7 May 2012, Seti River, Nepal: This village sits right next to the Seti River and is highly vulnerable to flooding. At the beginning of May, a flash flood along the Seti killed about 40 people and left 30 missing. Preparedness measures by humanitarian agencies and the national disaster agency allowed emergency response operations to begin immediately, despite the area’s remoteness. In the last six years, OCHA has worked with Government authorities to develop Nepal’s national disaster response contingency plan. In 2015, ReliefWeb covered 88 natural disasters, with the Nepal earthquakes the most significant.
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We launched our web site in the spring, with a lot of help from our friends in Nepal and in Canada – we are still getting helpful suggestions – keep them coming! The tenth anniversary celebrations, in wonderful Nepali style, went on for nearly two weeks. At the beginning of the celebration, a UNCRPD workshop (United Nations Convention on Rights for Persons with Disabilities) held at SIRC involved many local members of the disabled community working with SIRC staff and an Irish team from Livability. A Swiss team from the Notwill spinal injury centre visited to participate in teaching SIRC staff.
We organized a disaster preparedness program to take place over two days, arranged by SIRC staffer Sandra Boone with physiotherapist Damodar Thapa and Peter.  Nepal is a high-risk earthquake area. On the second day of this program, earthquake trainers from the Nepalese National Earthquake staff worked with SIRC staff to prepare them for what to do in the event of a major earthquake (right). Hans Georg joined us for a workshop in Kathmandu on disaster preparedness with other NGOs as well as on a disaster drill for staff at SIRC. We were supported for this project by a grant from the International Spinal Cord Society – thank you ISCoS!
Oh – did we forget to mention the wheelchair basketball tournament at an outdoor court about a half-hour walk from the Centre, with games in the Centre for those patients who could not get over there? The International Spinal Cord Society (ISCoS) had received a generous grant from Access to Care in 2011 to develop a free online educational resource for health care workers providing care to those with new or established SCI. September found us in London primarily for the annual meeting of the International Spinal Cord Society annual meeting. The wedding date was moved up at short notice, but Claire and Peter were able to change travel plans and made it from London to Kathmandu for the celebration with families and friends.
Back in Kathmandu, we also managed to meet with Prakash, his supervisors Drs Bista and Dhital, and a number of other colleagues while we were there. Finally, we did some aggressive shopping for items for fundraising. Through a combination of sales and donations from generous friends we raised our first full year’s budget needs. This year, we worked with other teams and individuals who are providing support to SIRC and will continue to ensure that any overlap is useful to SIRC staff and others in the Nepalese health system.
At a meeting held in April in the Himalayan State, Nepalese and international disaster officials gathered to imagine once again the humanitarian consequences of another earthquake, and to consider the response.
Planning for an earthquake has gone beyond simply projecting its potential humanitarian consequences.


Providing shelter for the estimated 1.8 million people displaced would demand a tremendous amount of open space, so the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Home Affairs have mapped all public spaces in and around Kathmandu that could be used for temporary shelters.
IOM and OCHA, along with the World Food Programme (WFP), the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) are also planning how they will provide basic humanitarian services, such as food, clean water, sanitation and emergency health, in the aftermath of an earthquake. Arinita Maskey, a UNICEF expert on water, sanitation and hygiene, warned that considerations about space for survivors, and the services they will need, must be addressed at the same time.
Despite the amount of planning that has been done, humanitarian agencies know that any response to an earthquake will be incredibly difficult. The need for greater investment in disaster preparedness and disaster proof urban planning will be a major focus of the Fourth Session of the Global Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction that is being held in Geneva this week (19-23 May). It faces the threat of devastating floods, landslides, windstorms, hailstorms, fires, glacial lake floods, avalanches and earthquakes. The Annapurna range, where the Seti River originates, is extremely prone to avalanches between March and mid-June.
Houses, farms, trucks and trailers were swept away when the river, flooded with snow, ice and mud from an avalanche, burst through a snow blockage and sent water gushing through villages along its banks, affecting millions of people downstream. It has also worked closely with the district authorities and local communities to develop district preparedness strategies to ensure readiness-and-response plans are in place before a disaster strikes.
In total, 20 houses, two temples, one community building and three suspension bridges were swept away by the water and debris. After a thorough and successful interview, he began a five-year rehabilitation medicine residency at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU), Bangladesh’s first and only medical university, on March 1 2012. We worked closely with Swiss SCI physician Hans Georg Koch on the training of recent graduate Dr Nabina Shah, who came down to Delhi soon after to join us in an SCI workshop on which we were faculty. On the first day, local experts from Nepalese government departments and INGO representatives met with staff from SIRC. Right, at the disaster workshop, retired Nepali forces Colonel Ratindra Khatri delivers a spellbinding account of the (2010) Haiti earthquake which took place during his UN service there.
Left, two Swiss team members work with SIRC physician Nabina Shah on a ‘casualty’ at the SIRC.
We saw a large number of people with a history of spinal cord injury and a very large number of people with disabling back pain.
And there was a staff barbecue to celebrate our good fellowship and, to cap the week, a small get together with the board members in Flavors Cafe. If you look carefully, you will find Drs Raju, Claire and Peter in this photo of the ElearnSCI project team at the conclusion of an intensive week’s workshop in which all the educational modules were presented, reviewed, discussed and edited in preparation for go-live in the fall of 2012.
We worked in this project (based in Delhi) and believe that this resource, launched at the ISCoS annual meeting in September 2012, will benefit people with new spinal cord injuries in many areas of the world. A session at which international programs were highlighted was well attended – there was considerable interest in our small project. Below, Board members Kanak and Shanta with Swiss team members from Mountains to Mountains and from the Swiss Paraplegic Centre in Nottwil. Kathmandu - the city and surrounding valley - sits on a fault line that experts believe may soon slip, triggering a potentially catastrophic earthquake.
The magnitude 8.4 earthquake that followed destroyed more than 80,000 buildings and claimed 8,500 lives. It is now a densely populated home to almost 2.5 million people, many living and working in buildings that will not withstand a significant seismic event.


They have created a list that includes spaces large enough for 250,000 people (the National Agricultural Research Centre), down to areas that could shelter less than 1,000 (such as Nasamana square in the town of Bhaktapur on Kathmandu’s eastern outskirts). WFP, the agency that is responsible for coordinating logistics during disasters, expects that an earthquake would likely render all roads in and out of the Kathmandu Valley impassable, as well as damaging the airport.
He says that in the days immediately following an earthquake, agencies would be forced to rely on helicopters, an approach that would be both costly and inadequate. This event will see governments, the UN, the wider humanitarian and development communities and the private sector continue to explore the global framework for reducing disaster risk. Preparedness is vital in a country where natural disasters claimed more than 27,000 lives and affected more than 5 million people between 1971 and 2007. The flooding came with little warning on a Saturday (5 May), which is the day when villagers traditionally wash clothes, bathe in the Seti, and picnic with family and friends along the river. The District Disaster Relief Committee led the response operation in coordination with the security forces, the Nepal Red Cross Society and other humanitarian agencies. Two water-supply systems, which provide more than 80 per cent of water to the Pokhara valley, were damaged.
Spinally-injured when a bus went over a cliff, Ram Bahadur (right) sings a ghatana about his experiences, a saga of his injury and rehabilitation. In his capacity as Nepalese National Contingent Commander of the UN Mission in Haiti, he was also one of the first responders to the devastation. ElearnSCI went live and has already been visited by thousands of interested healthcare workers around the world.
The two days of celebrations in Kathmandu were followed by a trip to the village of Jaubari in Gorkha district – a distance of only 120 km but that took 10-12 hours in a bus because of road conditions. An earthquake, experts say, could displace more than 1.8 million people, kill over 100,000 and injure a further 300,000. It comes on the heels of a new report from the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) that warned that direct losses from disasters have been underestimated by at least 50 per cent, and have cost the global economy in the range of $2.5 trillion since the start of this century alone. By good fortune he was out of his office in the UN building when the quake struck, as the office building was destroyed in the upheaval. The Paralympics in London were also a delight – we caught a few key games after the ISCoS meeting. There we stayed with Raju’s parents and met his family and many neighbours who celebrated, with song dance and abundant food, Raju’s return after many years. Almost 80 years later, UN agencies and the government are determined to be better prepared for the next one. He is now working in the newly established Strategic Centre for Disaster Risk Reduction Nepal (an NGO).



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