The world’s most iconic mountain trekking region has received a mixed report from experts ahead of the new tourism season in Nepal next month. The report was handed over to the Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Mr. Kripasur Sherpa on August 7, 2015 amidst the press conference in Kathmandu.
The report commissioned by the Government of Nepal confirms that there was ‘minimal damage’ to the majority of accommodation and trails in the Everest region, in Nepal’s northeast.
It is noted that some minor hazards were identified by a team of specialist geotechnic and structural engineers from Miyamoto International and mountain guides, who made an initial rapid reconnaissance assessment of the main trekking routes and select villages ahead of the monsoon season.
Recommendations in the report include rerouting a section of the Everest trail, as well as relocating buildings in the villages of Tok Tok and Benkar to the opposite side of the river in order to reduce risks in the region to tourists and to locals. The report also recommends a follow up engineering assessment after the monsoon.
Despite some challenges identified in the report, tourism industry leaders and government officials have welcomed the information in this assessment, which provides a baseline to improve infrastructure in the region.
“Tourism is the largest employer in Nepal and it’s vital to our economic recovery. We know that Everest is a huge draw for visitors – it is a bucket list destination” says Mr. Ramesh Kumar Adhikari, Administrative Chief of Nepal Tourism Board.
The aim of the report was to develop an initial understanding of the extent of the damage from the earthquakes so that we could assess the overall safety of the Everest region’s trekking routes before the season starts in September” says Mr. Tulasi Prasad Gautam, Director General of Department of Tourism.
Intrepid Travel, one of the largest trekking operators in Nepal, worked with the government of Nepal to co-ordinate the logistics and provide the local guides to make it happen.
“As far as we’re concerned the report is all good news, because even where it’s identified issues it means that we now have the information needed to rebuild Nepal stronger than ever before, and ensure the safety of our staff, travellers, and the local communities we visit” says Darrell Wade, CEO and founder of Intrepid Travel.
Last month the government released an engineering report on the Annapurna region which identified ‘very little damage to the area in north-central Nepal, with the 3% of buildings damaged in the quake all ‘easily repairable’.
The assessments are believed to be the first ever completed by international earthquake engineering specialists on trekking routes in Nepal and identify potential hazards in the mountain area not associated with the April and May earthquakes, enabling locals and trekking companies to reduce risks by adjusting itineraries and relocating accommodation to safer areas.
Other opportunities to improve long-term safety in the trekking regions identified in the report include improved signage of natural hazards, and providing engineering advice to accommodation owners rebuilding structures on the trail.
“The report provides a series of recommendations that will inform tourism recovery and commercial readiness strategies that are currently being developed by the government, its international development partners, and Nepal’s tourism industry at large” says Mr. Suresh Man Shrestha, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation , Government of Nepal.
SUMMARY OF THE EVEREST ASSESSMENT
- Nine major bridges were assessed, with no signs of damage as a result of the earthquake.
- 15 villages with 710 buildings were assessed, including both tourist accommodation and local residences. 83% of all buildings were given a green-tag by engineers at the time of the assessment, who found most damaged buildings could be repaired. Owners are making these repairs now using new construction methods that will improve safety in the future.
- Many of the villages on the Everest trail do not appear to have been affected by the earthquake.
- Overall, the assessment of the Everest region identified that damage in the lower valley (below Namche) is significantly greater than in the upper valley
- The most significant recommendation in the report is to reroute a stretch of the trail around the villages of Tok Tok and Benkar to the opposite side of the river. Engineers suggest moving the trail to the true left of the river using the existing bridges at Phakding and the northern end of Benkar. The residents of the two villages would also need to be moved.
- The report recommends closing the low trail between the villages of Namche and Khumjung, and using the higher level trail instead, as geological evidence suggests that rockfall is a frequent occurrence on the low trail between the two villages.
- Avoid overnight stays in Shomore. While there was no new rockfall in Shomore, there are a number of large boulders in the village. Engineers believe it is relatively safe to continue to use the trail in this area for now, but the report recommends a more in-depth assessment needs to be made.