Message from the Director General

After the quake

Dear Friends of ICIMOD,

ICIMOD would like to express its deep sympathy for all those who have been affected by the recent earthquake that hit Nepal and ICIMOD’s regional member countries. Our deep condolences go out to those families who have faced casualties. ICIMOD staff are grateful for the overwhelming letters of support and sympathy from our friends. 

ICIMOD staff are all safe. Some had minor injuries, several experienced severe damage to their homes, while others experienced tragedy in their family or village. It has been a traumatic experience with the earthquakes, the aftershocks, sleeping outside, the rains, and the uncertainty. Now the situation seems to be turning as many services have been restored in Kathmandu, and relief and recovery efforts are underway, and ICIMOD has been supporting these. 

We are fortunate that the ICIMOD Headquarters building suffered only minor damages. Sadly the Bhutan Pavillion collapsed, but the structure of the main building looks sound. 

In the weeks following the first earthquake on 25 April, ICIMOD staff came together to support relief efforts. Many of the hardest hit mountain areas and villages are places where ICIMOD works, including the districts of Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavre, Gorkha, and Sindhupalchowk. Areas on the way to and in the vicinity of the ICIMOD Knowledge Park in Godavari suffered major destruction and we carried out immediate relief work in these areas. 

Immediately after the disaster, ICIMOD formed a Task Force of GIS and remote sensing experts that coordinated with the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of Nepal. The Task Force worked around the clock to process and analyse the latest satellite imagery provided to ICIMOD from space agencies around the globe. The team mapped pockets of settlements in affected districts and created profiles of affected VDCs to inform relief operations. 

In the following days, ICIMOD coordinated to form a broad international team with the Governments of India (Indian Space Research Organization – ISRO), Pakistan (Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission – SUPARCO), China (Chinese Academy of Sciences), and Nepal, as well as other bodies like the National Aerospace and Space Administration (NASA), the University of Arizona, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Esri, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Digital Globe, Disaster Charter, and the US Geological Survey (USGS). The Task Force continues to map and assess hazards for mountain communities created by landslides, rock falls, and avalanches. 

ICIMOD also set up a dedicated webpage to provide the latest maps, data, and information about the situation in Nepal (www.icimod.org/nepalearthquake2015), including links to other relevant sites. The website has since been regularly updated with weekly updates of all the activities carried out by ICIMOD with the Government of Nepal.

Early rains and inclement weather conditions proved to be one of the greatest challenges to helicopter rescue teams providing aid relief and evacuation assistance in remote areas hit by the earthquake. Therefore, a team of atmospheric scientists from ICIMOD set up an office at the airport to provide information to helicopter pilots and dispatchers, including Google Earth 3D images of flight routes to help pilots navigate unfamiliar terrain, identify and recognize destinations, and plan appropriate landing spots. 

ICIMOD provided maps of affected areas to both Government and non-Government agencies to support their relief and rehabilitation efforts. As of 30 May, more than 100 maps and information products were provided to various institutions and individuals including the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. ICIMOD also collaborated with an international team of scientists to evaluate the hazards that contributed to Langtang Valley’s post-earthquake disaster and is working to identify the area’s current conditions and potential future hazards. 

Landslides have been another major obstacle to rescue and relief operations. Many roads and trails were damaged or blocked, cutting off quake-hit villages from aid and rescue workers. Some slopes were destabilized by the earthquake, leading to other landslides. There is an urgent need to assess the impact of landslides for immediate rescue efforts and monitor potential hazards in the future. Moraine dams of glacier lakes may also have weakened during the earthquake, which could result in floods that would affect communities downstream. Together with colleagues from around the world, ICIMOD is closely monitoring landslides, glacier lakes, and river courses by analysing the latest satellite images and communicating the latest findings to the Government of Nepal and relief agencies. The threat of further landslides and glacier lake outbursts may increase as snow begins to melt and the monsoon kicks in.

More recently, the Government of Nepal invited ICIMOD to be part of the Expert Group consisting of various ministries and departments to undertake a ‘Rapid Reconnaissance Survey’ of the earthquake-affected districts. The Expert Group will visit six high priority districts – Dolakha, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Sindhupalchowk, and Gorkha – to evaluate the potential of rehabilitation, resettlement, and relocation of human settlements, and assess landslide risk to human settlements in view of the impending monsoon rains. 

In consultation with the Government of Nepal, ICIMOD is also exploring efforts in reconstruction and rehabilitation reaching out to areas where it has worked or is working with communities through its projects and pilots. The key components would cover an integrated approach to housing, restoring public infrastructure, water supply and sanitation, livelihood, natural resource management, gender, governance, and knowledge management.

We have also had several high-level visits to the Centre from the Government leadership. Two Deputy Prime Ministers, a former Prime Minister, and several Ministers visited us to learn about ICIMOD’s ongoing efforts on disaster response as well as to discuss rapid hazard assessment of earthquake affected mountain settlements for rehabilitation.

We are thankful for all of the supportive and considerate messages pouring in from our friends and families around the world. Without diverting from our core mandates, ICIMOD will continue to wholeheartedly support the Government of Nepal in its reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts. 

Sincerely

David Molden