Denis Gallagher is the founder of Nepal Trekking and a long-term member of the Tourism Concern Ethical Tour Operators Group (ETOG). Denis has recently travelled back to Nepal and has provided an update on the current situation in the Himalayan nation.
Following the April 25th earthquake my main concern this visit was to see how all my Sherpa friends and colleagues were recovering in the Khumbu Everest region, where many Sherpa live. The earthquakes had a severe effect in some villages and in others it was not so bad. Fortunately all my Sherpa friends and colleagues in both Kathmandu and the Khumbu are safe and well, but some are still affected by the demolition or severe damage to houses and lodges. Now, seven months after the earthquakes, some are back in repaired houses or lodges but others are still living in tents, under tarpaulins, or in corrugated sheet shelters as their houses are rebuilt.
There has been no assistance to the Sherpa people in the Khumbu from the Nepal government. However, a great deal of assistance has come from within their own community with various Sherpa companies in Nepal supplying tents and other equipment. Further support has come from other Sherpa organisations in Nepal, and other countries around the world, making donations to assist with rebuilding houses and lodges. Organisations from other countries, together with commercial companies, have also been generous with their donations. Although it will take many more months, perhaps years to recover, the Sherpa people in Khumbu have been recovering and rebuilding faster than people in other parts of Nepal.
In many other districts of Nepal where complete villages were destroyed and many people killed, the survivors are still living outside under tarpaulins or in corrugated sheet shelters. This also applies to thousands who were affected in Kathmandu and the surrounding valley area; many are still in temporary shelters in open spaces in various parts of the city. Yet again the Nepal government, seven months on from the earthquakes, have not given any major assistance to the people of Kathmandu to rebuild their damaged properties.
Aftershocks are still occurring seven months after the earthquakes. However in the last two months or so seismic activity has slowed down and there have been periods of one or two days, even full weeks, without any aftershocks over 4 on the scale being recorded by the National Seismological Centre, of the Nepal Government. This is a good sign and we can only hope that they will come to an end soon. Up until the 20th of November, there have been 414 aftershocks measuring over 4 on the Richter scale since the initial April earthquakes.
Despite the many difficulties and challenges, life in Kathmandu is slowly trying to get back to normal. However, in recent month’s political unrest surrounding the new constitution for Nepal finalised in September has added to the chaos and disruption for all people of Nepal. Demonstrations by various Nepali political parties, also affiliated to India, have turned violent at times resulting in many deaths. These political disturbances have been severely disrupting normal life in the south of Nepal, especially in the Terai region bordering India. The three-month blockade, by India, of the India/Nepal border crossings has caused severe shortages of fuels, cooking gas (LPG bottles) and every day food items, as well as essential medical supplies. All international airlines have been told to refuel outside of Nepal because there is no aviation fuel at Kathmandu airport. At this time, late November, more than 50% of domestic airline flights are cancelled and grounded because of the shortage of aviation fuel.
This combination of difficulties in Nepal is causing severe disruption for all tourism activities and many local offices have no business, leading them to be closed most days. In Kathmandu, restaurants and hotels are not able to operate normally because they have no cooking gas and restricted services only are available or they are closed. In recent days some fuel tankers have been allowed into Nepal, but the supply is severely limited to 3 litres to a motorbike, 10 litres to a car, 15 litres to a minibus, and 30 litres to a bus. When any fuel is available long lines, several kilometres, of many hundreds of cars or busses or motorbikes can be seen waiting at the one fuel pump that will be open.
The fuel shortages are being made worse by corruption and the black market, various people and organisations are allegedly involved including oil company officials and tanker drivers as well as company owners. This is making fuel and cooking gas more difficult to find and many times more expensive, people who cannot afford to buy on the black market continue to suffer. The Nepal government is presently negotiating with China to bring fuel to Nepal through the Tibet border crossings. This may increase the supply if successful.
Meanwhile the shortages continue and the people face the difficulties. With no medical supplies hospitals throughout the country cannot treat patients and some have even closed. This continuing situation of shortages of all daily commodities for the people is bringing comments in recent days, from UN Officials, and various foreign embassies in Kathmandu, including the UK government, of an imminent humanitarian crisis for the people of Nepal.
I live and work with the Sherpa people when I am in Nepal and I can see how the local people of Nepal are suffering. Like so many others, at home in Kapan, in the outskirts of Kathmandu, with my Sherpa family we have to cook on a wood fire outside because there is no supply of cooking gas. Electricity is available but with the river levels falling as winter approaches the hydro power stations cannot produce enough power, and the power company has once again increased the number of hours per day of power cuts to eight hours. Further increases are expected to come shortly.
Many of my Sherpa friends and business colleagues see this overall situation (earthquake recovery and political instability) affecting the tourism industry for maybe another year before everything can get back to normality. This will have a severe effect on the Nepal economy, as well as businesses and individuals.
Although there is corruption in Nepal at all levels, from taxi drivers on the street to government ministers, there are also many good people in Nepal. I have seen in recent weeks, with no help coming from the government, many people helping each other, those who have food share with others, those who have fuel offer lifts to others, those who are fit and healthy help those who are old, injured, or cannot help themselves. The people have a resolve to try and carry on as normal even against all the difficulties, they are trying to keep the schools open, the local shops running and offices operating, and do their best to make some sort of a living and an income. This is the good side of Nepal society, but how long it can keep going against the blockade and the severe shortages, which show no sign of changing for many more months, is difficult to know.
- Email Denis: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Nepal Trekking Website: www.nepaltrekking.co.uk
- ETOG link for Nepal Trekking: http://www.tourismconcern.org.uk/nepal-trekking/