Nepal is a beautiful, diverse country strategically positioned between the major Asian powers, India and China. Underlying Nepal’s physical beauty, however, are political instability and economic stagnation, widespread poverty, and the constant risk of natural disaster. A decade-long war in the 1990s ousted the former monarchy and brought democracy to this small mountain nation. However, the process of forging a lasting peace while implementing constitutionally mandated reforms has been slow, leading to underperforming state institutions and a lack of proper resources.
The destructive earthquake that struck Nepal in April 2015 exacerbated these issues. In the capital, Kathmandu, the quake devastated neighborhoods, destroyed ancient temples, and damaged thousands of buildings. In the more remote parts of the country, the damage was even worse, with entire villages destroyed by mudslides. In total, the earthquake killed over 9,000 people, injured 22,000, and displaced countless more. Nepal is still working to recover today, more than a year and a half later.
The 2015 earthquake was an extreme example of the risks faced by this disaster-prone country when the same force that forged the Himalayas turns deadly. The Nepalese government and military responded quickly to the earthquake with all available resources. However, they lacked the capacity to quickly reach many remote areas and properly equip all of their response teams. Today, even as the country continues its post-2015 earthquake recovery, the government is looking to build its capacity to respond to future disasters. These include not just earthquakes but also mudslides and flooding caused by the annual monsoon rains, as well as avalanches, storms, and altitude sickness that routinely endanger those living and working in the nation’s Himalayan areas, including many American tourists, guides, and climbers.
The US Military’s Pacific Command (PACOM) has identified search and rescue (SAR) as a key area for cooperation and capacity building in Nepal. Working with the Mahabir Rangers, one of the nation’s most elite units, a highly trained US Air Force Special Tactics Team with specialized rescue skills is looking to further develop the capacity of the Rangers’ Disaster Assessment and Response Teams. These three teams of 15 men each have considerable skills, expertise, and knowledge, which will be further developed by the US Air Force participants. However, they lack the necessary equipment to fully bring their talents to bear. New ropes, helmets, harnesses, climbing equipment, and tools will allow these brave men to better respond to the multitude of disasters they see each year.
Exchange training exercises, such as this one, focus on small unit leadership and tactics training while incorporating specific geographical, cultural, and language training. These training events are an important piece of America’s military-to-military engagement program and allow US forces to enhance their skills by training in culturally and geographically diverse areas. The overall aim of the program is to enhance the familiarity of U.S. forces in various areas of the region and exchange best practices with other military forces while also building the capacity of our Host Nation Partners.
Increasing the capacity of the first responders in a disaster leads directly to saved lives. Real-time training with the proper equipment is essential to ensure preparedness during the critical first hours and days of disaster response. The equipment purchased with your help will enhance the training provided by US Air Force team and ensure Nepal is better prepared for the all too common natural threats this Himalayan nation faces.