TIME Nepal

Nepal Opens Everest to Climbers for First Time Since Earthquake

APTOPIX Nepal Earthquake Everest Climbers
Mariusz Malkowski—AP In this April 25, 2015 photo, climbers search through crushed tents for fellow climbers caught in an avalanche at a base camp on the Nepal side of Mount Everest.

Nobukazu Kuriki is the first person since April's devastating earthquake to be awarded a climbing permit

Nepal is reopening Mt. Everest for mountaineers after a massive earthquake hit the country in April.

Nobukazu Kuriki, a Japanese climber, will begin his ascent Tuesday as the first mountaineer since the devastating earthquake-turned-avalanche killed 19 mountaineers. On Sunday, Nepal’s tourism minister, Kripasur Sherpa, handed over Kuriki’s climbing permit in a ceremony.

Kuriki will be attempting to scale Everest during the fall, considered by climbers to be a difficult season compared to spring. “The main purpose of my climb is to spread the message that Nepal was safe for climbers and trekkers even after the earthquake,” Kuriki said, according to the Associated Press.

Kuriki, who has attempted the climb four times before and lost nine fingers to frostbite in his most recent attempt, plans to scale the summit in September.

TIME Nepal

Nepal Is the Latest Country to Acknowledge Transgender Citizens on Its Passports

NEPAL-HOMOSEXUALITY-RIGHTS
Prakash Mathema —AFP/Getty Images Nepalese transgender and the first recipient of a Nepalese transgender passport, Monica Shahi from Kailali district displays her new passport with "O" for other in the document's gender section, in Kathmandu on August 10, 2015

Neighbors Bangladesh and India also offer a transgender designation on travel documents

Monica Shahi has become the first person in Nepal to have a passport that recognizes her as neither male or female but as a member of a third category. Her passport is now marked with an “O” that represents “Other,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports.

Nepal is just the latest country to authorize a third gender category for passport holders, however. To date, Bangladesh, India, Denmark and Australia, among others, offer the designation on travel documents.

Since a 2007 Supreme Court ruling allowed Nepalis to recognize their gender according to their “gender feelings” not just to a male or female binary, tolerance towards the trans community has continued to grow in the South Asian country, HRW says.

TIME Nepal

Experts Fear Earthquake-Ravaged Nepal May Suffer Another Huge Tremor Soon

Even after the April disaster, the fault line between India and Asia remains strained

Another major earthquake in the Himalayan Mountains may be imminent, according to new research that suggests the 7.8-magnitude quake that devastated Nepal in April failed to release all of the region’s seismic energy.

For over five centuries, seismic tension has been building beneath the Himalayas as India gradually shifts northward into the continent. In recent decades, a segment of the narrowing fault line between the Indian and Eurasian Plates became locked by friction, intensifying the buildup of energy that culminated in the April 25 earthquake.

The good news, scientists say, is that the quake, which left between 8,000 and 9,000 dead in Nepal and its border countries, could have been significantly worse. When the stress finally broke the fault, at an epicenter about 50 miles northwest of Kathmandu, the expense of energy traveled to the east, opening only the fault’s shorter eastern stretch, according to two concurrent studies published Thursday in Nature Geoscience and Science Magazine.

The longer western expanse of the fault, however, remains locked, and researchers say it “calls for special attention.” The stress-strained portion, which runs for nearly 500 miles roughly from Kathmandu to the northwest of New Delhi, has not seen a major seismic event since 1505, when an earthquake believed to have measured 8.5 on the Richter Scale — significantly larger than April’s event — shook the region. The recent studies suggest that some of the energy released in the April earthquake rippled westward, compounding with the pent-up energy along this portion of the fault, possibly “facilitating future ruptures.”

“This is a place that needs attention,” Professor Jean-Philippe Avouac, the seismologist who led both studies, told BBC News. “If we had an earthquake today, it would be a disaster because of the density of the population not just in western Nepal but also in northern India.”

TIME natural disaster

Millions Affected as Widespread Flooding Inundates Swaths of Southern Asia

Millions of people have been affected, hundreds are dead and thousands of have lost their homes and land

Flooding brought on by torrential monsoon rains has left large swaths of land across parts of southern Asia underwater, and has affected an estimated 10 million people in India alone.

The usual monsoon rains have been made worse this year by Cyclone Komen, which made landfall in Bangladesh last Friday.

In India, 200 people have died and more than 1 million have been moved to relief camps in West Bengal, which has taken the brunt of the damage, reports Agence France-Presse. Flash floods and landslides have swept away homes, farmlands and livelihoods in Manipur, Gujarat and Rajasthan states as well.

On Tuesday, two passenger trains derailed off a bridge into a river in Madhya Pradesh. It is believed the heavy rain had caused the river levels to rise and partially submerged the track, reports the BBC.

Meanwhile, flooding in neighboring Burma has caused widespread devastation in several western states, prompting the government to appeal for international assistance on Tuesday.

More than 200,000 people have been affected and at least 47 people have died.

Burma’s President Thein Sein has declared four areas in the country, formally known as Myanmar, as disaster zones and many remote areas are still cut off by floodwaters, landslides or damaged roads, leaving thousands of people without aid.

Aid agencies are particularly concerned with the 140,000 people already living in displacement camps in the country’s western Rakhine state.

“The floods are hitting children and families who are already very vulnerable, including those living in camps in Rakhine state,” said Shalini Bahuguna, from the U.N. Children’s Fund UNICEF.

Flooding has claimed 150 lives and affected 800,000 people across several Pakistan provinces including Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab and the disputed region of Kashmir.

In northern Vietnam, flooding has left more than 12,000 people without electricity for days and record rainfall has affected the power supply to 27 cities and provinces nationwide. Since July 26, Quang Ninh province saw a total rainfall of 1,500 mm, considered to be the worst in 40 years.

Heavy rains and flooding have damaged 10,000 houses and ruined 4,000 hectares of rice and other crops in the province. Seventeen people have died.

And in disaster-hit Nepal, at least 90 people have died in the past two months as a result of floods and landslides.

TIME India

Indian Police Arrest Airline Staff for Attempting to Traffic Nepal Quake Victims

Two employees of the national carrier Air India have been arrested in connection with the operation

Police in India have arrested two airline employees in connection with what is suspected to be a human trafficking operation centered on smuggling female victims of the Nepal earthquake to Gulf countries, the Agence France-Presse news agency reports.

The two ground staff members working for the national carrier Air India were arrested earlier this month after police at New Delhi’s international airport found seven Nepalese women heading to Dubai who had their travel documents stamped despite not having cleared immigration controls.

Under questioning, the airline employees said they had been paid to furnish forged documents for the seven women. In a subsequent raid on a local hotel, police found an additional 21 women who will now be returned to Nepal along with the seven stopped at the airport on 21 July.

Human trafficking has been a major problem in the region since before the April quake, with some 10,000-15,000 people from Nepal, most of them women and children, trafficked every year for manual and sex work, according to the U.N.

According to AFP, the women found in New Delhi had been smuggled into India via bus from areas in Nepal that had been devastated by the earthquake that shook the region in April, killing thousands across the poor Himalayan nation and also affecting parts of eastern India and China. The traffickers had apparently taken them on a circuitous route to Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat before flying them to the Indian capital, all in a bid to evade immigration controls. Haider said it wasn’t clear what fate awaited the women in the Gulf countries where the traffickers had attempted to send them.

TIME Nepal

Half a Million Animals Saved as Nepal Nixes the World’s Largest Slaughter Festival

Gadhimai
Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images Butchers raise their blades at a temple before the first animal sacrifices by priests are conducted for the Gadhimai festival in the village of Bariyapur, Nepal, on Nov. 28, 2014

Experts say around 500,000 goats, chickens and buffalos were decapitated at Gadhimai in 2009

Nepal’s Gadhimai Temple Trust, which oversees the world’s biggest animal sacrifice every five years, announced Tuesday that no slaughter would take place at this year’s festival.

The announcement comes on the heels of an international movement against the event, which led the Indian Supreme Court to prohibit animals from being shipped or shepherded across the border to be killed as offerings.

“With your help, we can ensure the festival in 2019 is free from bloodshed,” chairman of the temple trust Ram Chandra Shah said in a statement announcing the ban. “Moreover, we can ensure Gadhimai 2019 is a momentous celebration of life.”

Gauri Maulekhi, consultant for Humane Society International/India (HSI) and trustee for People for Animals Uttarakhand, who was among the petitioners in the Supreme Court case, called the move a “tremendous victory for compassion” but acknowledged that the hardest task is still to come. Maulekhi said the HSI would spend the three and a half years until the next festival in 2019 educating would-be celebrants in the Indian states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal about the temple’s decision.

HSI estimates that more than 500,000 goats, chickens and buffalos, along with other animals, were decapitated at Gadhimai in 2009. The festival, which dates back about 265 years and which some say has even more ancient roots, is based on a dream founder Bhagwan Chowdhary had featuring Gadhimai, the Hindu goddess of power. In the dream, Gadhimai demanded a sacrifice after freeing Chowdhary from prison, promising power and prosperity in return. Chowdhary prepared an animal offering, establishing a legacy of tradition and blood that would last nearly three centuries.

TIME Nepal

Is It Really Safe to Go Trekking in Nepal Again?

Plenty of well-meaning organizations say the best way to support quake-ravaged Nepal is to spend your tourist dollars there, but many local tour operators have concerns

Nepal’s Himalayan tour operators are criticizing a new government-sanctioned report that declared one of the country’s most popular trekking circuits safe for tourists after massive earthquakes ravaged the country in late April.

They say the study was hastily conducted, without enough fieldwork to back up the findings.

The report, funded by the U.K. and conducted by structural-engineering company Miyamoto, found that the Annapurna circuit was not as badly damaged as initially feared, the BBC says.

The government welcomed the report’s conclusions that very few trails in the area needed repairs after quakes on April 26 and May 12 killed more than 9,000 people across the tiny mountain nation.

Several companies and associations that facilitate trekking expeditions across the Himalayan mountains surrounding Nepal, however, are less enthusiastic. Most say they were not consulted for their input, despite their intimate familiarity with and practical knowledge of the region.

“Such assessments need to have the involvement of stakeholders like us to have any credibility,” Ramesh Dhamala, president of the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), told the BBC.

Nepal Mountaineering Association president Ang Tshering Sherpa added that the report was “totally insufficient” because only one week of fieldwork was carried out.

MORE: 6 Ways You Can Give to Nepal Earthquake Relief

Their criticisms come just over a month after U.N. officials voiced their fears over the safety of several quake-damaged World Heritage Sites reopened by the Nepalese government.

Speaking to the New York Times in June, Christian Manhart, the head of UNESCO Kathmandu, said that his organization had encouraged authorities to delay the reopening of certain monuments — including some of the country’s most popular attractions — because of concerns that some buildings were still unsafe or vulnerable to looting.

He also told the Times that Archaeology Department director general Bhesh Narayan Dahal implied to him that he was under pressure to reopen damaged monuments in order to collect entrance fees to support reconstruction efforts.

Meanwhile, representatives of Miyamoto told the BBC they involved multiple trekking and mountaineering companies in compiling their report on the Annapurna circuit.

The global engineering firm, which is based in Sacramento, Calif., is also compiling a similar safety report on the world’s tallest peak Mount Everest and its surrounding areas.

Dhamala, however, says operators belonging to TAAN will not be sending tourists to either region based on Miyamoto’s findings.

The association’s CEO, Ganga Sagar Pant, said in an interview with TIME on May 8 that they were conducting “assessment” expeditions of their own to ensure the trails were safe for visitors. Pant, along with other government officials and tour operators, insisted at the time that Nepal was safe for tourists — but that was before the second earthquake, which struck a week after the interview.

Around 17,000 fewer tourists have visited Nepal between May and July compared to the corresponding period last year, severely depleting one of the mainstays of the small landlocked country’s already struggling economy.

TIME Nepal

Richard Engel Spotlights Heroes and Victims of Everest Avalanche

NBC News Richard Engel at Everest Base Camp.

NBC will air a special edition of Dateline on Sunday, June 28, at 7 p.m. ET

It’s been two months since a massive earthquake in Nepal left more than 8,500 people dead, leveled thousands of buildings and homes and triggered a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. On Sunday, NBC will air “Avalanche,” a special episode of Dateline led by the network’s chief foreign correspondent Richard Engel, featuring eyewitness accounts from one expedition climbing Mount Everest during the quake on April 25. Engel, who reached Nepal with a crew shortly after the earthquake struck, talks with TIME about what he found in the country and what he has taken away.

TIME: At what point did you learn an avalanche had apparently hit Everest Base Camp?

Engel: It was social media, the first pictures taken by witnesses of the avalanche at Base Camp. But it wasn’t a complete picture. We just knew something bad had happened there, but we didn’t know: Were hundreds dead? Were thousands missing? Were people stranded at altitude? Were they going to be freezing to death? Starving? You get stranded at Everest or you get trapped under an avalanche on the highest peak in the world, it’s a strong possibility that there’s no help coming.

I think we were the first television crew up to Base Camp. So after we saw the pictures, we were up there I guess within 48 hours. But we got lucky, too. We got to the lower camp. There happened to be a time when there was good weather. We happened to have a chopper pilot who was willing to go. So we had a pretty fortuitous sequence of events to get us there quickly.

We follow, mostly, the experiences of one expedition, called the Madison Expedition Group, and it’s quite a well known outfitter that takes climbers up to Everest. And they had a very, very tough run. They lost a team member, they had a documentarian with them who was filming. They had a very strong, compelling story. We got to the story early. It’s on Everest, and it’s a story about that team and what happened to Base Camp, but it’s also representative of what this mountain means to Nepal, what this earthquake meant for the people of Nepal. We talk about all the 8,000, maybe 9,000, maybe 10,000 people—it’s still unclear how many people died—how this was a terrible turn of events for an expedition and a terrible turn of events for a country.

TIME: What happened when you arrived to Base Camp?

Engel: Well, I almost collapsed. Not because of what I saw, but because of what I felt. I wasn’t acclimated to the altitude, so I went from Kathmandu, which is at low altitude, to 17,598 feet in an afternoon, and that’s not an ideal way of doing it. The pilot basically told me, if you stay at this Base Camp for longer than an hour or two hours or three hours, you’re going to need medical attention. So I got out of the chopper, and I wasn’t alone—there were three of us: the pilot, myself and a cameraman—and the cameraman and I were dizzy. It was difficult to speak. It felt like my tongue was very thick in my mouth. So we were lucky. We were there for only a brief amount of time and got off and there was no medical problem, but I was struck by the altitude, I would say. That was the most immediate sensation.

TIME: You met a lot of sherpas and climbers and guides. Did you get a sense of how they deal with something like this when it happens?

Engel: For the sherpa people, Everest and that entire section of the Himalayas is sacred. This is a holy place. It is a place where you only approach after receiving the blessings of holy men. They construct altars before they go onto the mountain. So for the sherpa people, the dangers of Everest is something that they always are conscious of, something that they always ask the Gods to grant them safe passage. They clearly bore the brunt of this earthquake. A lot of these stone villages were devastated and they are still recovering from this. But it is also a fact that the sherpas make their livelihood from the Everest climbers and from the business that comes with it. So they respect the mountain, they fear the mountain, but they also live and work on the mountain.

It was the sherpas who decided this year that no more climbers would go up Everest. We saw some climbers who, even after the avalanche, they wanted to keep going. They wanted to push. They’d spent a lot of money, they’d been training, they’d had their sights set on the summit. But it was the sherpas who said this year, “Climbing season is done. We’re not doing this anymore.” So they still very much own the mountain.

Everest has a special place in all of our imaginations. For centuries, Everest was a little bit like the moon. It was the place where everyone wanted to go. Empires wanted to be able to say that they were the first to put a climber on top of Everest. So it has long been part of our collective history. And part of our collective imagination. So when a tragedy happens up on that mountain, I think it has a global resonance. Everybody’s heard of Everest. Everybody knows what Everest is and what it means, and the significance.

TIME: There’s a Swiss helicopter pilot who is central in this Everest story. You credit him with saving dozens of people stranded on the mountain.

Engel: On the morning of the earthquake, there was solid cloud cover and the pilots couldn’t get up there. A few pilots that were nearby couldn’t get up to Base Camp. So, like we knew down below in Kathmandu that something bad had happened, the rescue pilots knew that something bad had happened. They just didn’t know what, and they didn’t know how severe. So this one pilot, a Swiss pilot named Reto Rüesch, who was locked under this cloud cover getting increasingly frustrated, saw a little hole, decided to punch through that hole, get above the clouds and go to Base Camp. He was the only pilot in the sky for many hours, and single-handedly rescued about 70 people. Afterward, we went and saw him in Switzerland.

TIME: And how is he reflecting on what he did that day?

Engel: The most humble guy you’ll ever meet. He told no one back home in Switzerland what he did. He was embarrassed that we even wanted to come and interview him. He said “Sure, I guess, if you want, you can come and talk to me.”

TIME: What will you take away from your time in Nepal?

Engel: I was just amazed at the people. They were so calm and resilient. I didn’t see any looting. I didn’t see any violence. There was no hostility toward us. They were resourceful, and just really astonishingly lovely. I was really impressed … because everyone moved outside. Think about like—an earthquake happens in Manhattan and all the social services are destroyed, all the phones are gone, the Internet’s gone, the banking’s gone, the buildings are damaged, and everyone just on their own moves into Central Park and lives there, without any orders form above. And there’s no fighting, no arguments, they’re just living under tarps in Central Park. It was beautiful, in a way. Tragic, but the way they came together was beautiful.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Read next: Cover Story: ‘This Is the Earthquake We’ve Been Waiting For’

TIME Nepal

Go Inside the Effort to Rebuild Nepal

As delegates from around the world gather in Kathmandu for an international conference on rebuilding Nepal, here's how the country's farmers are recovering from an earthquake that, two months ago, claimed thousands of lives

Two months ago, a magnitude 7.8 earthquake, centered in a mountainous region northwest of Kathmandu, devastated Nepal, shaking apart ancient temples, splitting roads, leveling homes and bridges, and setting off angry landslides and avalanches across the Himalayan nation.

The temblor, which struck shortly before noon local time on April 25, was felt in neighboring China and India, and even as far away as Pakistan. A series of panic-inducing aftershocks followed, and then, on May 12, the country was rattled by a magnitude 7.3 quake centered northeast of Kathmandu, near the country’s border with China.

In Nepal, the death toll from the two earthquakes stands at nearly 9,000, with over 22,000 people injured. (Deaths were also recorded in neighboring countries.) Hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged. The country’s health infrastructure suffered a body blow. According to a recent government report, nearly 450 public heath facilities, including five hospitals, were completely destroyed. In what was already one of the region’s poorest countries, the earthquakes—the result of an ancient geological fault deep below Nepal—are estimated to have pushed an additional three percent of the population into poverty. That, according to the World Bank, means “as many as a million more poor people.”

As Nepal slowly rebuilds, among the most pressing challenges is supporting agriculture in a country were two-thirds of the population depends on farming. Rice is a staple food in Nepal—and for many rice-farming communities, the earthquakes “struck at the worst possible time,” according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). June is when the annual monsoon rains arrive in Nepal. And the weeks leading up to them are critical for farmers who must ensure that their rice saplings are in the ground before the rains hit. But as many half of all farming households in the country’s worst affected districts are estimated to have lost nearly all their stores of rice and other crops in the earthquakes.

The rice farmers of Samantar Village in Nepal’s Dhading district, whose struggle to plant their rice crop ahead of the monsoon is chronicled in this TIME video by Nehemiah Stark and Nick Wilson, were among those who lost their supplies in the April 25 quake. “The rice seeds in people’s houses were ruined,” Bakhat Bahadur Rai, local agricultural leader, says.“The houses fell down and the seeds became a part of the rubble.”

What followed was a race against time to secure new seeds for planting before the rains for a healthy harvest. Samantar was lucky. With the help of an Israeli NGO called Tevel b’Tzedek, the rice farmers of Samantar managed to get new supplies in early June, before the rains. Elsewhere in Nepal’s hardest hit areas, the FAO has distributed 40,000 five kilogram bags of rice seeds to farmers for the current planting season.

But much still remains to be done across Nepal, where the government puts the total cost of recovery and reconstruction at some $6.6 billion over five years. It is an enormous challenge, and one that Nepal can’t meet on its own—the estimated cost equates to roughly a third of the size of the country’s economy. To help with the effort, the government is hosting an international donors conference with delegates from the around the world, including the Indian and Chinese foreign ministers.

As the visiting delegates consider the challenges ahead, over in Samantar, attention is focused on this year’s rice crop. “I have a feeling that I will survive,” Phoolmaya Rai, a local rice farmer says, “if there’s not another earthquake.”

TIME Nepal

Here’s How Much the Nepal Earthquake Moved Mount Everest

Mount Everest Nepal Earthquake Moved
Roberto Schmidt—AFP/Getty Images A view of Mount Everest towering over the Nupse, from the village of Tembuche in the Khumbu region of northeastern Nepal on April 20, 2015.

The April 25 quake left more than 8,500 people dead

The earthquake that struck Nepal was powerful enough to move a mountain, Chinese authorities said Monday.

Mount Everest shifted three centimeters southwest after the 7.8-magnitude quake on April 25, according to data from a satellite set up in 2005 by China’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, its state-run news organization Xinhua reports. That’s a significant movement for Mount Everest, which the agency said has moved only 4 cm. annually on average between 2005 and 2015 due to crustal movements.

Authorities said the geophysical impact of the devastating quake, which left more than 8,500 people dead, did not change the height of the world’s tallest peak, at some 29,000 feet.

[Xinhua]

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