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Nepal struggles to recover from devastating earthquake

Overcoming this destruction will be a monumental challenge for Nepal, one of the poorest of Asia’s nations.

It will take years for the people of Nepal to recover from last weekend’s devastating earthquake. The numbers are grim. With already 5,200 dead and more than 10,000 injured, casualties are bound to climb as search and rescue teams reach remote villages. Half a million tents are desperately needed to house the homeless and some 8 million people have been affected in 39 of the nation’s 75 districts, 11 of them badly.

Nepal boasts eight of the ten highest mountains in the world and its spectacular scenery is unmatched. Yet as solid and everlasting as the Himalayas appear, they are still a work in progress. They are the result of the crumpling action of the Indian-Australian plate grinding northward and thrusting under the Eurasian plate at a rate of 5 cm a year. The massive pressures to uplift the Himalayas make this region, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, one of the most seismically hazardous in the world.

The epicenter of the M7.8 earthquake was in central Nepal 80 kilometres north-west of the capital Kathmandu. While the country is frequently shaken by quakes, the last time this particular fault ruptured was in 1344. Eighty years ago in 1934 an earthquake struck in another segment of the fault to the east of Kathmandu.

Hardened climbers on Mount Everest were terrified when the roar of snow, rocks and debris in a massive avalanche triggered by the quake plundered through base camp at 5,380 metres, killing 17 people and injuring scores of others.

Within a few days, Europe’s Sentinal-1a satellite got an overhead view of the aftermath. From orbit, this radar satellite can detect ground movement by comparing before and after imagery. The violent shaking of last Saturday’s earthquake was not only because of the magnitude but because the rupture was shallow, only 15 kilometres down. Scientists at the U.K.’s Nerc Centre for the Observation and Modelling of Earthquakes, Volcanoes and Tectonics, deciphered the satellite’s technical data and found that the earthquake was so strong that an area 120 kilometres by 50 kilometres around Kathmandu lifted up at least one metre.

Overcoming this destruction will be a monumental challenge for Nepal, one of the poorest of Asia’s nations. Over 40 per cent of its residents are unemployed. Reconstruction costs could exceed $10 billion, half the country’s GDP. And some structures can never be replaced such as the heritage monuments that crumbled to dust. A spokesperson with the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust told The Wall Street Journal that close to half the temples in some of the city’s old neighbourhoods has been destroyed.  The UNESCO-recognized historical nine-storey Dharahara Tower built by royal rulers as a watch tower in the 1800s and which became a beacon of Kathmandu’s architecture and history for 183 years lies in rubble.

The UN and its partners are launching a $415 million emergency appeal to support government efforts to meet the people’s need for shelter, water, sanitation, emergency health, food and protection for the next three months. Some 70,000 homes have been destroyed and another 530,000 are damaged across 39 of Nepal’s districts. Not only is emergency shelter needed for over 500,000 people who are still being traumatized by aftershocks but emergency health services and safe drinking water are needed for some 4.2 million people

UNICEF said on Wednesday that about 1.7 million children are in urgent need of aid in the worst-hit areas of the earthquake and they too have launched a $50 million campaign.

The federal government is matching dollar for dollar all eligible donations to the Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund through aid organizations until May 25, retroactive from when donations first started following the earthquake on April 25.