International community must unite to help disaster-hit Nepal

International community must unite to help disaster-hit Nepal
Temporary shelters set up in a field near the airport in Nepal's capital Kathmandu in response to fear of further collapse in the after shocks of the earthquake.

With the co-operation of the international community, operations to rescue and protect survivors must be carried out swiftly in Nepal.

A magnitude-7.8 quake struck central Nepal on Saturday, and neighbouring areas in India, Bangladesh and China were also rocked by a strong jolt, leaving more than 3,900 people dead in the four countries.

Damaged tremendously was the Nepalese capital of Katmandu, near the epicenter. A large number of houses and buildings collapsed, burying many people alive under the debris.

Roads were blocked by rubble, hindering rescue operations, and there is a lack of heavy machinery for the operations.

Fearful of aftershocks, many people continued taking shelter in the open. There is also a shortage of water, food and medicine.

As roads and telecommunications networks have been cut, the whole picture of the damage remains nebulous. The death toll is expected to rise further. In the Himalayan mountain range, the quake triggered an avalanche that killed one male Japanese climber and left numerous climbers stranded.

Once 72 hours pass following a quake, the survival rate of those who are buried alive under the debris is said to decline markedly. Sometime Tuesday afternoon will serve as one yardstick for search and rescue operations. We hope as many people as possible will be saved by the rescue efforts.

Countries including China, India and the United States have sent search and rescue teams to Nepal. The Japanese government has decided to provide emergency relief supplies worth ¥25 million(S$278,000), sending a 70-member Japan Disaster Relief Team to the country. It is vital for the Japanese team to co-operate with its counterparts from other countries.

A vulnerable nation

An area in and around Nepal is known to be one of the world's most quake-prone regions, where two major tectonic plates converge. In a quake that occurred in 1934, more than 10,000 people were killed.

The country lags behind greatly in its measures against earthquakes. Having no major industries other than tourism, the country's fiscal foundations are fragile, leaving the Nepalese government unable to pay much attention to disaster prevention efforts.

Most of the houses and other buildings that collapsed in the latest quake were built merely by laying bricks and fixing them with mortar.

Taking account of the characteristics of areas with soft ground in and around Katmandu, it is important to move ahead with measures to reduce disaster risk, such as making buildings more quake-resistant. Meanwhile, other countries should offer longer-term assistance for post-disaster recovery and reconstruction of the quake-stricken country, even after the search and rescue operations end.

At the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held last month in Sendai, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction was adopted. The framework calls for the international community to extend financial support, make technology transfers, and support workforce improvements in developing countries that are not sufficiently prepared to deal with major natural disasters.

The effectiveness of this framework will now be tested.

Researchers from Japanese universities and the Japan International Cooperation Agency were already working to assist Nepal, feared to be vulnerable to a major quake, in predicting quake damage and examining the disaster risk reduction system.

Japan has overcome a number of natural disasters. Its knowledge gained through these disasters should be utilized for Nepal.

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