Tours Venture Back Into Nepal

Months after the devastating Nepal earthquake, the iconic mountain trekking region needs a little help from the tourism industry to get back on its feet.

By Jasmine O’Donoghue

004 World Expeditions trekkers in NepalMonths after the devastating Nepal earthquake, the iconic mountain trekking region needs a little help from the tourism industry to get back on its feet.

The 7.8 magnitude 25 April earthquake and a powerful aftershock on 12 May claimed the lives of over 8800 people, destroyed 600,000 homes and damaged a further 280,000 in 14 districts, including the capital Kathmandu.

A report commissioned by the Government of Nepal has identified some minor hazards on the main trekking routes and in select villages, but has confirmed that there was ‘minimal damage’ to the majority of accommodation and trails in the Everest region.

Recommendations include rerouting a section of the Everest trail, as well as relocating buildings in the villages of Tok Tok and Benkar to the opposite side of the river in order to reduce risks in the region to tourists and to locals. The report also recommends a follow up engineering assessment after the monsoon season.

However, a new International Organization for Migration (IOM) report released on 24 July showed that aid and security gaps remained. The third IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) showed that survivors are moving to larger aid sites, with the number of aid sites hosting over 50 households dropping from 77 to 66, while their population has grown from roughly 49,000 to over 53,000. Some 104 of the 286 locations assessed in May remain open, suggesting many people are opting to return to the places where their homes once stood.

The DTM reports that one-third of the sites have no electricity, and lighting around latrines and public spaces is inadequate or non-existent in 84 per cent of sites assessed.

It also reveals that women in over a third of the settlements do not feel safe, and just seven of the sites surveyed had designated safe/social areas for women. The report said 26 per cent of men and 30 per cent of children felt they were unsafe.

The IOM has made debris removal and opening transport corridors a priority in the three areas it is focusing its operations – Gorkha, Chautara and Charikot. To date, 61 badly damaged buildings have been demolished by IOM-led crews.

Much of Nepal’s health infrastructure was also destroyed by the quake. An IOM health team has been helping over 700 patients and caregivers to leave hospitals in Kathmandu for secondary care facilities. But for many there is little surviving infrastructure to provide physiotherapy or counselling when they return home. Planning has begun on the creation of a transitional or step-down facility in Sindhupalchok, one of the worst affected areas.

But none of this is deterring tour operators, who less than five months on, are promoting the region.

Intrepid Travel worked with the government of Nepal to co-ordinate the logistics and provided the local guides for the assessment of the safety of the region’s trekking routes.

The tour operator also launched a campaign to help Nepal get up and running. The Nepal Earthquake Appeal has already raised nearly AUD$400,000 for children’s charity Plan International (including AUD$100,000 donated by Intrepid itself).

Intrepid now has its sights set on getting travellers to return to the mountains and will be donating all profits from its 2015/16 trekking season from Nepal trips back to rebuilding efforts on the ground.

SpiceRoads Cycle Tours is also back on track and encouraging riders to visit Nepal by offering to donate $340 (US$250) for every rider booked on a Nepal tour from now until the end of March 2016. Funds will be donated to WeHelpNepal, and organisation made up of a network of people from various industries who have lived or are currently living in Nepal.

WeHelpNepal projects include delivering six tons of food and solar lighting to Sindupalchowk district, supplying tin roofing materials, rebuilding bamboo homes and schools and setting up a community kitchen in Kathmandu and Gorkha to feed earthquake victims.

“Tourism is Nepal’s lifeblood and it is important we support Nepal more than ever. Every person who visits Nepal this coming season will be directly contributing to rebuilding the country,” says Struan Robertson, CEO SpiceRoads Cycle Tours.

World Expeditions will also be operating all of its scheduled treks in the Annapurna and Everest regions from September, with a further final review to be conducted after the monsoon. The company has had staff reviewing some of the main trekking regions, while the Radisson Hotel in Kathmandu has received an official ‘green sticker’, confirming the hotel is structurally sound.

The tourism industry is Nepal’s largest source of foreign exchange and the biggest employer. It’s vital to the country’s economic recovery that tourists get their boots on the ground and get trekking.

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