The series of earthquakes and aftershocks that shook Nepal in 2015 took place within 50 miles of the country’s capital, Kathmandu, immensely heightening the death toll and structural damage that occurred. Being one of the poorest nations in Asia, much of the infrastructure was not built to withstand an earthquake of this magnitude. Many historic temples collapsed which had held immense cultural significance for the country. Additionally, a massive amount of villages were destroyed, crumbling the homes and little belongings that the Nepalese had to the ground (Mercy Corps, 2016).
One of Nepal’s greatest sources of income is the tourism industry, which is heavily based around Mt. Everest, located on the Northern border of Nepal. Each year, thousands of individuals visit the country to awe over of the beauty of the Himalayas, and hundreds more attempt to summit the world’s tallest mountain. Due to weather and snow conditions, there is a limited time frame in which climbers can attempt to summit Everest, which unfortunately, falls between April and May. On April 15th, 2015, many climbers were at base camp acclimatizing and waiting to begin their voyage, while other expeditions had already begun their journeys, when a massive avalanche formed as a result of the earthquake, which had an epicenter just 150 miles away. The small, flimsy tents used by climbers were no match for the massive avalanche plummeting down the mountain, sweeping away everything in its path. The avalanche that resulted from the earthquake took the lives of at least 22 individuals and severely injured many others. Nobody was able to summit Everest that year (Wilkinson, 2015).
Nepal’s urbanized, rural, and mountainous regions were not the only areas impacted by the series of earthquakes in 2015. Surrounding countries, such as China, India, and Bangladesh, also endured the effects of these earthquakes, experiencing infrastructure damage and loss of human life as well (USAID, 2016).
Pre-Disaster Planning and Mitigation
Located in an earthquake-prone region and struggling from extreme poverty, Nepal had had numerous connections with relief organizations and had been the home to many aid agencies prior to the 2015 earthquake. Some agencies provided resources and financial aid, while others operated directly in Nepal, offering skills for the Nepalese to become self-sustaining once the organization had left. Some significant actors in Nepal that provided aid and preparedness prior to the earthquake in 2015 were: USAID, Mercy Corps, and nonprofits, such as GeoHazards International (GHI).
The United States Agency for International Development, USAID, has been working to provide relief to Nepal for over twenty years and has invested significant resources into the country in order to reduce the risk of disasters, while also planning and preparing for them. Prior to the earthquake, supplies had been pre-positioned by USAID in vulnerable areas of Nepal to increase post-earthquake efficiency. The hospital preparedness project, which had also been established by USAID prior to the earthquake, worked with 11 major hospitals throughout Nepal to better prepare for disaster response, which proved immensely beneficial once the earthquake had hit in 2015 (USAID, 2016).
Mercy Corps, a humanitarian organization that was originally founded in the United States but now operates on a global scale, also played a significant role in providing assistance to Nepal prior to the earthquake. The organization is mainly focused on “protecting, strengthening and expanding resilience strategies and opportunities among the poor, vulnerable and disadvantaged families through economic, financial and risk management programs” (Mercy Corps, 2016). Nepal has been assisted by Mercy Corps for over 12 years, and significant contributions have been made. At the time of the earthquake, over 100 staff members of Mercy Corps were already located on Nepal’s grounds, which allowed recovery efforts to be conducted instantly and with increased efficiency (Mercy Corps, 2016).
Numerous other nonprofits, both large-scale and small-scale, also participated in equipping Nepal for a disaster such as the 2015 earthquake. GeoHazards International (GHI) is a nonprofit based in California with the goal of reducing the gap between poor and rich countries in terms of disaster effects and recovery. Underdeveloped nations are affected by large-scale, natural disasters with much greater severity than are developed, rich nations. In these poor nations, the death rate for disasters is nearly 5 times higher than it is in rich countries, which is the result of inadequate access to education, healthcare, infrastructure development, and other resources. Prior to the earthquake in Nepal, organizations such as GHI were active in training Nepalese teachers to educate individuals on earthquake preparedness and retrofitting schools and other structures to withstand major disasters, such as earthquakes. These efforts proved beneficial in saving many lives and decreasing the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal. GHI and other nonprofits are still a long way from closing the gap in disaster effects throughout the world, but continue working to strengthen education, development, and preparedness for poor countries commonly affected by major, natural disasters (GeoHazards International, n.d.).
Agreements Enabling the U.S. to Operate in Nepal
In 1947, the U.S. officially began to recognize Nepal, and since then, the two countries have maintained peaceful, diplomatic relations. Since then, the U.S. has continued to provide resources to Nepal, primarily in the form of economic aid (Office of the Historian (D.O.S.), n.d.). Being one of the world’s poorest nations, the U.S. works to “build a peaceful, prosperous, resilient and democratic society” within Nepal. One way that the U.S. strives to accomplish this is by decreasing Nepal’s dependency on humanitarian aid and make the nation self-sustaining. In return, Nepal provides an immense number of troops to peacekeeping missions that operate internationally. Two of the most prominent areas in which the U.S. assists Nepal are: economic development and disaster reduction and preparedness.
For decades, the two countries have overlapped in membership to many international organizations and agreements. Some of these include the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, World Trade Organization, and World Bank. There is also a strong relationship concerning trade between the U.S. and Nepal. A significant agreement between the two nations exists concerning this; the Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) increases efficiency for communication regarding trade, investment, capacity building, and future agreements (U.S. Department of State, 2016). In addition, the U.S. has allowed Nepal to become a part of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP), providing preference in trade to Nepal, reducing or eliminating tariffs, and encouraging economic development (Office of the United States Trade Representative, n.d.). Each of these agreements, as well as the overlapped participation in international organizations and a strong relationship, have allowed the U.S. to be able to enter Nepal with relative ease, especially in disaster situations such as the 2015 earthquake.
After the earthquake occurred in 2015, nations all throughout the world provided assistance to Nepal. Some of the main actors were the United States, India, China, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Israel, and Malaysia. In total, there were 4,000 individuals with boots on the ground in Nepal working on the behalf of the governments of at least 36 nations. The days following the earthquake were chaotic and unorganized to say the least, but these nations each worked to aid Nepal in any way possible (Nepal for Foreign Affairs, n.d.). While the U.S. was arguably the principal nation in providing assistance, they could not have done so alone. The coordination between the governments of nations, as well as between nonprofits and other institutions, was necessary in providing a great amount of relief for Nepal.
Multilateral Planning and Execution
When a disaster of this magnitude strikes a nation, international response is expected to be overwhelming, which was evident in the case of the Nepalese earthquake. Unfortunately, Nepal is amongst the world’s poorest countries, which made coordination and overall relief efforts more challenging than usual, which is further discussed later on. Although there were endless difficulties in coordinating relief efforts within Nepal, organizations and governments from all over the world attempted to facilitate assistance as efficiently as possible.
The United Nations (UN) was a major key in facilitating efforts between different agencies by using predetermined procedures and protocol (such as the United Nations Development Assistance Framework) to do so. Prior to the earthquake, the UN had worked directly with Nepal’s government in order to establish such framework, as well as other means of efficient coordination. When doing so, the UN partnered with institutions such as the National Emergency Operations Center, the Ministry of Home Affairs, and the Multi-National Military Coordination Center operating in Nepal to standardize disaster-related response procedures. As a result, once the earthquake struck, many of the institutions within Nepal were able to efficiently communicate with the UN, who could then communicate with international organizations and the governments of assisting nations.
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