On 25th April, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake hit the Himalayan nation of Nepal, which lies on the southern limit of where the Indian plate underthrusts the Eurasian plate.
The earthquake devastated Nepal, a developing country with a low income economy. Over 8,000 people were killed and many more injured or left homeless. The medical and sanitation infrastructures were seriously disrupted, leaving many at risk of disease, although several of the largest hospitals in Kathmandu did survive thanks to a programme of retrofitting designed to reinforce their structures.
The country continued to be rocked by a number of powerful aftershocks, the largest hitting on 12th May, was a major earthquake in itself. This second magnitude 7.3 quake left dozens more dead and disrupted the relief work that was finally underway in the country.
When a major earthquake strikes, it can also set in motion a number of other natural hazards. In Nepal’s case, the risks included landslides, flooding and avalanches. On the world’s highest peak, Mt. Everest, 25th April 2015 saw the single largest loss of life on the mountain, when 19 people, including 10 Sherpas, were killed by avalanches triggered by the quake. Having also closed early last year due to deadly avalanches, the mountain will remain closed until the 2016 season, for the first time in 41 years.
Many rural villages were completely destroyed by the quake and the UN estimates that around 3.5 million people are in need of food assistance. Most of these are subsistence farmers, who lost all their crops, which had recently been harvested.
In the capital, Kathmandu, many buildings collapsed, resulting in a huge loss of life. The densely populated city is full of buildings that have been poorly built, often in narrow streets, compounding the problems should the worst happen. Whilst efforts have been made to retrofit a number of schools and hospitals, many homes are still at risk when earthquakes strike here.
Compare the devastation of Kathmandu, with the massive, record-breaking magnitude 8.9 earthquake that hit Tokyo in 2011. Incredibly, not a single building fell in the Japanese capital, thanks to the efforts of the Japanese to ensure that their buildings are designed to cope with the many earthquakes that the country experiences. Although this seems like a very practical and important measure to take in countries that do experience a high number of earthquakes, for developing countries such as Nepal, this could be a heavy financial burden.
You may wish to discuss the events in Nepal with your geography students. Please see below for some useful teaching resources:
University of Cambridge - Perspectives on the Nepal Earthquake
BBC News - Nepal Quake 'Followed Historical Pattern'
UN - Nepal: UN Agency Stresses Urgent Funding Needs to Get Food to Earthquake Victims
USGS - Magnitude 7.8 Earthquake in Nepal & Aftershocks