a proposal to double the strength of the intelligence wing of Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) [literally, “Armed Border Force”, one of India's Central Armed Police Forces] and give it state-of-the-art technical intelligence tools. SSB, which guards the porous Nepal and Bhutan borders with India, is the only paramilitary unit to have a full-fledged intelligence wing.
Sources said the idea is to shore up SSB's capabilities to effectively guard entry of ISI-backed terrorists and monitor the activity of the Pak spy agency in fast mushrooming madrasas on the border. It would also help the force counter activities of northeast insurgents on the Bhutan border.
In addition to this, the SSB is also introducing non-lethal weapons among the troops in a big way and a proposal is in the works. Sources argue that since Bhutan and Nepal are friendly countries use of lethal weapons is not recommended and this emboldens smugglers and militants who know they would not be fired upon unless forces are challenged. Non-lethal weapons, conversely, can prove more effective as a deterrent.
SSB director general B D Sharma said, "Intelligence is our biggest weapon when it comes to securing the open and porous borders with Nepal and Bhutan. These are sensitive borders. We have sent to the government a proposal in this regard as we seek to revamp our snooping infrastructure."
"We want to excel in intelligence-related works because at these two unfenced frontiers it is only 'good information' that can help secure the area from illegal elements," he said.
Sharma said the government has accorded the 70,000 personnel-strong SSB a Rs 658 crore modernization budget which the force is utilizing to procure surveillance equipment and other gadgets and weapons.
SSB officials elaborated that under the intelligence revamp proposal, the force wants to double the number of its personnel designated for this job and it wants to procure a number of gadgets that provide technical snoop data with the help of imagery and biometrics.
However, increased vigil on the border is also annoying VIPs in Nepal. Sharma said added security measures along the Nepal border has also led to complaints from the leaders and VIPs on the other side as he got communications from "MPs and other important people from Nepal who say they were being frisked or stopped by SSB troops before entering India".
"People on both the sides have to get used to frisking and other security drills. We cannot compromise on security," he said.
The "snoop" wing of the force, designated as the lead agency on these two borders, has an estimated 4,000 people. The force, the DG said, will also send a proposal to the home ministry soon with an intention to acquire non-lethal weapons to be deployed along these two borders, on line similar to what BSF does along the Bangladesh frontier.
"There are numerous benefits of having non-lethal weapons on these borders as this would better allow our troopers to deal with illegal elements active here. Being an open border, it is not always advisable for our troops to use their standard weapons which are lethal in nature," he said.
The DG also said that the force, along with its counterpart paramilitary in Nepal, has also decided to strengthen mechanisms to curb instances of human trafficking along the 1,751 km Indo-Nepal border.
Sharma said illegal smuggling of narcotics along Nepal border is a real challenge for his troops as he conceded that the force was "not able to catch everything" that was being transported across this frontier.
He said the force has initiated some new steps to increase vigil along the Nepal border by operationalizing five helpline numbers in Ranikhet, Patna, Guwahati, Lucknow and Siliguri which can be used by the public to inform it about any smuggling or illegal activities in the border areas.
SSB will also enhance the number of its border posts along Nepal from the current 470 to 539 and along Bhutan from the current 150 to 195 by the year 2016. It will also raise six more battalions (1,000 personnel in each) by 2018.
The DG said the force has sought approval of the home ministry to begin an annual exchange and meeting of its top brass with the Royal Bhutan Police as is prevalent with its Nepalese counterparts. India shares a 699-km border with Bhutan.
The DG said illegal operatives along the Bhutan border are functioning from camps on the Indian side and they take benefit of the dense jungles and difficult terrain to carry out their activities.
December 16, 2014
Filed by Natalie Obiko Pearson for Bloomberg, Dec 14, 2014
In the dusty outskirts of Kathmandu, south of the Himalayan mountain range that holds the world’s highest peaks, Chinese engineers in orange hard hats oversee construction of Nepal’s first eight-lane highway.
The $45 million upgrade of a road circling the Nepalese capital is one of dozens of projects helping China challenge India’s dominance in a country that is sandwiched between them. Until recently, the Himalayas served as a natural barrier that prompted Nepal to trade more across its flat border with India.
“China is growing in importance,” Ram Sharan Mahat, Nepal’s Finance Minister, said in a Dec. 4 interview in Kathmandu. “Because of new trade horizons and the cheap pricing of Chinese goods, Chinese trade vis-a-vis Nepal is growing.”
China this year overtook India as Nepal’s biggest foreign investor, funding power plants, noodle factories and meat-processing units in one of the world’s poorest countries. Trade is also booming: Nepal’s commerce with China has outpaced that with India by 17 times since 2006, eroding the influence of New Delhi’s leaders.
Signs of China’s growing presence are visible throughout Kathmandu, including the flags that wave about the construction site, Mandarin announcements at the international airport and a Chinese-language book shop that popped up in the capital last month. Local markets are flooded with China-made goods such as Hindu idols once sourced from India.
“China looks to Nepal as a gateway to South Asia,” Akshay Mathur, head of research at Mumbai-based Gateway House, said by phone. “It’s part of a broader strategy to extend its sphere of influence.”
China is already seeking a land route through ally Pakistan to the Arabian Sea as President Xi Jinping pledges $40 billion in investments along the Silk Road trading route. China in August completed a railway link near the Nepal border, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, which could divert Chinese goods from India’s Kolkata port.
“India and Indian businesses had been complacent,” Mathur said, in reference to China’s moves in Nepal. “They’ll have to sit up and take notice.”
India accounted for 53 percent of Nepal’s trade last year, down from 60 percent in 2006, when a Maoist insurgency ended. China’s share of Nepal’s commerce has risen to 31 percent from 3 percent in that time, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
China’s investment pledges worth 7.3 billion Nepali rupees ($73 million) outstripped India’s 6.5 billion for the first time in the year through July. They are projected to do so again this year, according to data from Nepal’s Department of Industry.
China’s competition with India is a boon for Nepal, whose remittances-dependent economy is smaller than all 50 U.S. states. Its 28 million people have the lowest spending power of any Asian country apart from Afghanistan, International Monetary Fund statistics show.
“We’re in between the two fastest-growing major economies in the world,” Yuba Raj Khatiwada, Nepal’s central bank governor, said in a Dec. 3 interview at his Kathmandu office. “No other country has such an opportunity, a market of billions of middle-class populations on both borders.”
Nepal is boosting yuan holdings to 15 percent of foreign-exchange reserves, equivalent to its stocks of the Indian rupee, Khatiwada said. While the Nepalese currency’s peg to the rupee is working for now, it might be reevaluated if India’s economy sees high volatility in the future, he said.
Even though China has made inroads, India is still poised to gain as Nepal expands. An India-Nepal power trading pact signed in August could be a “turning point” in solving South Asia’s energy woes, Johannes Zutt, the World Bank’s country director for Nepal, said by phone Dec. 5.
Some 6,000 rivers fed by Himalayan glaciers could be harnessed for more than 80 gigawatts of capacity, according to Nepal’s Investment Board, enough to power a third of India. It has tapped less than 1 percent of that potential while suffering blackouts for as many as 16 hours a day.
Exporting electricity to India rather than China is easier because its rivers flow south off the Himalayas toward India’s most populous states, while China’s biggest cities and industries are far to the east.
“Nepal can become a rich country by selling electricity to India,” Narendra Modi told Nepal’s parliament in August during the first visit by an Indian prime minister in 17 years, while offering a $1 billion credit line to fund development. “We do not want free electricity; we want to buy.”
In the biggest deal ever from an overseas investor, Bengaluru-based GMR Group said Sept. 22 it would build a 900-megawatt hydropower plant, estimated to cost $1.4 billion, to export electricity to India. State-run SJVN Ltd. (SJVN) signed an agreement this month for another plant on the same river, which is estimated to generate more than $3 billion over 25 years.
Mahat, Nepal’s finance minister, said blackouts will end in three years as new projects come on line, boosting growth in the $20 billion economy by as much as 2 percentage points each year from 4.5 percent now.
While it’s too early to say if Chinese trade will reach parity with India -- particularly with only one all-weather road between the countries -- the signs are promising, Mahat said. The number of Chinese visitors has tripled in recent years, he said.
In Kathmandu, workers with the Shanghai Construction Group Co. (600170) are widening lanes, reinforcing bridges and building bus stops. A nearby compound housing employees has a basketball court, a vegetable patch growing Chinese cabbage and a dining hall where cooks from the mainland make noodles and tea.
“All these developments unsettle India quite a bit,” said Purnendra Jain, professor at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Asian Studies. “The Nepalese government is aware India and China are competing for influence and it doesn’t want to put one party off. That’s a huge balancing act.”
November 25, 2014
Nepal has been ranked 20th among 167 countries in terms of the prevalence of modern day slavery. The 2014 Global Slavery Index has estimated that 228,700 people in the country are subjected to modern day slavery.
The report released by Walk Free Foundation last week has also listed Nepal as the fifth most vulnerable country to modern day slavery in the Asia Pacific region. Neighbouring India ranks top most in the region followed by Pakistan, Cambodia and Mongolia.
In the world rankings, India and Pakistan are ranked fifth and sixth, respectively. Mauritania ranks first in the index with four percent of its almost 4 million people subjected to modern day slavery, followed by (2) Uzbekistan, (3) Haiti and (4) Qatar.
The report also highlights that men from Nepal along with Sri Lanka and Bangladesh working in the Middle East are in forced labor in the construction industry, while women from the same countries have been subjected to sexual exploitation and domestic violence.
The case study of Qatar carried out in the report also says that migrant workers from Nepal and other South Asian countries are subjected to a range of exploitative practices, including forced labor, domestic servitude, extortionate recruitment fees, illegal confiscation of passports, withholding of salaries, hazardous workplaces, unhygienic living conditions and physical, psychological and sexual abuse from employers.
The Australia-based organization, which works to end modern day slavery, prepares its report based on researches over a year. The report terms the modern day slavery as involvement of a person possessing or controlling another person to significantly deprive that person of their individual liberty and with the intention of exploiting that person through their use, management, profit, transfer or disposal. The report states that India also remains susceptible destination for Nepali women and children. “Young Nepali women banned from traveling to the Gulf for domestic work also pass through India as an alternative route. Some of these migrants then experience abuse and exploitation. Other migrants are fraudulently sent by recruiters to India to be transported to jobs in the Gulf, only to remain in India in positions of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation,” the report has stated.
According to the report, around 38.5 million people around the world are the victims of modern day slavery.
To download the Report
November 21, 2014
The Highway Routes: Small Arms Smuggling in Eastern Nepal
In 2013, the Small Arms Survey estimated that there are around 440,000 civilian firearms in circulation in Nepal, only 55,000 of which are legally registered. The availability of firearms in the country is moderate by international standards, but the concentration of small arms in the hands of criminal groups poses a threat to law and order that has yet to be fully assessed and addressed.
Despite some notable improvements since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in 2006, such as the fall in the number of armed groups and increased police presence, the country continues to be afflicted by crime and insecurity, fuelled in part by the proliferation of small arms.
The Highway Routes: Small Arms Smuggling in Eastern Nepal, a new Issue Brief from the Small Arms Survey’s Nepal Armed Violence Assessment project, examines various dimensions of the illicit trade in small arms in eastern Nepal, based on fieldwork conducted between December 2013 and April 2014, including over 100 interviews with representatives of law enforcement and the underworld.
The Issue Brief analyses the sources of illicit small arms, the methods of smuggling and routes used, illicit trade and related activities, and the consumers and other actors involved, as well as relevant government policies. Its major findings include:
Most firearms circulating in eastern Nepal are trafficked via the open border with India rather than the more heavily regulated frontier with China. They transit through towns and cities in the border areas to the main destinations of Kathmandu, Dharan, and Chitwan.
The trafficking of small arms in Nepal is predominantly an ‘ant trade’, carried out by individuals or loosely organized groups.
Criminal elements increasingly prefer to rent rather than own illicit firearms because it reduces the likelihood of arrest.
The illicit traffic in small firearms is dominated by craft (country-made) and counterfeit guns.
Government and police efforts to curb the trafficking of small arms and ammunition have included a range of legal and policy responses, with mixed results. ‘Buy-and-bust’ sting operations have succeeded in arresting and disbanding a number of smuggling rings, although some maintain that it is generally the carriers who are arrested rather than the main organizers.
To download “The Highway Routes: Small Arms Smuggling in Eastern Nepal”
November 18, 2014
My friend, Bangladeshi activist, Everest climber and writer Wasfia Nazreen has been selected as one of National Geographic’s Ten Adventurers of the Year 2015. Now, it is the public’s opportunity to vote for Wasfia as the best of the best, THE Adventurer of the year, which will be announced in January 2015. Below, you will find National Geographic’s criteria for her selection—her ongoing dedication to empower her country’s women and girls – as well as National Geographic’s interview with her. But first, here’s the link to place your vote Wasfia:
National Geographic’s write-up on her:
The Activist: Wasfia Nazreen
A Bangladeshi aid worker hula-hoops on the Seven Summits to empower her country’s women and girls.
While exact numbers are difficult to pin down, approximately 350 people have climbed the Seven Summits. If activist Wasfia Nazreen summits Oceania's Carstensz Pyramid in late November, it won’t rank as a stunning mountaineering feat—ascending to the continents’ high points isn’t as revered as other more daunting mountaineering feats. Certainly, she may become the first to hula-hoop on all seven, but Nazreen’s goal reaches far beyond summits, routes, and firsts.
In 2010, Nazreen was working for international humanitarian aid group CARE in her native country of Bangladesh. One of CARE's projects pulled 3,000 women and children out of brothels and began educating and training them for careers outside the sex industry. Bangladesh is the eighth most populous country, with just under a third of its people living below the international poverty line. Then the funding for the project dried up. Unable to win a grant to continue the program, CARE left and Nazreen watched as the 3,000 women and children were left in social limbo, ostracized by Bangladeshi society and removed from what little social support the brothels had afforded them, according to Nazreen.
“Worse yet were the kids. They had almost escaped the cyclical nature of the brothel life,” says 32-year-old Nazreen, who has worked in the human rights field since her early 20s, after graduating from Agnes Scott College. “We were so dependent on these foreign organizations. If [an NGO] left, it was almost like a program just ended.”
Nazreen decided that while foreign support had its role in the developing nation, it was time for the Bangladeshi people to begin building aid organizations that were not headed by foreigners. She had begun mountaineering in 2006, while working in Tibet to stem human rights violations by the Chinese government. She decided to combine her two passions—activism and climbing.
Nazreen sold some family jewelry, took out tens of thousands of dollars in loans, and went to work. First, she created the Bangladesh on Seven Summits foundation to oversee the climbing portion of her mission and began ticking off the peaks with a Bangladeshi flag in hand. At that point no Bangladeshi had completed the Seven Summits. The 40th anniversary of Bangladeshi independence was in 2011, and the country was hungry to celebrate. Nazreen added her own unique flourish by packing a 2.5-pound, collapsible Hula-Hoop in the Bengali colors and breaking it out on top of each summit. Hula-hooping was something she had been forbidden to do as a child. When Nazreen summited Everest, international media began picking up her story, which she used to generate momentum into the second phase of her project.
“Eighty percent of the people haven’t seen a mountain,” says Nazreen of her country, which is known for its flat, fertile river deltas. “Going to every continent took the Bangladeshi people to every continent. It gave them a lot of pride.”
This fall, with six of the seven climbs behind her, Nazreen implemented the second stage of her project. She launched the Ösel Foundation, aimed at educating marginalized young women and getting them into the outdoors. Bangladesh is a deeply patriarchal society in which even educated girls are discouraged from participating in sports, and arranged marriages are commonplace. Women who have been born into the sex trade or victimized by rape enjoy a fraction of the rights that others do. This January, the Ösel Foundation begins its education and outdoor initiatives with a six-month pilot program for 50 teenage girls. The curriculum is influenced by Western outdoor education programs.
“We are trying to change our society,” says Nazreen. “This seemed like a good place to start.”
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC'S INTERVIEW:
National Geographic Adventure: So first off, what’s with the Hula-Hoop?
Wasfia Nazreen: When I was a little girl, one of my first memories was of this foreign couple visiting my town. I’d never seen white people. Their daughter had this Hula-Hoop. I wanted to play with it. I was trying it, and one of the neighborhood women said something along the lines of “Girls shouldn’t be shaking their hips.” The way she said it had this very derogatory meaning. I thought, Good girls can’t play with Hula-Hoops.
This was taken from my life—the right to play as a little girl. I was told I couldn’t bike because it would take my virginity and other nonsense. I’m doing this for myself and for the little girls back at home. It’s my little way of saying, “No more.”
NGA: You are a star in your country for your climbs. Has the response been entirely good?
WN: For the most part. There was a celebration at the prime minister’s. And this man, this colonel in the Bangladeshi navy or army, came in and screamed, “This thing got up and our army couldn’t get up.” He was screaming at his people, his men. He couldn’t even call me “she.” He just said "thing.” In the long run, it’s flattering. The men in our country—it hit some of their egos. Now we are starting to get fathers coming to ask if their daughters can be a part of our foundation. I don’t want the fame, but the fact that some men are starting to see that they can get their daughters involved in sports and the outdoors, that’s a matter of pride. Seeing that shift is huge for me. There aren’t many positive stories in Bangladesh. This is one of them.
NGA: Which of the peaks has been the most difficult?
WN: Well, Denali and Everest are the most difficult, but the hardest thing is honestly the logistics. I haven’t used a commercial outfit for these climbs, so the logistics of getting permits and organizing was harder than the climbing. Raising the funds has been the hardest. In Bangladesh, I had to prove myself over and over again. I’ve had a lot of help from friends.
NGA: Bangladesh is coastal and pretty flat. How and where did you start climbing?
WN: I worked in Tibet on a four-year campaign to protest the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. The Chinese were using them as a way to validate their claim on Tibet. During that time we were traveling a lot in Tibet and Nepal. We were organizing these protests and events. We’d climb bridges or towers for these events, and so I got some [climbing] training. In 2006, I started doing small climbs. By 2007, I was starting to do six- and seven-thousand-meter peaks.
NGA: You’ve taken big financial risks to start your foundations and work constantly—what pushes you to do all that?
WN: I have a really deep calling. I have some big bank loans. I have no idea how I’m going to pay it off. If you think about it practically, I should be really worried about that, but my brain doesn’t function like that. In my adolescence and in my own life, this is like healing. Growing up, I was marginalized. I don’t want any other girl to go through that. That’s where the power comes from.
November 10, 2014
Talking to the Air: The Horses of the Last Forbidden Kingdom, written, directed and shot by Sophie Dia Pegrum.
Talking to the Air tells the story of the ascent of civilization in the high Himalaya and turns a lens on issues of globalization, fragile border in the heart of the Himalaya, where the Lo people of Mustang have depended on the horse for their survival and have developed a deep spiritual connection with the equine. The Lo people tie their karmic being to the lives of their horses, and this film explores the ancient practices and belief systems that still very much part of daily lives. It also includes fascinating archival footage of the Tibetan Resistant Fighters who settled in Mustang after China overran Tibet and the Dalai Lama fled to India for his life.
Premiering at the Kathmandu International Mountain Film Festival this December. Produced by Horsefly Films in Association with Adventure Nepal Productions and Shakti Pictures.
For more clips and ways that you can assist in funding post-production
November 5, 2014
October 30, 2014
Filed by Kosh Raj Koirala for Khabar South Asia
Amid reports of criminal activity and growing religious fundamentalism in border areas, Nepal's Armed Police Force (APF) and India's Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) are enhancing intelligence-sharing activities to guard against security threats along their 1,880km border.
"It is our policy not to allow any activities that are detrimental to the interests of our neighbours in our border areas. We have made security arrangements accordingly," Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal told Khabar South Asia.
The moves follow Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh's visit to Kathmandu last month, during which he "expressed his concern on the growth of religious fundamentalism in the border areas", India's Ministry of Home Affairs said in a statement.
Bam Dev Gautam, Singh's counterpart, pledged full co-operation, according to Nepalese Home Ministry officials.
Monitoring madrassa visitors
As part of measures to prevent religious extremists from infiltrating madrassas in border districts, Nepalese police now require all Muslim schools to notify them about visitors, particularly foreigners.
"As a precautionary measure, we have also made it mandatory for all madrassas to provide details about each new visitor," said Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Nawaraj Silwal, chief of police for eastern Nepal.
The nations' border is open thanks to a 1950 bilateral friendship treaty allowing Indian and Nepalese nationals to cross without visas.
However, in recent years, the APF and SBB have responded to security threats from human traffickers and counterfeit money smugglers taking advantage of the porous border. SSB has more than 466 border outposts (BOPs) compared with 87 outposts established by the APF.
"Our BOPs are monitoring criminal activities along the border," APF Additional Inspector General Singh Bahadur Shrestha told Khabar. "We have been conducting searches and investigations of suspected persons travelling across the border."
With high-level SAARC meetings scheduled for late November in Kathmandu, tight border security is of paramount importance, according to Shrestha.
"We have to further increase our movements," he said. "This is not a situation to be complacent about security."
October 27, 2014
Claims Journal report filed by BINAJ GURUBACHARYA
Last wekk, Nepal said it will introduce new rules, improve weather forecasts and better monitor the movement of trekkers after the Himalayan country’s worst hiking disaster left dozens dead last week.
Tourism Department official Tulasi Gautam said trekkers venturing to mountain trails will be required to take trained local guides, and will have to rent a GPS tracking unit to help authorities trace them in case of an emergency.
Gautam said the government plans to announce the new rules nationwide before the next trekking season in the spring.
“The main reason for the high number of casualties is that those trekkers without proper guides were prompted to continue with their trek in attempts to beat the storm. So we plan to strictly enforce new rules of no trekking without porters or proper guides,” Gautam said.
At least 43 people were killed last week when a blizzard and avalanches swept the mountains of the Annapurna region in northern Nepal. Of those, 21 were foreign trekkers and mountaineers from countries including India, Israel, Canada, Poland, Japan, China and Slovakia. Twenty-two were Nepalese guides, porters and villagers.
Many of the trekkers around the Annapurna route are independent hikers who do not hire guides. The route is also dotted with lodges and tea stalls that sell food, snacks and lodging.
Authorities also plan to improve the weather forecasting system and make it easier to deliver information to remote trekking routes.
The government also said all trekkers must now register at check posts while entering and exiting the trekking areas. Previously, foreign trekkers were required to buy permits or at least register before entering trekking areas, but Nepalese nationals were not. And no one was required to check out when they left.
Home Ministry Secretary Surya Prasad Silwal said rescuers were able to fly 518 stranded trekkers, including 310 foreigners, to safety before the search operation ended Monday.
“It was the biggest rescue operation in Nepal that included hundreds of soldiers, policemen and local officials. Swift response saved many lives,” Silwal said. He added that every available helicopter was used in the effort.
October 19, 2014
Nepal blizzard trek toll up to 39, more than 370 rescued
Reuters, October 18: The death toll in a blizzard that engulfed trekkers on a popular hiking route in Nepal rose by nine on Saturday to 39.
Sixty more people were rescued from the Annapurna trail, a three-week route popular with foreign adventure tourists that circles the world's tenth-tallest mountain, bringing the total saved to 371. Dozens more were still missing.
"We have spotted nine new bodies today," said Govinda Pathak, police head in the district of Mustang. "We could not retrieve them because of bad weather conditions and snowfall. I can confirm that the toll is 39 now."
Twelve helicopters were pressed on Saturday into action to drop searchers in otherwise inaccessible spots, and soldiers fanned out in different directions along the 240-km (150-mile) route.
It was the most intensive effort yet to find survivors of one of the country's worst mountain disasters, which struck at a time of year when the weather is usually calm and clear.
Foreign victims included hikers from Canada, India, Israel and Poland who were caught on Wednesday by the tail end of a cyclone that battered India's eastern coast last weekend before heading northward.
Thorong La, the highest pass along the Annapurna trek, is at an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet), but the route does not require mountaineering experience. Eyewitnesses said many victims perished trying to descend the pass in freezing, whiteout conditions.
In the capital, Kathmandu, survivors recounted their brush with death during the blizzard.
Four Nepali guides were swept away by an avalanche, said Horst Ulrich, a 72-year-old German, who was on his fourth trip to Nepal with a group of friends.
"We were in a dangerous spot and shocked at the conditions we were seeing unfold in front of our eyes," he added. "We just got lucky."
Munchang Lama, 35, a guide for two Israeli women, found himself marooned while he was pitching a tent for them.
"Suddenly it started raining and I took shelter between two rocks," said Lama, who was rescued on Friday, suffering from frostbite and minor injuries.
"Next morning I was not able to walk because my leg was stuck in snow," he added. "I realized I would only be able to get out when the snow melted."
Lama said he was able to keep up his strength by munching on nuts, chocolates and a banana he found in the women's bags.
"This kept me alive for 48 hours," said Lama, adding that he did not know what became of his clients.
The government has admitted failing to issue any warning that the weather would take a sudden turn for the worse, and has promised to set up an early-warning system.
This week's incident was the second major mountain disaster in Nepal this year after an avalanche killed 16 guides on Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, in April.
The home ministry told officials in the five affected districts to trace missing people who could have taken shelter from the storm in hamlets, temples or other isolated spots.
"The problem is that any Nepali is free to start operating as a porter and they do not require a licence," said Keshav Pandey of Nepal's Trekking Agencies Association. "According to our estimate more than 85 Nepalis are still stuck."
Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains. Income from tourism, including permit fees from trekkers, who made up more than 12 percent of its 800,000 tourists in 2013, accounts for 4 percent of its economy.
(Filed by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Raissa Kasolowsky)
October 17, 2014
Reuters report filed by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel.
Mountain rescue teams in Nepal searched for scores of missing trekkers on Thursday after unseasonal blizzards and avalanches killed at least 27 people along the high altitude Annapurna mountain route popular with backpackers.
Army and civilian rescue workers say between 73 and 85 trekkers registered on the trail were unaccounted for. Not all of those people were necessarily trapped by the weather and some may have left the area, rescue workers said.But the death toll, which included 11 foreigners and three yak herders, was expected to rise with so many unaccounted for after snowstorms brought by the tail end of a cyclone that struck eastern India last weekend.
It was the second major mountain disaster to strike in Nepal this year, after an ice-avalanche killed 16 sherpa guides on Mount Everest in April."This is one of the worst mountaineering accidents that I can remember," said Gopal Babu Shrestha, the treasurer of the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal, who has been helping with the rescue.
"It is inevitable that the death toll will rise from here."
Shrestha took part in helicopter rescue operations on Wednesday and said he had seen what looked like bright jackets and backpacks scattered near the Thorang-La pass, at an altitude of 5,416 meters (17,769 feet).
The pass is the highest point of the trail that loops around the Annapurna peak, the world's 10th highest mountain.
A Facebook page set up on Wednesday to help friends and relatives trace loved ones trekking in Nepal quickly filled with concerned posts from the United States, Canada, Australia and South Korea.
Rescue efforts focused on the Thorang-La area, where a blizzard on Wednesday killed six Nepali citizens, three Polish nationals and three Israeli hikers. Separately, in the neighboring district of Manang, four Canadian hikers and an Indian national were killed in an avalanche.
About 15 people have been rescued, and some are recovering in hospital in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.
The 240 km (150 mile) Annapurna circuit offers spectacular views of jagged peaks and Buddhist villages.
Taking almost three weeks to complete, it is perhaps the most popular walking routes in the Himalayas and is dubbed the "apple pie" circuit because of the teahouses lining the route that offer cold beer and home baking.
"It is our most popular trek," said Hari Thapoliya, a member of the Trekking Team Group in Kathmandu, which offers guides to tourists. "It is not particularly challenging. If you keep fit by running or doing other exercise you can do it." The hikers' deaths come during the peak trekking season in Nepal, home to eight of the world's 14 highest mountains, including Mount Everest.For two days this week, Nepal was lashed by heavy rain brought by the cyclone that also battered neighboring India, killing at least 24 people. In Nepal, the weather triggered blizzards at high altitudes.A ground team of about 50 soldiers and police joined army helicopters looking for survivors or bodies."The weather is good," said Baburam Bhandari, district governor of Mustang district, the area worst hit by the disaster. "One army helicopter has already left for the site and more helicopters will be pressed into service later." Nepal's climbing business is still recovering from the shock of an ice avalanche that struck the lower reaches of Mount Everest in April, killing 16 guides in the worst disaster in the history of the world's highest peak.
More than a tenth of the nearly 800,000 tourists who visited Nepal in 2013 went hiking or climbing, providing a key revenue stream for the aid-dependent nation, which relies on income from tourism for 4 percent of its gross domestic product.