(TT Sjogren) Johan Ernst Nilson is well know in the exploration world, latest for an 18-months-long quest that took him from the North Pole to the South Pole by land and sea.
Latest we heard from him though was from Namche Bazaar yesterday, where Johan has been since the first earthquake weeks ago. Right from the start Johan reported severe damage in many of the small settlements and villages dotting the picturesque trekking path between Lukhla airport and Everest base camp: "New quakes right now," he told us April 26th, "Namche is being evacuated and is partly demolished. So is Tengboche and almost all villages. We live in tents above Namche and are trying to help injured."
Yesterday a second, big shake rattled Nepal. Ang Tshering Sherpa of Asian Trekking reported vast damage and cut comms lines around Khumbu.
Sitting through two big ones and countless aftershocks in the popular hiking town, perched at 3400m/11,300 ft of altitude, we caught up with Johan to check the current status in Namche Bazaar, the unofficial capital of the Khumbu region.
Explorersweb: Two weeks after the big EQ you are still in Khumbu. Can you give us an overview of the situation in Namche and other villages?
Johan: Mostly people are scared and nervous. Any sound will make them run. Many of the houses along with the monastery are very damaged, but there are villages that are down completely. Thame and Khunde are bad and when I left Tengboche many houses were very bad and the monastery was very damaged - but that was many earthquakes ago. I don't know if it's still standing?
Explorersweb: You collected more than $45k so far. We know you have been giving some direct help, buying rice and giving out cash. How is that going?
Johan: We're actually up to almost 80,000 USD since we also had an online auction in US. I have been working tight with Red Cross and many of the organizations. They are very good and I'm sure the money goes to good things, but some of my friends have been giving 10-15,000 USD and they want to know where the money goes, so I'm here to make sure the individual is being helped.
I'm aiming for 200,000 USD before I leave in two weeks.
Explorersweb: The second EQ was not as strong but EPI center was closer to Khumbu. What have the effects been?
Johan: We heard that there are at least 100 dead in the last EQ, but I would guess a lot more. It's too early to say. A few hours ago (3 am) I woke up again with the whole ground moving. The sound of the buildings moving around is absolutely horrifying. Some of the cracked buildings became much worse but everybody survived here.
Explorersweb: What kind of outside help are the people in Khumbu getting? Is the aid reaching the remote villages and houses?
Johan: Hm. Well. Red Cross tents have arrived but that's it this far. A few doctors volunteers have arrived but nothing more than that. My friend Tommy Gustafsson who worked with "Saving Everest Project" is coming tomorrow with 300 sleeping bags to the valley and I have ordered 100 bags of rice. But we're hoping for more help to come.
Explorersweb: Looking at the next 6 - 12 months. What will Khumbu need to bring the area back up to speed? I know you don't have perfect information but please give an estimate.
Johan: The first help was to get survivors out from buildings all over Kathmandu and Khumbu. That's all taken care of now in different ways, so the next step is:
- Building up the houses before the monsoon starts. Especially the roofs.
- Repairing and building schools so the kids can go back to normal life.
- Building up the hospitals for the injured.
- Getting business started again. Building up small local shops so the Sherpas can generate income to their families and not be forced into starting begging in the streets. I have seen over the years that people recover better if they can start being independent rather then asking organizations for money or food.
- Starting global marketing for Nepal Tourism. People shouldn't stop coming here. The locals depend on tourism.
Explorersweb: When can tourists return to the valley and help jumpstart the local economy?
Johan: I think the spring season is over. Too much to build up and no good atmosphere but all can be ready for Fall around September again.
Explorersweb: The outside world hears little straight from the horse's mouth (the people that live and work in Khumbu). Can you please ask around you what they need?
Johan: Everything I mentioned is backed up by the Sherpa society in Namche and also by ESA.
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