Demographics of disaster in Nepal quake

Most of the 157 killed in Friday’s midnight earthquake are women and children


The death toll in the 6.4 magnitude earthquake that struck western Nepal on Friday at midnight has climbed to 157, and it is becoming clear that most of the fatalities are of women and children.

Of the 36 initially reported killed in collapsed buildings in Rukum West district, 19 were children, some of them babies as young as 10 months old. It is the same story in neighbouring Jajarkot, nearer to the epicentre of the earthquake where more than 110 people died.

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The mountainous region is one of the least developed and most remote in Nepal, and families depend on subsistence agriculture. Most of the men folk have traditionally migrated to work in India, or more recently to the Gulf or Malaysia to support families back home. Rukum West is also from where many young people have paid human traffickers to take them to the United States.

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Although the earthquake was of moderate intensity and hit a sparsely populated area, the death toll was high because it struck at night when most people were sleeping at home. Also, houses here are flimsy, traditionally built with stones and mud mortar. Most of the reinforced concrete structures in the main market areas seem to have survived the shaking.

The shallowness of the earthquake below the epicentre at Barekot of Jajarkot also seems to have meant that the heaviest damage is concentrated mainly in the two districts. Only one person was wounded in the neighbouring Rolpa district.

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In Barekot itself, chair of the rural municipality Bar Bahadur Giri said the destruction was beyond his town’s ability to handle it on its own. “Every house here is damaged, there are aftershocks, and people are camped out in the open to spend the second night,” he said by phone.

After the first jolt, Giri and his staff started calling around and drove out on their motorcycles to the most affected areas to help dig people trapped under the rubble. Luckily, no one was killed in the municipality and there were only four injured who were taken to hospital.

“Of the 3,587 houses in the municipality, 2,000 of them have completely collapsed,” Giri said. “The schools and health posts are also damaged. We urgently need tents, food for those who are out in the open.”

earthquake Surkhet

Jajarkot and Rukum West are so remote that medical are is difficult even in the best of times. The two districts have some of the highest child and maternal mortality rates in Nepal. Now, with the roads blocked by rockfalls, it is even more difficult. In 2008, a cholera epidemic caused by feral contamination of springs after a long drought killed at least 47 people in Jajarkot, many of them children.

Jajarkot falls under the Health Service Directorate based in Surkhet that looks after 10 districts in Karnali. Its head Rabin Khadka says his office has sent 26 additional medical personnel, equipment and medicines to the affected areas by road since Saturday morning. Nurses and surgical teams have also been sent from hospitals run by the APF, Army and Police.

earthquake hospital
Injured being treated at Jajarkot District Hospital.

“Whatever human resources and equipment and medicines we have here is not enough, we have asked Kathmandu to rush help,” Khadka said. “We also lack information about where the need is greatest, and what type of help is needed the most. We are just assuming that the requirements are great everywhere. We are also trying to send a surgical team to avoid long bumpy rides to hospital for the seriously injured.”

Surkhet’s Bheri Hospital, Police and Army hospitals also have reared 105 beds for referral patients from the mountain districts. Seven severely injured have been medevaced to Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu.

Seriously injured people have been taken to Bheri Hospital, Nepalganj.

According to Nepal police, as of Saturday evening105 people in Jajarkot, the epicentre of the earthquake and 52 in adjoining district of West Rukum have died, and 202 others are injured.

Among the dead included Sarita Singh Thakuri, the Deputy Mayor of Nalgad Municipality, Jajarkot. Six districts in Karnali and Far West have been affected by the earthquake.

This is the highest death toll since the 2015 earthquake which killed nearly 9,000 people. The Nepal Army has dispatched five helicopters and an aircraft for the rescue and relief operations.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal
Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal in Rukum.

Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had visited Jajarkot district hospital this morning to meet survivors, and brought some of the severely injured with him in his Army helicopter to Surkhet.

To ensure effective response, the Home Ministry has decided to entrust the District Disaster Management Committee the responsibility of streamlining rescue and relief through its Surkhet and Nepalganj hubs.

Injured being taken to Nepalganj.

The government has also decided to send Rs50 million to the disaster management fund of Jajarkot and West Rukum from the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority.

Seismologists have long warned that a mega earthquake is due in western Nepal as there has not been one to release the tectonic pressure for over 600 years. But experts warn that the tremor on Friday may not have been enough to release the built-up tension.