Nepal’s Young Men, Lost to Migration, Then a Quake

KATHMANDU, Nepal — When the dense pillar of smoke from cremations by the Bagmati River was thinning late last week, the bodies were all coming from Gongabu, a common stopover for Nepali migrant workers headed overseas, and they were all of young men.

Hindu custom dictates that funeral pyres should be lighted by the oldest son of the deceased, but these men were too young to have sons, so they were burned by their brothers or fathers. Sukla Lal, a maize farmer, made a 14-hour journey by bus to retrieve the body of his 19-year-old son, who had been on his way to the Persian Gulf to work as a laborer.

“He wanted to live in the countryside, but he was compelled to leave by poverty,” Mr. Lal said, gazing ahead steadily as his son’s remains smoldered. “He told me, ‘You can live on your land, and I will come up with money, and we will have a happy family.’ ”

Weeks will pass before the authorities can give a complete accounting of who died in the April 25 earthquake, but it is already clear that Nepal cannot afford the losses. The countryside was largely stripped of its healthy young men even before the quake, as they migrated in great waves — 1,500 a day by some estimates — to work as laborers in India, Malaysia or one of the gulf nations, leaving many small communities populated only by elderly parents, women and children. Economists say that at some times of the year, one-quarter of Nepal’s population is working outside the country.

The absence of young men has been keenly felt over the last week, as those left alive in isolated villages dug with their hands trying to free survivors. Many of the children caught up in the earthquake’s destruction were already growing up without fathers at home. Frail older people have been left to manage the aftermath on their own. And economists say that unless the government acts swiftly to create work opportunities at home, the exodus of young people will accelerate after the relief operation ends, permanently handicapping the country’s ability to rebuild.

“The government has to create a relief package if they want to retain them,” said Chandan Sapkota, chief economics officer at the Asian Development Bank in Kathmandu. “Somebody needs to plow the field, plant the rice. If these temporary migrants are given enough incentives to stay in the village, their first instinct would be to do that. But it has to be really fast.”

The Gongabu neighborhood was one of the deadliest places in Kathmandu. It is an area where recruiting agencies housed young village men awaiting work overseas, with several thousand budget hotels and guesthouses crammed in lanes near the long-distance bus station.

Among those killed in Gongabu was Ram Bahadur Chapagain, 26, whose body was distended and covered with flies after six days in the rubble. Three men hoisted Mr. Chapagain’s body on a plastic sheet and deposited it on the pyre. One took a handful of water from the Ganges River and dripped it into the mouth, and then drizzled his body with clarified butter to speed the burning. Then they stacked the body with logs until only one hand could be seen dangling down, its fingers curled.

Mr. Chapagain had been on his way to Saudi Arabia to work as a laborer, the men said, a decision made out of desperation after three fruitless years looking for a job in Nepal. He had said his goodbyes to his family months earlier, when he had been told he would soon be boarding a flight for the gulf, but the recruiting agency kept announcing new delays, leaving him in limbo in Gongabu. Bijaya K C, Mr. Chapagain’s brother-in-law, watched the hand swell and shrivel in the fire.

The scale of the economic migration from Nepal has amazed development economists for many years. The Maoist insurgency that racked the country for 10 years ended in 2006, but the economy never recovered afterward. Today, manufacturing contributes only 6 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, and in some areas, electricity is available for no more than 10 hours a day. The earthquake will make things much harder for the country’s poorest people, especially in rural areas where most Nepalis live.

The Asian Development Bank has already downgraded its projections for economic growth in Nepal to 4.2 percent this year, from 4.6 percent before, but Mr. Sapkota said he now believes the fall will be steeper, to the range of 3 percent to 3.5 percent. The tourism industry, which had been growing and contributing about 9 percent of the country’s output, is now expected to drop off sharply.

Though men will be kept busy during the initial relief effort, when that ends, Kathmandu’s factories and construction sites could face a labor shortage, Mr. Sapkota said. Some will decide to return to their native villages to rebuild houses, but jobs there are scarce, and after that, many will decide that they can best help their families by going abroad and sending their earnings home, he said.

“If you are with your family, but without a job, without money, how exactly are you going to help?” he said.

The country’s absent young men have been sorely missed over the last week, according to Kanak Mani Dixit, the founding editor of Himal Southasian magazine and one of Nepal’s most prominent journalists. It has been felt at funerals, where, according to custom, bodies are carried on bamboo poles without being laid down, sometimes for hours, until the burial party reaches a riverbed. And their absence had a profound effect when the earthquake struck, said Mr. Dixit, who said he went to help an elderly neighbor who lived alone after he had moved his own parents to safety.

“The young adults — the sons — are mostly away, in Malaysia, the gulf, indeed parts of India,” he said. “The house shudders, and you cannot be assisted. You are slow. And you get caught.”

In Gongabu, where Mr. Chapagain’s body was found, Sumah Thapa, a longtime resident, was thinking about the young men who had been trapped in the guesthouses. He always felt sorry for them, he said, the provincial boys new to the city who needed directions and were uncertain how to go about looking for work. Sometimes he tried to give them advice.

“I don’t know them, but they are good men,” he said. “Going to foreign countries to work is hard, very hard. Now their families will have nothing.”

Nepalis in New York Improvise a Relief Effort for Earthquake Victims

The day after the earthquake in Nepal, Lila Lamini, who lives in Woodside, Queens, gathered a dozen of her friends, all of them fellow domestic workers in New York and all from the same rural area of Nepal. The quake had destroyed their villages, blocked access to the region, and killed and injured residents.

“My friends said, ‘I have no idea what to do,’ ” she recalled. “I said: ‘Come on, guys. Everybody, think.’ ”

The women started making calls — to anyone who might have some influence in their homeland or might know of someone who did. A Nepali insurance agent Ms. Lamini knew in New Jersey soon put her in touch with a well-connected politician in Kathmandu who, within an hour of their phone conversation, had dispatched two helicopters to the women’s villages in the Sindhupalchok region to deliver medical supplies and evacuate the wounded.

Ms. Lamini, 41, was glad for one thing: “I helped my country,” she said.

Diasporas have always been important sources of financial aid and other support for home countries, especially in times of crises like natural disasters and war. With the rapid spread of cellphones, social media and electronic banking, diasporas have become more influential than ever in their ability to play a role in humanitarian relief, using real-time information to quickly identify needs and deploy money, goods and volunteers.

A memorial in Jackson Heights, Queens. Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
This has been particularly true among Nepalis in New York, a small but fast-growing population, who, despite an absence of well-established community institutions, have marshaled tremendous support in response to the April 25 earthquake, often by employing readily available technological tools.

Most Nepalis here have sidestepped the major international humanitarian organizations, which many view as slow or inefficient. Nearly all have avoided the Nepali government, calling it ineffective and corrupt. They have instead sent money and goods to their homeland through grass-roots Nepali groups, or directly to relatives and friends.

The result has been an energetic yet wildly improvised and scattershot response to the crisis.

From donation jars in Nepali restaurants to campaigns on social media and crowdfunding sites like Facebook and Indiegogo, Nepali businesses, groups and individuals in the New York metropolitan region have raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations and solicited tons of used clothing, medical equipment, food, tents and other emergency supplies. The earthquake left over 7,000 people dead and hundreds of thousands homeless.

These efforts have tightened bonds within the diaspora, building fledgling community groups and further strengthening the immigrants’ ties to Nepal, community members say.

Nepalis and non-Nepalis alike in New York have donated crates of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, first aid equipment, water purification systems, protein bars and other items. Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
“Nepalese people are expecting a lot from the diaspora, and they’re looking to the United States,” said Kishor Panthi, 32, founder and editor in chief of Khasokhas Weekly, a Nepali newspaper published in New York. “It’s a huge test of diasporic organizations.”

The foreign-born Nepali population in the United States has surged in the past two decades, propelled in part by a decade-long civil war between Maoist parties and the government that ended in 2006.

There are now about 74,700 Nepalis, up from about 2,400 in 1990, according to the latest estimates by the Census Bureau. During that same period, the city saw a similarly significant growth in the Nepali immigrant population, to about 6,500 from less than 300, with the largest enclaves in the Queens neighborhoods of Corona, Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Ridgewood, Sunnyside and Woodside, as well as in Midwood in Brooklyn.

Community leaders say the population is largely working- and middle-class without the economic clout of some other Asian diasporas. Because the community is relatively new and still fairly small, its institutions — the social, religious and business groups — are generally not well developed, leaders say.

Still, when news of the earthquake arrived in New York, reaction in the diaspora was immediate, if ad hoc, the emergency made all the more visceral by the sound of anguished appeals by relatives and friends reaching out by cellphone and social networks.

One afternoon last week, Mingma T. Sherpa, 28, was behind the counter of his cellphone shop in Elmhurst, which had become a major donation center.

Nine years ago, he and two other partners founded Heartbeat, a nonprofit group to help street children in Nepal. After the earthquake, they repurposed the group as a disaster relief service, its headquarters in the shop, and their friends took time off from their other responsibilities as Uber drivers, restaurant workers and graduate students to help.

They posted an appeal for clothes on their Facebook page and were inundated with donations from Nepalis and non-Nepalis alike: 170 boxes’ worth in the first day. Hearing there was a greater need for medicine, first aid supplies and food, they packed all the clothes away in the store’s cellar and a storage locker and issued a new appeal.

Just as quickly, people began showing up at their shop to donate crates of over-the-counter pharmaceuticals, first aid equipment, water purification systems, protein bars and other items. As of Monday, they had shipped nearly 100 boxes of emergency supplies.

A collaborator at the airport in Kathmandu was planning to expedite the goods on their arrival, doing an end run around the government bureaucracy and into the hands of Mr. Sherpa’s partner, who, with the help of a growing network of volunteers, intended to transport the goods into the Nepali hinterlands.

Kishor Panthi, 32, founder and editor in chief of Khasokhas Weekly, a Nepali newspaper published in New York, said, “Nepalese people are expecting a lot from the diaspora and they’re looking to the United States.” Credit Kirsten Luce for The New York Times
“Connections,” Mr. Sherpa said with a sly smile.

Even as he spoke, one of his colleagues was reporting new messages posted on their Facebook page and sent via text message: Survivors in Bakhtapur district, in the eastern Kathmandu valley, needed medicine and food; a donor in New Jersey had 40 boxes of medical supplies for pickup.

A minivan pulled up and two Nepali men from Providence, R.I., jumped out. They had six boxes, their contents neatly listed on the outside: blankets, flashlights, raincoats, nutrition bars, masks, hand sanitizers and bandages. On each box was taped a printed message: “For our Nepal. Love from Nepalese in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.A.”

More than 20 families in Providence had contributed money for the packages, said Sunil Gurung, 28, a business analyst who had driven down with his friend, Amit Kapri, 29, a statistical software programmer. They had learned about Heartbeat through Facebook.

“A lot of us thought we’d go through the big organizations,” Mr. Gurung said. “But we thought it would be more effective and efficient to deal with the people directly on the ground.”

With the mainstream humanitarian groups, he explained, “I don’t know if my $100 will be worth $5 by the end of the day.”

In recent days, Western aid organizations and governments complained that Nepali bureaucratic procedures were holding up relief supplies at the Kathmandu airport. Representatives of Heartbeat have sent a request through their social media networks that travelers bound for Nepal consider using part of their luggage allotment to carry relief supplies.

Another group of young Nepalis in New York has also emerged as a leading force in the local response. In the hours after the quake, members of the New York Nepalese Football Club, a five-year-old group focused on soccer, became an engine of activism.

On April 26, the day after the earthquake, members of the club went door to door in Jackson Heights and surrounding neighborhoods seeking donations. They raised nearly $23,000 the first day, said Pralay Rajbhandari, 30, vice captain of the team and a master’s student in computer science at Touro College. They were also co-organizers of a large vigil in Times Square on Friday.

The group is wiring a portion of the money to the club’s president in Kathmandu — he was visiting Nepal at the time of the earthquake — and is using the rest to buy and ship emergency supplies like nutrition bars and water purification sets, Mr. Rajbhandari said. The club’s president, aided by a growing network of volunteers, plans to distribute supplies personally to hard-hit rural areas.

“I think people underestimate the informal economy and informal networks,” said Irene Jor, the New York organizer for the National Domestic Workers Alliance, which works closely with Adhikaar, a Nepali advocacy and services group in Woodside that had raised more than $35,000 by Monday on Indiegogo Life.

“But maybe ‘informal’ is the wrong word,” she continued, “because maybe if it can respond so quickly and effect so much change on the ground, there’s nothing informal about it.”

As these grass-roots efforts have flourished, many members of the community said they would try to sidestep the government in an effort to avoid bureaucratic red tape, graft and other obstacles.

“So many people don’t trust the Nepalese government,” said Bijaya Poudel, 40, chief editor of Vishwa Sandesh, a weekly Nepali newspaper published in New York, and of its online iteration, “That is the truth.”

On Monday, the government announced that it had set up a bank account for donations, news that was widely greeted with derision.

In recent days, strands of the New York-area diaspora began to braid themselves around a campaign to press for a special temporary immigration status sometimes granted to foreigners who are unable to return safely to their home countries because of armed conflict or natural disasters. The special status would protect undocumented Nepalis in the United States from deportation and allow them to remain temporarily and work.

After pursuing their own campaigns for several days, several Nepali groups decided to form a national coalition and begin a campaign for the protection, said Luna Ranjit, co-founder and executive director of Adhikaar.

The movement has drawn on the experiences of other diasporas, including the lobbying for temporary protected status for Filipino immigrants after the 2013 typhoon, and for Haitian immigrants after the earthquake in 2010.

“This is for Nepal,” said Dilli Raj Bhatta, a Nepali lawyer in New York, who is participating in the coalition. “If we cannot come together in a time like this, I don’t think we’ll ever come together in the future.”

Quake-Hit Nepalis Need Information, Not Just Food and Water

NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – There is probably no other place in the world right now where information – from the fate of your family members to where to get food and water – is more desperately needed than in the Nepal, devastated by a powerful earthquake six days ago.

The 7.8 magnitude quake brought down thousands of buildings in the densely-populated Kathmandu Valley, which includes the capital, severely damaged telecommunications, tore apart roads and snapped bridges.

As the death toll passes 6,000, many of the estimated eight million people affected are living out in the open – unable find out if their families in rural areas are alive or dead.

Those in the remote mud-and-brick Himalayan villages remain stranded, possibly injured, amidst the ruins of their homes – awaiting rescue and relief.

Survival in a crisis is often based on the person’s ability to connect and share information – to call for help and find comfort from others facing the same challenges, say experts in disaster communication.

As relief materials such dry food rations, blankets and tarpaulin sheets flood into Nepal, disaster specialists stress that information as a form of aid must not be overlooked.

“People affected by disasters need information just like disaster responders do – because it is what they need to make good decisions, protect themselves and their family and source the assistance they need,” said Imogen Wall, an independent disaster expert specialising in communications.


According to 2014 data from the Nepal Telecom Authority, 86 percent of the country’s 28 million population have a mobile phone, with almost 30 percent able to access the internet.

Thousands in urban areas with intermittent access to the internet are charging phones from generators, and taken to social media sites to reassure loved ones they are safe.

‏”That scary earthquake shaked our nepal for a 2 minutes!!! And I am safe here but many people more than 100 are injured,” tweeted @sunilkc9999 from the district of Pokhara after the earthquake struck close to noon on Saturday.

Many have also been using tools like Google’s Person Finder and Facebook’s Safety Check to trace missing friends and family.

Others have been using the web to call for aid.

“INFANT SUPPLIES NEEDED. Nepal Children’s Organization requires lactogen, diapers, sanitation pads, food, water, and children’s clothes,” tweeted Chiranjibi Bhandari, a charity worker, from Kathmandu.

And now as rescue teams, aid workers and journalists venture out of the capital to areas closer to the epicentre, they are sharing powerful images and stories of communities on the brink.

Freelance photographer Prashanth Vishwanathan with ActionAid UK posted a picture on Facebook on Thursday of an elderly woman sitting amongst the debris of a cowshed, caressing the head of her dying cow as it lay buried under a mound of mud and straw.

“She (the cow) used to give my household 7 litres of milk. She was our sustenance,” the picture caption quotes 72-year-old Sundaya Tamang of Phalame village in Khabre district as saying.

Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyContinue reading the main story
Network providers across the world are coming together to ease communications after the impoverished country’s worst earthquake in more than 80 years, offering free or discounted rates on calls to Nepal.

Telecoms firms in India such as Airtel, Aircel and Vodafone, have slashed call charges to Nepal. While in the United States, network providers such as T-Mobile and Verizon have offered free calls and texts to Nepal. Skype and Viber are also allowing users make free calls in and out of the country.

“We want to help provide people with alternative methods of communication to reach friends and family in the region during this difficult time,” said a statement from Skype.


But for others without phones or internet access more traditional forms of communication such as radio are a lifeline, providing them with information on how to protect themselves and where to go for assistance.

Without such information, say experts, people often panic and false rumours can take hold, exacerbating the emergency.

BBC Media Action, for example, has been broadcasting disaster-related information through its Nepali Service and more than 260 local radio station partners.

Jackie Dalton, a senior producer and trainer at BBC Media Action said the media is key for reaching out to survivors, but journalists are often too busy reporting on the problems such as the death toll and devastation, rather than the solutions.

“People are hungry for information and need to be able to have information which can help them. We started training journalists in Nepal three years ago … as a quake of this magnitude had been predicted,” said Dalton.

“When the earthquake happened, within four hours the BBC Nepali Service was sending out information, and many of the national Nepali radio stations were doing the same.”

The messages broadcast include what to do to stay safe during aftershocks and information on how to avoid sickness and disease by washing hands and filtering and boiling water.

They also give out first aid information, hotlines numbers to trace the missing and advice such as encouraging people to use text, rather than call to avoid congestion on the networks.

The media can also help to dispel rumours and misinformation common after a calamity.

In the hours after Saturday’s earthquake, for example, there were rumours that even bigger quake of magnitude 9 was going to strike at a certain time, creating widespread panic. Radio stations quickly broadcast the information was false and that it was impossible to predict the timing of a quake.

Organisations such as InterNews are also deploying on the ground to coordinate information flows between communities, aid agencies and the media. Their staff act as intermediaries during disasters where they publish a daily “news you can use” bulletin in local languages for media to disseminate.

Groups such as the Communicating with Disaster-Affected Communities Network post practical information on everything from how to dispose of bodies safely to spotting the symptoms of cholera and the dangers of children playing in rubble.

But challenges remain, say disaster specialists, such as generating funds for this often invisible form of aid – not as tangible as food or tents and not as attractive to donors.

Another challenge, they say, is ensuring the communication a two-way process, where survivors are able to share their needs to ensure they can recover as quickly as possible.

“Messaging alone is not enough – it is essential that aid agencies listen to affected people in order to provide relevant content,” said Wall.

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Ros Russell)

US Ospreys, other aircraft and troops arrive in Nepal to aid relief effort

US Ospreys, other aircraft and troops arrive in Nepal to aid relief effort

KATHMANDU, Nepal — Several large transport aircraft and four tilt-rotor MV-22 Ospreys landed at Kathmandu’s international airport Sunday as U.S. forces arrived to assist in the Nepal earthquake relief effort.

People’s Liberation Army soldiers, whose own massive transport jet was parked next to the first American C-17 to land on the tarmac, were clearly impressed when a group of Marines unloaded a UH-1 Huey helicopter.

They were gathering around taking photographs when the four Ospreys appeared, flying in formation past the spectacular mountains that surround the Nepalese capital.

Soon after the Ospreys touched down, a U.S. Marine Corps KC-130 landed and another zoomed overhead as the sun set behind the Himalayas.

The U.S. aircraft and personnel were originally scheduled to arrive Saturday, but were delayed a day due to logistics.

Earlier, the airport had been closed to large aircraft due to runway damage. The U.S. contingent was to include Air Force personnel out of Guam who can control air traffic, repair airfields and offload supplies with heavy equipment.

One of the first to step off the C-17 was Marine Corps Huey pilot Capt. Duncan James, 32, of Brady, Texas.

James has flown at 5000 feet above mountains near his home station – Camp Pendleton, Calif. – but he could be required to soar to 10,000 feet in his unpressurised helicopter during the earthquake relief mission.

“It is a little more challenging flying at that altitude, but we have trained to do it,” he said.

The Hueys will survey areas to see where aid is needed. They could also transport personnel and as much as 18,500 pounds of relief supplies per load to remote areas, James said.

“As a small aircraft, the Huey can get into places that other helicopters can’t,” he said.

Navy flight surgeon Lt. Brendan McCluney, 34, of Los Angles, said he’s trained to medevac wounded troops but that he will do whatever is needed during the earthquake relief effort.

“I’m here to look out for the pilots and air crew,” he said.

The Marines will be under stress working at high altitude, McCluney said.

“The higher you go, the thinner the air,” he said. “Your oxygen saturation will go down, so you will need to be vigilant about what you are doing.”

Bill Berger of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance met the troops at the airport.

Berger, who has been helping the Nepalese prepare for an expected earthquake for 15 years, said the natural surroundings, which include the world’s highest mountains, are the biggest challenge to the relief effort.

“Nepal is a mountainous country, but very sparsely populated,” he said. “It is hard to get to all these tiny villages at high altitude.”

The military aircraft will help deliver supplies to hubs in the field, he said. “People will come down from high altitude areas to pick them up.”

The U.S. has committed $10 million to earthquake relief efforts in Nepal so far, and Berger expects more funds to be announced shortly. USAID has begun delivering 7,000 rolls of plastic sheeting to provide shelter for survivors, he said.

U.S. forces are boosting the capacity of the local military and non-governmental organizations, Berger said. “The Nepali army has been responding to this from day one. All the NGOs have been responding.”

USAID has deployed search and rescue teams from Los Angles and Fairfax County, Va., said Berger, who hopes to survey the Rauowa district in one of the Marine Corps Hueys.

“We will look at what the damage is and see if there is somewhere we need to get a team out to,” he said.
Twitter: @SethRobson1

Nepal disaster overwhelms US-assisted preparations

Nepal disaster overwhelms US-assisted preparations

For the past five years, U.S. Pacific Command and its components have been busily helping the Nepal government prepare for the kind of massive earthquake that devastated the Himalayan country Saturday.

Although they knew it was likely coming, putting the preparations in action have proven difficult, sparking complaints that the disaster response has been too slow. The landlocked country is among the world’s poorest and is beset by political divisions and the challenges of getting to isolated villages.

And although Nepal’s neighbors have been quick to offer help, they also have their own political motivations that may not exactly dovetail with American cooperation.

“We all had a gigantic sense of urgency,” said Michael Korman, the plans and operations officer for PACOM’s Center for Excellence in Disaster Management and Humanitarian Assistance in Honolulu.

“It was like a clock was ticking. We knew that every 70 or 80 years there would be a massive earthquake, and 1934 was the last one. Everyone knew it was coming, and we had to hurry up and plan and plan and plan and practice and exercise.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, PACOM had received only a very limited request from Nepal for troops and equipment.

PACOM has sent a military joint humanitarian assistance survey team of about 20 people to Nepal to support the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Disaster Assistance Response Team, which is coordinating the U.S. government’s earthquake response and recovery efforts. The survey team, led by III Marine Expeditionary Battalion commander Brig. Gen. Paul Kennedy, is expected to arrive in Nepal on Thursday.

Scores of personnel from the disaster center, U.S. Army Pacific and Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, have trained for years side-by-side with Nepal’s armed forces who are now handling the relief effort, with India playing a major role.

During the past year, the disaster center has been partnering with the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in its planning for potential “mega-disasters” in five countries, said Col. Joseph Martin, director of the disaster center.

“Nepal — and the Kathmandu Valley — happens to be one of them,” he said. “So last September and just this last month we worked with UN OCHA to start some of that planning process.

“If you can plan and think about the big ones, that’s where the international community gets really involved, and that’s where a lot of the civilian-military interaction occurs.”

Streamlining that interaction is a primary role for the disaster center, he said.

In 2009, PACOM co-hosted Tempest Express, which brought together more than 250 regional participants in Nepal to develop a disaster-response contingency plan.

PACOM’s service components have regularly visited Nepal.

USARPAC held a disaster response exercises with the Nepali armed forces in 2011 and 2013, which included field training scenarios for a massive earthquake.

During two events in 2013, MARFORPAC and the III Marine Expeditionary Force held tabletop and field exercises for disaster relief.

Korman attended one of the earthquake response exercises in 2013 that included both U.S. soldiers and Marines.

“It was a week-long exercise out there in the field, right out where they’d set up in real life,” he said. “It was very realistic. We were there showing how the two nations could work together, but more importantly, we were essentially in a backseat role letting them take the lead.”

Over time, Nepal developed an “excellent” disaster response plan, he said. Part of that was an “open-space” plan that was funded in part by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The project catalogued the roughly 85 significant open spaces in the capital, Kathmandu, such as parks and football fields.

Each was then designated a purpose in the event of a disaster — helicopter landing zone, field hospital, food distribution, command-and-control center, he said.

Whether all the planning will translate into successful search, rescue and relief in the quake’s aftermath, however, remains to be seen.

“The interesting thing is that [Nepal has] been very active in setting up the system —- but that’s the problem,” said Allen L. Clark, a senior fellow at the East-West Center in Honolulu and former executive director of the U.S. Defense Department’s Pacific Disaster Center.

While the country has been successful in setting up the “overarching” plan for earthquake response, it hasn’t been able to develop the “lifting capacity” to carry it through.

“They don’t have the people, don’t have the money, don’t have the facilities to deal with something this large and this difficult,” he said.

In addition, political instability has permeated the government since the end of the 10-year civil war with Maoist rebels in 2006.

“There are all these little parties and special interests that are competing in the political arena,” Clark said. “Basically it’s a poor country to start with, and that just drains the resources that should be there for this.”

And despite the history of bilateral planning between the U.S. and Nepal, leaders of the landlocked country likely feel a “certain amount of reluctance” to bring in U.S. troops and equipment for relief.

“There are overarching loyalties in all this,” Clark said, foremost to neighboring India, secondly to Pakistan. “And coming up strong from the back is number three, China. And all of which want a finger in the pie in Nepal. It makes it somewhat difficult for Nepal to have a move toward a large U.S. presence in Nepal. I think that’s the issue.”
Twitter: @WyattWOlson