7.8 magnitude earthquake deals Nepal a devastating blow

The challenges in Nepal are well documented in many publications. The crisis in Nepal is one of extreme logistical challenges, even for experts. How does one overcome a topography that is so mountainous when what little infrastructure there was has been destroyed by the devastating earthquake in this South Asian, landlocked country?

Indeed, even prior to the devastating earthquake, the country was in the midst of challenges. Its growth has been hindered through recent times by political uncertainty, one quarter of its population living below the poverty line and a heavy dependence on remittances – which amount to upwards of 25% of the country’s GDP.

India and China are not only its border neighbours but are also its biggest trade partners. Agricultural goods, textiles and iron and steel are among Nepal’s exports. It is a country that the UN has labeled as a “least developed country”, a status that the Nepalese government had vowed to elevate the country from by 2022. Now, the likelihood of meeting that deadline seems far removed as the lack of functional infrastructure slows down the aid to this earthquake-stricken country.

The country’s only international airport, located in its capital city of Katmandu, has been the initial staging area. However, the airport also sustained damage with cracks found in the one runway and other problems. After a brief shutdown, it has reopened. But problems with the airport remain. According to a Wall Street Journal article, there are strict weight restrictions on aircraft landing there. This is because the capital city is located at a 4,600 ft elevation and the airport has a short runway, together this makes landing difficult.

The country’s trait of having a difficult business climate was highlighted when delays clearing emergency goods occurred. The government insisted it check all emergency shipments arriving at the airport. Because of the need to speed things up, the UN reminded the Prime Minister that Nepal had agreed in 2007 to provide for easier and quicker customs clearance for any aid in case of a disaster.

The UN’s logistics cluster which includes such logistics leaders as Maersk, UPS and Agility, are working on the next phase of its aid operation. The Wall Street Journal notes that the cluster is looking to set up a distribution network further into the country to provide a steady flow of goods. It is also working to identify a second “entry point” to the region so smaller cargo aircraft can fly in more frequently. Once this entry point is established, a transhipment centre will be formed so that shipments can be sent out via trucks to various destinations. Eventually, the relief effort will shift to the ocean port of Calcutta, India, which is the traditional entry point for ocean cargo destined to Nepal.

With fear of an outbreak of disease and the monsoon season set to begin in a month, relief efforts are stepping up. New technology is also coming into play with recovery efforts. For example, drones are being used to map the destruction and to pinpoint where aid is needed most. Because of the shortage of helicopters, drones could possibly help with medical deliveries as well.

Nepal faces a long road ahead as it looks to heal as well as rebuild. Financial assistance from trade partners and organizations will be needed to rebuild and develop its infrastructure. However, the government will need to be open and willing to accept the assistance if it wants to truly elevate its country from “least developed country” status.

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