Nepal Earthquake 2015: Natural Disaster at the Top of the World
On Saturday April 25, 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal approximately 50 km outside its capital of Kathmandu, the worst earthquake to hit the region in 80 years and caused an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 17 on the mountain. The death toll so far is well over 4,300 people, with nearly 5,000 injured and tens of thousands displaced from their homes. In addition, other countries in the region were affected including 56 deaths in India, 20 in China, and 25 deaths and 117 injuries in Tibet. The earthquake only hit a depth of about 11 km, a relatively shallow quake. Unfortunately, the shallower the quake, the more destruction it leaves in its wake. “The shallowness of the source made the ground-shaking at the surface worse than it would have been for a deeper earthquake,” said Dr. David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences. The quake continues to cause large aftershocks, causing more destruction.
According to the United Nations a total of 5 million people have been affected by the earthquake in Nepal, Tibet, India and Bangladesh.
Nepal’s Government also reports that 30 of Nepal’s 75 districts were affected, mainly in western and central regions, including the country’s two largest cities, Kathmandu and Pokhara. Hospitals in the Kathmandu Valley are overcrowded, running out of room for storing dead bodies and also running short of emergency supplies. The most affected districts were reported to be Dhading, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Kavre, Nuwakot, Dolakha, Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Bhaktapur, and Ramechhap.
The loss of life reported so far “is really based on the information we have from the main cities,” Lex Kassenberg, Nepal country director for CARE International, told CNN. “But if you look at the spread of the earthquake, a lot of the rural areas have been hit as well. The information we received from the field is that 80% of the houses in these rural areas have been destroyed.”
The international community has gathered together to assist Nepal in the disaster with the United States, European Union, Australia, India and China all sending money and/or first responders and supplies.
Not only has the earthquake caused devastating loss of life, it has also destroyed many of cultural treasures of the region. The pictures, courtesy of the New York Times, show the damage.
This is not the first major earthquake in the area, however, with one large quake striking approximately every 75 years. Nepal has been working with international organizations such as GeoHazards International to create action plans. Unfortunately the response hasn’t been adequate enough, and just a few weeks ago GeoHazards International released this brief stating:
With an annual population growth rate of 6.5% and one of the highest urban densities in the world, the 1.5 million people living in the Kathmandu Valley were clearly facing a serious and growing earthquake risk. It was also clear that the next large earthquake to strike near the Valley would cause significantly greater loss of life, structural damage, and economic hardship than past earthquakes had inflicted.
The government did not control the Valley’s rapid development; in the absence of any building code, nearly all construction took place without consideration of seismic force concerns. The technical information about earthquake risk in the Kathmandu Valley was incomplete and dispersed among several governmental agencies. That technical information had not been applied to the infrastructure of the modern day Kathmandu Valley and had not been presented in a form comprehensible to the public and government officials.
CNN has created a list of organizations through which you can donate to help in the relief effort.
While significant aid will be needed to help Nepal and the surrounding areas deal with the humanitarian crisis, it will be important for scientists and policymakers to assist Nepal and other poor nations on tectonic borders to create plans and warning systems if we are to prevent similar disasters in the future.
Report by Vidya Eswaran MD