Message from the Director General

How ICIMOD responded to Nepal’s relief and recovery efforts

In the aftermath of the earthquake that hit Nepal recently, the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) was one of the Kathmandu-based organizations called to action for immediate technical and relief support. 

On 25 April, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country. This was followed by a 7.3-magnitude aftershock on 12 May. More than 340 aftershocks have been recorded so far. The official death toll is now close to 9,000, with another 23,000 injured, more than 785,000 homes damaged or destroyed, and about 2.8 million people displaced. 

In a humanitarian response, and in consultation with the Government of Nepal, ICIMOD provided immediate relief support to partners, communities, and families reaching out to areas where it has worked, or is working, with communities through its projects and pilots. Relief materials like rice, lentil, edible oil, sugar, tents, and tarps were distributed to households in the districts of Lailiput, Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, and Kavre. 

As a means of providing meaningful information for relief operations, one of ICIMOD’s first interventions was to assist helicopter pilots doing rescue and relief sorties. From 29 April, a team of ICIMOD scientists worked from Tribhuvan International Airport providing crucial flight information to pilots and dispatchers to help them navigate unfamiliar terrains, identify destinations, map potential flight paths, and plan appropriate landing sites using satellite remote sensing and GIS data information. When I talked to one of the Generals at the airport, he said ICIMOD’s support was instrumental in accomplishing 2,751 sorties in the various earthquake affected locations. 

ICIMOD coordinated a special Task Force on Geo-hazards and Geo-information that worked around the clock to process and analyse satellite data to inform relief and recovery operations. The Task Force represented a broad international coalition 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),  United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Environmental System Research Institute (Esri), Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Digital Globe, Disaster Charter, and the US Geological Survey (USGS), among others. ICIMOD was also supported by Professor Dr Jeffrey Kargil from University of Arizona, a visiting scientist to the Centre, who mobilized a team of volunteers for rapid assessment of geo-hazards in the earthquake affected areas.

A dedicated webpage was set up to provide the latest maps, data, and information about the situation in Nepal (www.icimod.org/nepalearthquake2015). With input from various international partners, the Task Force on Geo-hazards prepared a synthesis report on geo-hazards and disseminated it to relevant government organizations in Nepal, including the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, and the Ministry of Home Affairs. The report – titled ‘Geo-hazards in the aftermath of the 25 April 2015 (12 Baisakh 2072) Earthquake: Rapid Analysis Prepared for the Government of Nepal’ - outlined status of major landslides, their possible impacts, and recommendations for follow-up. The report identified landslides and formation of artificial lakes that may have occurred due the earthquake, and outlined the status of glacial lakes within the earthquake-affected areas.

An international team of experts supported by ICIMOD also examined the condition of Nepal’s most dangerous glacial lakes. Some members of the Geo-hazards Task Force undertook a special assessment of the Langtang valley that was most completely destroyed by landslides, avalanches, and air pressure waves sweeping down the steep slopes of the valley.

The Task Force on Geo-information provided technical support in coordinating and integrating relevant data and information from multiple sources to the Government of Nepal. These included high resolution satellite imageries, ancillary and field level data including crowdsourced information with mobile devices, high resolution aerial imageries sourced from the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle missions, as well as the data sourced from the social media and the Internet. As of 6 July, about 300 maps and information products were provided to various institutions and individuals including the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers. This information system is continually being updated, and will be of service during the reconstruction efforts.

With technical support from Esri, ICIMOD collaborated with the Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) to develop the ‘Nepal Earthquake 2015: Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction Information Platform (NDRRIP)’. The objective of the Platform is to deliver timely, credible, and actionable data and information for earthquake relief operations, and to support the reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts of the Government of Nepal. The Platform was created as a single-gateway for validated data and information related to earthquake. It was formally adopted by the Ministry of Home Affairs as part of its ‘Nepal DRR Portal’ (http://apps.geoportal.icimod.org/ndrrip/). ICIMOD also made several presentations to high level political leadership and the Government Ministries including the Parliament of Nepal. 

ICIMOD was part of the expert group formed by the Government of Nepal to undertake a ‘Rapid Reconnaissance Survey’ of the earthquake-affected districts. The 18 teams that comprised the Expert Group visited six high priority districts – Dolakha, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Dhading, Sindhupalchowk, and Gorkha – to evaluate the potential of temporary rehabilitation and relocation of human settlements, and assess landslide risk to human settlements in view of monsoon rains. 

In collaboration with the National Planning Commission, Government of Nepal, ICIMOD has prepared a position paper on rebuilding livelihoods focusing on the various socioeconomic challenges towards a strategic framework for designing and implementing actions, particularly those in the hills and mountain areas. The paper argues that it is insufficient to only build back physical structures, and is important to see how livelihoods could also be built back better. The paper explores the strategic choices and options for developing resilient livelihoods after the earthquake.

As Nepal moves from relief to the reconstruction phase, ICIMOD, in collaboration with the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries and MinErgy, recently organized a multi-stakeholder inception meeting on reforming brick sector. The meeting brought together people from different sectors to discuss existing policies and regulatory frameworks. The possibility to modernize the sector so that it can offer large potential for energy savings, reduce black carbon and CO2 emissions, and provide better quality building material, among others, were discussed at length. 

Finally, in consultation with the Government of Nepal, ICIMOD is exploring efforts in reconstruction and rehabilitation reaching out to areas where it has worked or is working with communities through its projects and pilots including mobilizing the private sector. The key components would cover a holistic approach to resilient mountain habitat taking into considerations social, cultural, environmental, and economic development.  ICIMOD will continue to act as a knowledge hub and share this information with partners and in the region.

I am proud of the work that ICIMOD has done, and having said that, I am also happy to inform our friends and well-wishers that we are now 100% back to our normal activities and programmes serving the eight regional member countries. 


David Molden