Nepal earthquake: Advanced rescue tools could have saved many

Major earthquake hit the country at 11:56 am (local time) on April 25, killing thousands of people, injuring many and causing loss worth millions of rupees.

Eleven districts including Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, Kathmandu, Nuwakot, Rasuwa and Dhading were severely affected by the devastating earthquake.

Soon after the disaster struck, security agencies comprising Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force deployed their full strength in the immediate search and rescue (SAR) work. They were amply supported by SAR teams that touched down Nepal soon after the quake, notably from neigbouring India and China; and from Turkey, Israel, Japan and the US.

Despite widespread criticism over the delay in the search and rescue as well as relief support on behalf of the state, these SAR teams won much applause and appreciation from the locals, and the media.

However, despite the notable success achieved by these team, it has been realised that the search and rescue operations launched by the government after the disaster also known as Gorkha earthquake did not go as per the expectations. They were not enough to mitigate the damages.

Many lives could have been saved if there were availability of required tools and skilled human resources for carrying out search and rescue efforts, as analysed by the security bodies.

In view of former Home Secretary Padam Prasad Pokhrel, although it was guessed that a major earthquake could strike the country at any time, lack of necessary preparedness and stock of required tools for rescue efforts created hassles in setting out for a rapid response.

The cases of retrieval of people alive under from the rubble even after nine days of the catastrophe are enough to say the death toll from the devastation could have been prevented from going up if there was a fast and effective rescue plan.

Security personnel involved in rapid response task feel that a few number of helicopters, the most essential equipment for the rescue, caused inconvenience in the mission.

The Nepal Army has six helicopters and all were used in the rescue. But, the Armed Police Force and Nepali Police don’t have any.

NA former technical colonel Kiran Shamser Rana said security bodies in the country have had the experience of disaster management at times of floods and landslides only and the recent deadly earthquake after eight decades was a new of its kind to this generation including the national security agencies. Hence, there were obviously difficulties and challenges in its management.

The 7.8 magnitude quake that hit the country on April 25 has taught a lesson to the government and people that disaster preparedness and post-disaster management were a must to mitigate damages and tackle the adversity.

The bitter experience of the post-disaster management has also triggered a debate on the need of formation of a separate Ministry for Disaster Management and a separate unit of security bodies for rapid response from the government level, former Home Secretary Pokhrel said, emphasising the need of a disaster response mechanism at district-level with the participation of locals as well for the effective management of disaster.

Security officials themselves admit that search and rescue missions could not be intensified as they possess a limited number of necessary tools.

They had to depend on private sector even for dozers, crane and trucks, the auxiliary devices necessary in the rescue operations.

Foreign rescue teams however had arrived here with advanced tools including a device that could trace live bodies beneath the rubble.

The national security agencies were in a quandary due to lack of even minor equipments. Ironically, Nepali agencies do not even possess a ‘disaster van’, the most essential tool for the disaster management.

Lack of trained human resources

Although the number of national security forces stands at around 200,000 in the country, the number of trained human resources for the disaster management and rescue operations is minimal.

Nepal is always prone to natural disasters, but the security bodies are found being inattentive to its management.

Training its certain manpower for disaster management and keeping the trained human resources on a standby for quickly responding to possible disaster are not in the priority of security bodies.

Although the NA has a separate directorate for training its military personnel for disaster management and also sends its selected staffs for such kind of regular training run by US Army Asia- Pacific region force team , this was not enough for coping of the disaster consequences.

The NA has two rapid teams for the disaster management, according to NA Spokeserson Jagdish Chandra Pokhrel.

The APF also has a training center related to disaster management at Kurintar, Chitwan.

The center that was established in 2066 BS trains 50 APF persons every year, said APF Deputy Superintendent of Police Ajay Chhatkuli. Although it has trained over 200 so far, only 130 are in the state of deputation if necessary.

Besides, Nepal Police has already trained 250 personnel for the disaster management.

But the disaster preparedness and management measures adopted by the security bodies could not prove 100 per cent meaningful in the absence of required tools for the search and rescue operations, which needs to be taken into consideration so as to avoid any such shortcomings in the days to come.

Author: Kiran Bhattarai, RSS (Translated by Pabitra Guragain)