The 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal on Saturday has done massive damage to an already poor country. While aid workers are rushing in, relief efforts are largely complicated by a number of logistics issues.
Nepal Earthquake Logistics Challenge #1: Road Access
Nepal has a meager road network, with the whole country connected by only two main roads. This means that if they have been damaged or blocked, which is likely, travel will be severely limited.
Aid workers have also run into many roads blocked by landslides. According to Uddhav Timilsina, chief bureaucrat in the Gorkha district, aid workers were running into 8 – 10 landslides between villages, preventing them from even reaching survivors.
Nepal Earthquake Logistics Challenge #2: Airplane Access
Aftershocks have been severe, with one aftershock reaching a magnitude of 6.7. Due to the constant threat of the aftershocks, air traffic controllers were evacuated from Nepal’s only international airport, meaning that planes couldn’t land at the airport. Aid organizations such as South Africa’s Gift of the Givers had to then make alternative arrangements to land in India.
The airport has since re-opened. Still, the fear of aftershocks has prevented many flights from running. The New York Times reported on Sunday that less than 20% of regular flights were running.
The large numbers of incoming planes carrying relief workers and family and friends arriving to search for loved ones has also created major delays at the airport.
Nepal Earthquake Logistics Challenge #3: Helicopter Access
Many of the country’s most isolated and devastated regions can only be accessed by helicopter. But they will need to wait, as Nepal only has 12 functioning helicopters, with an additional 6 donated from India.
Mountaineers stranded by avalanches on Mount Everest will also need to be rescued via helicopter. However, landing a helicopter on the peak is risky, since it’s not clear whether a snowy surface is supported by underlying rock or nothing at all. Flying a helicopter at that altitude is also difficult due to the thin air. The pilot must constantly calculate how much power they need and how much power they have at the current temperature and air pressure.
Other Challenges to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Effort
The capital city, Katmandu is densely populated. This means that there is little physical space for people forced to leave their homes.
According to Lila Mani Poudyal, Nepal’s chief secretary, workers such as electricity company staff and laborers needed to clean up the streets are refusing to work, instead opting to stay with their families. This is a factor that has further slowed recovery.
Access to clean water was already limited in Nepal before the disaster, so the problem is now exasperated. Survivors trying to contact their family also need to work around spotty cell phone and internet coverage.
While disaster relief is always a race against time, it is even more of an issue for Nepal. The rainy season is only weeks away, and once it hits, it will severely complicate relief efforts.
Want to help? Donate to the Red Cross’ relief effort in Nepal.