One Year After Nepal Earthquake: Why Recovery May Not Even Matter

One year after the devastating Nepal Earthquake, the small country struggles to regain stability. Though the nation lost many lives and countless cultural landmarks, the economic impact is only beginning to show its fullest extent. Unfortunately for Nepal, the threat of an even larger earthquake may loom near.

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Nepalese temple at sunset (photo credit)

 

It has been one year since the Gorkha earthquake devastated Nepal, killing over 8,000 people and injuring more than 21,000. Recovery is at a snail’s pace after fuel shortages restricted access to some of the hardest hit regions. All of this just before the winter months.

The National Reconstruction Authority, which was in charge of overseeing spending, has been dissolved and many Nepalese people were left to cope with temporary shelters through November.  Even reconstruction has been all but stopped, due to lack of guidelines, restricting aid groups from working.

Although there seems to be mild optimism for the country, everyone knows that another earthquake could hit at any time. Although the biggest toll on Nepal has been loss of life, the economic aftershock is a grim reminder that every aspect of Nepalese life, right now, is vulnerable.

So what does it mean to “recover” from this disaster? This will not be the last earthquake to rattle Nepal, and figures appear to lead to worse events. Nepal’s rapid population growth and under-developed infrastructure along with the threat of a more devastating earthquake on the horizon are setting the land locked nation up for the perfect storm.

Nepal’s Geography

Nepal is a geographically diverse country, though most of us associate it with dramatic, snowy Himalayan peaks. This mountainous region consists of the highest elevations in the world, and most notably, Mount Everest. The country also has tropical and subtropical zones in the lower altitudes and experiences all four season with an additional fifth: monsoon. But underneath Nepal takes place tectonic warfare. The same dramatic tectonic activity that formed Everest is also responsible for the violent earthquakes that threaten the very fabric of small nation.

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Map by Jesse Howe and Andy Thies

Nepal lies on top of the Indian subcontinent and Eurasian plate. Not only are these plates massive, they also move incredibly fast, approximately twice the speed as typical tectonic plates. The earthquake patterns certainly wreak havoc, but are they becoming more frequent? The answer is no, but what has made them more devastating is the country’s population growth. A Nepal earthquake now has the ability to affect more people than ever before. These conditions are concerning, due to the predictions by many seismologists that an even more massive earthquake is on the horizon.

The Big One

After the Nepal earthquake of 2015, many speculated if this was the massive earthquake scientists of which scientists were warning. Not only was it not the “big one”, but many expect it was the primer for the larger earthquake’s arrival.

So how big is the big one? Paleoseimologists believe that this will be a magnitude greater than 8.5. This would result in the plates slipping at least thirty feet to release the energy that has been building up under the surface.

Economic Spiral

80% to 57% (poverty rate between 2005-2014)

Nepal has always been a poor country, but the country has seen improvements over the years. A number of reforms and investments have allowed Nepal to be competitive and reduce poverty levels. Unfortunately, the Ghorka earthquake affected many of the biggest industries in the country. Infrastructure such as generators, were damaged, some completely destroyed.

Due to the Nepal earthquake of 2015, the country is estimated to have lost close to 7 billion USD or one-third of the country’s GDP.

This took the form of:

 

750,000 houses

 

7,000 schools

 

2.3%-3.5% poverty increase

 

One of the hardest hit sectors though, was tourism. Most notable was the immediate closure of climbing activities due to avalanches throughout the mountain region.

Climbing and the Economy

Mount Everest is key to Nepal’s economy. Those who come to scale the mountain will on average spend over $45,000 USD. Tourism is estimated to account for 4% of the Nepal’s GDP. So with 2 years of no Everest, the country is finding one of its biggest income generators less and less dependable. Another earthquake could easily shut down the climbing season at any time, additionally resulting in further costly repairs.

Image by Jesse Howe and Andy Thies

What does this mean for the Sherpas, the guides who work on the mountain? Without Everest, their economic outlook becomes less stable, forcing them to be unable to provide for their families. A Sherpa makes on average $4,000, ten times the average for any other given worker in Nepal. Estimates place the number of Sherpas working in Nepal at over 150,000.

A future without Everest?

Nepal finds itself in one of the most difficult situations imaginable. How does a land locked, poor country wean itself off of one of its biggest sources of incomes, and furthermore what could replace it? This is a question that Nepal and the rest of the region is fighting to answer. Though answer it must, as its very future may hang on the brink.

 

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