One year ago, four minutes to noon on 25 April 2015, the earth beneath Nepal moved and quivered for more than 45 seconds. It was a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. The next day, there was a powerful aftershock measuring 6.9 on the Richter scale, and two weeks later on 12 May, the earth shook violently again with a 7.3 magnitude aftershock. The clash of the tectonic plates beneath this nation of over 26 million people that straddles the base of the Himalayas wrought devastation of immense proportions. It took the lives of nearly 9,000 people, and 22,400 people were injured. While the earthquakes affected nearly half of the country’s 75 districts one way or another, 14 of them were classified as severely affected and prioritized for humanitarian assistance. They have an estimated total affected population of 2.8 million, out of which 1.1 million (40 per cent) are children. In these districts, almost all of the homes made of mud and mortar turned to rubble, as did 90 per cent of the health posts, and over 80 per cent of school buildings and other infrastructure.
A year hence, the country has been shaken by over a thousand aftershocks, nearly 450 of these measuring over 4 on the Richter scale. Nepal is prone to many natural disasters including earthquakes, floods, landslides, glacial lake outbursts, lightning strikes, fire, avalanches, cold and heat waves. They affect 335,000 people and kill 1,000 on average annually. But the 2015 quakes were the worst natural disaster in the country in the past 80 years. It has literally left the country shaken. Aside from the death and destruction, an estimated 700,000 to 982,000 people are estimated to have been newly pushed into poverty (living on less than US$1.25 a day). Of the 188,900 people who had been temporarily displaced right after the quakes, an estimated 26,272 people are still living in temporary shelters away from their villages. Most people have been living in makeshift accommodations made of tin, tarpaulin and whatever material they manage to scavenge from their destroyed homes. They have been through all seasons. They have gone through the hot summer, wet monsoon, the cold winter, and now the stormy spring accompanied by wildfires, before the summer heat beats down once again.
The monsoon rains that also triggered landslides affected the ability to deliver response and relief activities and exacerbated the vulnerability of the population already badly affected by the earthquakes. In addition, prolonged political strife and the associated economic crisis that affected the entire country added a double brunt to those already reeling from the aftermath of the quakes. Import of vital commodities was severely restricted at Nepal’s southern border for more than four months. Stocks of fuel, medicine and food declined and schools in the southern plain area remained closed. This put the lives of more than 3 million children under the age of 5 in Nepal at risk of disease during the harsh winter months.
At the one-year mark of the earthquakes, efforts for substantial recovery and reconstruction in the country finally started to move forward. The task ahead is massive. There is still much to be done to bring normalcy to the lives of the children and their families living in these shaken hills. The focus now should be to take the lessons from the past year to the rest of the country so that it can be better to prepared for disasters, for there is no ‘risk-free’ zone in Nepal when it comes to large-scale earthquakes. Reducing the risks and being prepared for disasters is the only way forward.