Tragedy in Nepal as earthquake wreaks havoc

Rubble and dust: Nepal’s weak infrastructure has left many of its buildings in ruins © PA

A deadly earthquake has caused destruction across Nepal, with thousands dead and a nation’s heritage in ruins. Could human-induced climate change be partly to blame?

‘The day we dreaded has arrived,’ said writer and photographer Kashish Das Strestha as he walked the devastated streets of Nepal’s capital Kathmandu this weekend. The city lies torn apart by an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8, and at the time of writing on Sunday night, the death count is 2,500 with 5,000 injured. Several aftershocks continue to cause further damage, leaving many to set up outdoor camps rather than return home.

It is the worst earthquake to hit the country in 80 years and has also caused casualties in India, Tibet and Bangladesh.

On Mount Everest, helicopter rescue operations began yesterday to bring wounded climbers down off the mountain, where at least 18 climbers were killed and another 41 injured, making the earthquake the deadliest event in the mountain’s history.

Climbers are locked in a desperate effort to treat injured colleagues caught in a devastating avalanche that swept through the the mountain’s base camp. Romanian climber Alex Gavan, who was in the encampment and survived by running from his tent, posted a desperate appeal on Twitter on Saturday. ‘Huge disaster. Helped search and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap.’

Countries and charities all over the world are sending money, hoping to save as many lives as possible and provide food and shelter for survivors. Outside the capital city, aid workers fear for the fate of those living in rural villages closer to the epicentre. In the Gorkha district, rescue teams are trekking along mountain trails to reach some of these remote villages.

In short, these natural disasters are at least partly our fault.

Fate or our fault?

Most reactions to the disaster broadly accept the following points: (i) bad stuff happens; (ii) natural disasters are part of the deal we accept when living on our marvellous planet; (iii) nobody is to blame; (iv) all we can do is offer money, help and support to our brothers and sisters in their need.

But in some scientific circles a very different and frightening view is emerging. Bill McGuire is professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. He says (i) our planet is ‘an unimaginably complicated beast’ which reacts to changing climate like a ‘slumbering giant’ that tosses and turns in response to various pokes and prods; (ii) mostly, these are supplied by the movement of tectonic plates across the face of our world at about the speed that fingernails grow; (iii) but as global warming affects the ice and permafrost which sustain many mountain ranges there will be a dramatic rise in landslides and quakes in the Andes, Himalayas, European Alps and elsewhere.

You Decide

  1. Are human beings partly to blame for natural disasters?
  2. What is the best way for countries like the UK to help when something like this happens?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are trapped on Everest today. Write a 200 word diary entry that sounds as realistic as possible.
  2. Research some of the effects of global warming on natural disasters and write a summary of your findings.

Some People Say...

“Sometimes it takes a natural disaster to reveal a social disaster.”

Jim Wallis

What do you think?

Q & A

Why was Nepal so vulnerable?
Nepal lies just below the Himalayas, where the Indian tectonic plate is being driven under the Eurasian tectonic plate. There are two or three faults which cause a lot of seismic activity here. Plus, the city of Kathmandu has an extremely dense population, with many living in extreme poverty and cheap buildings which cannot withstand these kinds of events.
What will they do now?
Charities have sent medics and aid workers to help however they can, and several countries have pledged extra money to help Nepal, including £5m from the UK. Once the aftershocks are over and the damage can be assessed, the people of Nepal will begin the slow process of rebuilding their lives.

Word Watch

Magnitude
The moment magnitude scale was developed in the 1970s to replace the well known Richter scale from the 1930s. It measures the size and intensity of earthquakes. 7.8 is considered ‘major’.
Base camp
There are two base camps, on the north and south sides of Everest. The camp on the south side was affected by the earthquake and is on one of the most popular trekking routes in the Himalayas visited by thousands each year. After a trek of several days often starting from Kathmandu, trekkers and climbers begin their ascent from these base camps.
Epicentre
Earthquakes are caused by a release of pressure when the earth’s tectonic plates shift. The surface directly above the focus of this movement is known as the epicentre, and this is where the most damage is usually caused. In Nepal’s case, this happened around 50 miles between the two cities of Kathmandu and Pokhara.
Tectonic plates
The earth’s shell or crust is broken up into major and minor plates. Where these plates meet the relative motions and geological faults can lead to earthquakes and other events including volcanoes.

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