The death toll from the ruinous 7.9 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal at 11:56 on Saturday 25 April 2014 is now well over 9,000. It was the worst earthquake in 80 years.
The UN estimates that around eight million people have been affected in all, often rendered homeless after their villages were flattened. Many of the most devastated locations are accessible only by helicopter, and Nepal possesses only around a dozen in working order.
Heritage sites, including some of the UNESCO World Heritage variety, were destroyed: in Kathmandu, Bhimsen Tower, constructed in the 1800s, has gone from 203 feet tall to only around 30 feet, killing 200 people in the process, and Durbar Square, where there are pagodas and temples dating to the 15th century, is unrecognisable.
Joe Bindloss, an editor for the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks, bewailed, “Dozens of temples are reduced to piles of tinder sticks and rubble.” These sites were among Nepal’s greatest tourist attractions.
A great number of hotels were also damaged, with the façade of the luxury Yak and Yeti Hotel cracked and its ballroom ruined, although the hotel remains open. At the other end of the market, many cheap guest houses are now structurally unsound.
The number of people admitted to the Sagarmatha National Park at the foot of Everest was a record 38,000 in 2014, compared to about 20,000 in the mid-1990s. Less visitors can be expected in the peak season of September to November this year.
19 people died on Everest, including Google executive, Dan Fredinburg. Base Camp on Khumbu Glacier was destroyed and will not be replaced before April 2016.
The earthquake occurred during Nepal’s summer trekking season, leading to many cancellations. Tourism is the country’s largest industry and accounts for a proportion of GDP that some estimates put as high as eight percent.
There were almost 800,000 foreign visitors in 2013, the latest year for which data is available, 13 percent of whom were trekkers or mountaineers. They spend an average of $42.80 a day when the average worker earns under $750 a year. The Tourism Employment Survey of 2014 found that every six tourists create one job in Nepal.
Thousands of guides, porters and other workers are now without employment. And it comes after a decade of civil war. Even before the earthquake, electricity supply in the capital of this, one of the poorest nations on Earth, was periodic.
Many countries are recommending against all but essential travel to Nepal. Sujan Sijapati, operations manager of Intrepid Travel, a Nepalese company, told that the season finished early and the next month had been written off.
Looking further ahead, Sharat Dhali, president of Yatre, an online travel agent, told the Indian Business Standard newspaper that almost 90 percent of Nepalese bookings have been cancelled.
Some mountains continue to be unstable because the shaking from earthquakes damages rock and soil. There may be cracks in the ground, but damage can be at depth. Sherpas live in fear of flooding and avalanches. Most locals in the Everest region sleep outdoors in case of aftershocks.
The workers left jobless have been hired by the UN World Food Programme to deliver aid to far-flung places. The East Korakoram, Ladakh, Pir Panjal and Zanskar ranges could stand in for Everest. Some hotels have found relief by hosting aid workers when tourists had been expected.
Only 14 of Nepal’s 75 districts were affected by the quake. Only one of 10 national parks was hit. Wildlife reserves have been entirely unaffected. Airports, highways and subways are undamaged. Two trekking routes, the popular Langtang route and the Manaslu region trek, are closed; the others should be open come autumn.
Jordan Torrila of the travel company, Kuoni, who specialises in Nepal, cautioned that conditions in the country will not now be “calm and tranquil.” He warned that tourists will not be a priority, so patience will be required when dealing with locals who might have suffered deaths in their family.
Andrew Jones, vice chairman of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA), advised that Nepal must enlist the assistance of celebrities and other high profile people.
This is already happening. Oscar-winning actress, Susan Sarandon, advised that the best way to help Nepal recover from the quake is to go there on holiday. PATA is seeking the aid of others of her ilk.