Nepal Earthquake And What We Can Learn From It

It has been ten days since the devastating earthquake in Nepal.  The country is still recovering from the initial shock of the massive earthquake and the more than eighty aftershocks.  Like in all earthquakes, the destruction was not far reaching and had no demographic confines or preferences.  Temples, homes, businesses, and infrastructure alike, all suffered partial or total destruction.  And, like all other earthquakes around the globe, there was no warning. 

In an article in Time Magazine (, Olga Murray, a retired California attorney and founder of the Nepal Youth Foundation ( and survivor of the quake, noted that the loss of electricity was one of the most profound losses – much like here in the US, almost everything runs off electricity – including their water purifier, and the electricity had been out since the initial quake, five days earlier.   Water is life.  Clean water for cooking, consumption, and hygiene is a key to long term survival.  While there are other methods for purifying water, few are as good or efficient as a good water purification system.  Other methods, such as survival straws, charcoal drip purifiers, and boiling are good for the short term and for a low volume of people and needs.

In addition, the country’s infrastructure has been destroyed, making passage to the hardest hit areas, the rural areas (where 80 percent of all Nepalis live) almost impossible.  Roads, bridges, railways, and walkways within the cities are not fairing much better.  Getting the injured to hospitals has been challenging, but a greater challenge is, where do they go after they’ve been treated?  Most have no place to go as the vast majority of homes were or are built of brick and mortar, (which does not fair well in earthquakes) most of which have been destroyed or are inhabitable due to heavy damage, resulting in hundreds of thousands being left homeless.   Several shelters had been created in the immediate aftermath for recently treated and released patients, but the number of injured is severely stretching the capacity of the hospital and aid stations.

Food, water, and medical supplies are the greatest up front need, followed by bedding, clothes, shoes, and construction materials.  As with many people in all countries, Nepalis live day to day, with little set aside in preparation for a disaster.  That which may have been set aside, may well have been lost if the structure they were in was destroyed, which appears to be the case in the majority of rural dwellings and many metropolitan homes and structures.

Multiple countries from around the world immediately sent aid to Nepal – from cash to sniffer dogs, to medical supplies, to construction material, the outpouring has been immense.  In time, this international aid will begin to reduce as the immediacy of the destruction and need begins to wain.  Nepal itself, with the continued aid of organizations like Nepal Youth Foundation and others, will begin the long, arduous task of rebuilding.  It will take many years for them to recover to a point of feeling safe again.

Wharton College’s Howard Kunreuther, in an interview about the Nepal Earthquake by Wharton College’s podcast, Knowledge@Wharton, ( makes a statement that is probably the most profound and acute description of where the majority of the globe is today:

“What happened in Nepal is something that happens everywhere in the world. If something doesn’t happen for a long period of time, ‘it isn’t going to happen to me’ is basically how people feel.”

Apathy is probably the most problematic roadblock to preparation today, and will most likely have a lasting and negative impact on rescue, recovery, and rebuilding when another major earthquake hits.  Regardless of where it hits.  The mentality of, “We’ll deal with it when it happens”, puts more lives, structures, and recovery at risk than the event itself.  There’s an old saying, “20/20 Hindsight is pretty good”.  Having the foresight to be prepared to not have to rely on the hindsight aspect, takes time, a little money, and some fortitude.

As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, there are a variety of ways we can be prepared, some are more costly than others and none are, in-and-of-themselves, a singular answer to preparation. Taking the time and effort in to create a plan, make an emergency kit, saving emergency rations, and putting it all into action is key to having the best chances for survival in the initial few days after a disaster and beyond.  What does a good plan, emergency kit, and emergency rations entail?   Here is a recap:


*Have a escape plan from your home with one or two rallying points.

*Secure bookshelves and other top heavy items to the wall so they don’t fall over during an earthquake.  Put heavier items on your shelves toward the bottom.  Secure cabinet doors so they don’t fly open.

*Have an out-of-state contact who you can call and give updates to for dissemination to friends and family.

*Work with neighbors and local organizations, like your homeowners association, to help each other.  Know neighborhood rally points, local radio stations that will broadcast emergency / recovery / safety information.

*Prepare your home – seismically retrofit your home if built prior to 1992.  This can be spendy, but can also provide you with a safe, habitable place after an earthquake.  This is a real ‘Peace of Mind’ game changer.


Emergency Kit:

*A comprehensive first aid kit; stout shoes; extra clothes; a crank powered hand held radio; a good flashlight with extra batteries; signaling devices like a mirror and flares; a good pair of gloves; a good sharp knife; a small tool kit; extra clothes, blankets, and a tarp; several lengths of rope; eating utensils; a pot and pan; a five gallon bucket; garbage bags – from small to heavy duty 30+ gallon bags; matches and a lighter; steel wool; an ax or hatchet; paper towel and toilet paper.  If possible, having a power generator and extension chords can be very helpful as well.  The caveat being limited lifespan of producing power by amount of fuel available.


Emergency Rations:

*Water for each person and pet – one gallon a day for each person / pet for up to three weeks.

*Dry and canned foods.  (Remember, you can use the liquids from many canned goods to cook with or even drink, if need be).

*Snack food – from trail mix, nuts, and granola bars to dried fruits and vegetables.

Be sure to monitor the expiration date on your food and rotate it as necessary.

These are only guidelines and can vary with the need.

Hopefully, the greatest thing we have learned from Nepal, is to plan and be prepared.  We need to change our mindset from that of ‘It will never happen here’ to ‘I’m ready when it comes’.

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