A massive earthquake registering 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Nepal on April 25th, leaving over 5,000 dead and potentially hundreds more trapped under rubble, according to current estimates.
Towns at the epicenter of the quake have experienced a 90% loss of buildings and infrastructure in the Kathmandu district of Nepal alone. Highly dependent on tourism and agriculture for its economic development, Nepal will likely experience massive long- and short-term losses in the wake of this natural disaster.
Nepal is seated right on a fault line between the Indian and the Eurasian tectonic plates’ borders. The Himalayas, the most massive mountain chain in the world, are the result of these tectonic plates crashing and rubbing against each other, thrusting mountain peaks high into the atmosphere. Earthquakes come with the territory.
A deadly combination of geographic and economic factors help explain this catastrophe. Unlike, say, the city of New York, which is able to support the weight of its massive skyscrapers due to high amounts of sturdy bedrock in the earth, the buildings and infrastructure of the Kathmandu valley are rooted in soft clay left behind by a 30,000 year old lake that used to dominate the region.
Clay, unlike rock, shifts and swells with groundwater and temperature changes, making it an unstable place on which to build the foundation of a home. As important, Nepal simply doesn’t have the resources to build sound structures or to clear away the clay and build on sturdier ground.
Nepal’s socioeconomic conditions also help explain why the earthquake’s effects are and will be particularly devastating. A historically agrarian culture, one-fourth of Nepalese live below the poverty line. Though 80% of Nepal’s citizens have access to clean drinking water, the World Health Organization reports that only 35% of Nepal’s citizens have access to proper sanitation.
On top of that, there is a massive doctor shortage in Nepal– one doctor for every 4,761 people (compared to 2 doctors for every 1,000 in the United States). Evacuee’s camps are filling up every day, leaving newly homeless Nepalese cramped into tent cities with poor sanitation and limited resources. In addition to rescue missions, first-responders must now grapple with the rise of cholera. Have a look at the situation unfolding in Nepal in the gallery below:
India, Nepal's neighbor, is doing a lot of the heavy lifting-- the Indian Air Force is conducting massive rescue operations out of the affected areas, as well as sending water, food, and other essentials to Nepal.
Indian MPs and politicians are offering to donate their month's salary to the relief effort. It will be a slow process, but with the help of the international community, Nepal can rebuild.
If you're interested in donating to the relief effort in Nepal, here is a list of approved charities you should check out.