22 September 2015
Following the recent article, ‘WYG support CAN on a recent visit to Nepal’, we get an insight into the expedition by looking at the diary of one of our principal project managers, Glyn Utting. His perspective reveals the measure of the destruction but also the immense resilience of the Nepalese people they meet along the way.
Monday 13th July
After a manic week preparing for our last minute trip, Simon and I find ourselves on a plane from Manchester to Kathmandu via Abu Dhabi. At this point I’m not sure what to expect when I arrive. How bad is the level of damage and how are the Nepalese people coping?
Tuesday 14th July
After hardly any sleep on the connecting flight to Kathmandu, we soon land and are on our way to the Malla hotel for the night. On the journey I look out for signs of damage to infrastructure. There is obviously damage, but, to my surprise, it is not to the extent that I expected, or rather, less than what seems to have been portrayed in the media.
Later, whilst speaking with our Nepalese guide, Bhai, he explains that most of the damage is to rural areas in the Himalayas.
It’s been 3 years since I last stayed at the Malla. My memories are of a busy vibrant hotel full of trekkers and staff. Unsurprisingly, we find the hotel empty, mainly due to it being monsoon season but also partly due to the aftermath of the earthquake.
Wednesday 15th July
We leave Kathmandu early in the morning and board a small fixed wing aeroplane to Pokhara. Upon landing we soon head out to the foothills of the Annapurna Region in a 4x4 and travel as far as the road allows (due to flooding and landslides). We then spend the next 4 hours on foot as we climb up to Ghyamrang where we are politely welcomed by shy but curious locals. During our short time we witness materials being transported on the backs of the locals and the logistical challenge of operating in this rural location becomes very apparent.
Upon reaching Ghyamrang we are taken straight to the school from where we can see numerous landslides along the valley. The school itself is intact but undermined by a landslide to one corner. Simon and I are straight to work assessing the area and the building in question. Soon, we recognise the school has suffered minimal structural damage but the landslide poses a large risk to the stability of the building. We recommend that a drainage channel be built to divert running water away from the back of the school and away from the landslide area. Within minutes we are surrounded by eager Nepalese villagers digging a trench.
After a busy day, we settle in for the night in a health post room. It’s hot, humid and we’re sharing the space with some interesting looking creatures, notably a spider the size of a saucer!
Thursday 16th July
After a short night’s sleep, we start the day with a trek in typical monsoon rain conditions to Narayani School to carry out an inspection. The good news is that the building can be repaired. The bad news is on our way back to the car, feeling hungry and sleep deprived, we are told that the road is impassable and we need to walk a further 15km to the car. Given it has rained solidly for the last 20 hours, it comes as little surprise. Time to suck it up and prepare to hike it out! I lift my spirits by thinking about lunch and the fact that the locals deal with these challenges on a daily basis during monsoon season.
Friday 17th July
We fly back to Kathmandu where we meet Doug and Trish Scott from Community Action Nepal (CAN). We are invited to attend meetings with them and CAN village representatives who all collectively report on the level of damage to the communities.
So far today we have met with some inspirational village leaders who have suffered personal and communal loss but nothing prepared me for the meeting with the village representatives of Langtang. Temba, the village leader speaks calmly and in detail of his experience watching the landslide hit his village following the earthquake. I am later informed that he has lost 22 members of his family in the tragedy. For a sudden moment I am hit in the face with a strong sense of perspective and I feel overwhelmed by huge guilt for all the petty things I complain about and wrongly value in my life.
Saturday 18th July
We set out early morning and fly to Kutumsang and Melaripa via helicopter.
The earthquakes have left both villages with a high level of damage and destruction. Although the people have lost their homes and more besides, Doug and the team are greeted with an amazing warm welcome, which is very humbling. We assess that both Health Posts are damaged beyond repair and in the case of Melaripa the building needs to be relocated due to a very high landslide risk.
This location North of Kathmandu was close to the epicentre of the first earthquake where there wasn’t a single house left standing. For the first time on the trip I see firsthand absolute devastation and destruction.
Sunday 19th July
Today we drive to Bharabesi to visit a local deaf school. Whilst enroute we witness significant damage to villages, similar to the day before we start to understand the scale of the disaster. Once we arrive at the school, we see that the building is damaged and beyond repair. Sadly the building was a reinforced concrete structure and cannot be easily removed without machinery therefore the school cannot be quickly rebuilt. It is very apparent that both the teachers and pupils have been traumatised by the experience of the earthquakes. This shows that a disaster of this scale delivers a psychological blow that can last for decades.
In the afternoon we also take the opportunity to visit Kathmandu engineering college to view potential earthquake designs. We are impressed and see some great reinforced concrete ideas for Kathmandu and surrounding urban areas but unfortunately these are not suitable for the more rural communities where pouring concrete is not feasible.
Coming soon... week two of WYG in Nepal. In the meantime and for more information on the work of CAN, click here.