NEWSLETTERS - Everest 2014

The Daily Moraine - Everest 2014 #79 June 2014


Kathmandu Follow Up

Trying to create order from chaos

by Russell Brice

The EOA had a meeting with many of the foreign operators in Kathmandu and a letter was sent to the Ministry asking for various demands, again supporting those of the Sherpas and also asking for various assurances that will protect the operators and members in the future. However, even after two weeks the Ministry could not respond. Again the EOA met and it ended up that all the members actually went to the Ministry buildings to put pressure on the officials. I have spent the last three weeks trying to present reasonable argument, but I am sad to say that the reaction from senior officials is of contempt. This is the very best opportunity that the Ministry has ever had to make meaningful and progressive changes that will be appreciated by the Sherpa community and would demonstrate to the international community that they are serious about administration of this important tourist business. But no, they have done nothing, which is disappointing. What is even worse is that they are now embroiled in corruption, lies and deceit.

It is not fresh news that two climbers in fact carried on to attempt Everest and Lhotse. One of these, Jing Wang, was a member of our Himalayan Experience team and was trying to climb the 7 summits and the 2 poles in record time, so it is understandable after spending so much money, time and effort that she would try every way to continue. I asked that she go to the Tibetan side, but she elected to stay on the South side. I have to make it clear that I had no involvement with these new arrangements and I reported to the Ministry that my expedition was finished and that I could not be responsible for the actions of Jing and those who were supporting her. The reaction of the Ministry was to say that according to the rules I am still responsible and any breeches of those rules will be punishable by a hefty fine and a possible ban from entering Nepal or conducting business there. I could not inform the Ministry how Jing was making alternative arrangements. Basically these other operators were telling me lies, so I could not offer any more information.

Further, when I requested Phurba Gelgen, who I understood was providing the Sherpa staff for Jing and apparently organised the helicopter flights, to come to the Ministry to explain his role, I got told lies and that he is a member of the Nepal Tourist Board which apparently makes him above having to abide by laws. When asked if he had arranged insurance for the Sherpas he told our office staff that this was all arranged but then several days later the insurance company called our office to ask that the staff be on our permit. There appears to be no Liaison Officer and no permission to land helicopters, so many rules are broken. Of course, by association, I get the blame for this despite the fact that I have had nothing to do with these arrangements.

During the 2014 season, foreign operators estimate that more than 100 million dollars was spent by the International Community on Everest. Furthermore, we estimate that the total impact to the GDP of Nepal would have been in excess of 15 million dollars and that the direct income for permit fees would be approximately 3.3 million dollars. This is a huge amount of wasted money in the course of one year, and Nepal cannot afford not to gain from these incomes. Also, it is now hard for the climbing and sponsorship community to have faith in the administration of mountaineering tourism in Nepal, the long term effects will probably be quite drastic and this will have an effect on the amount of employment of the local community; not only Sherpas, but hotels, airlines, food suppliers, porters, lodges, taxi drivers and even post card sellers.

Travel and Tourism contribution is 9.4% of Nepal GDP which is forecast to rise to 11% by 2023. Travel and Tourism employs more than 1.25 million people in jobs which is 8.2 % of total employment in a country that has 46 % unemployment. Any decrease in tourism employment is a great loss to Nepal.

Because of the wide spread publicity about this unfortunate accident, 16 families have been able to rightfully gain considerable income from donations from around the world which, I have heard, is something like $800,000. Many were appalled that the Nepal government only offered $400 per victim which is of course a paltry amount. However, I heard that this was just an initial reaction from the government from a general Relief Fund which is set aside for earthquakes and such catastrophes. But in this case the huge International support for the families has watered down the demands of the Sherpas who are asking the Ministry to have a fund in place for such events in the future. The Ministry sees this outside support as a way around having such funds so they do not need to take responsibility themselves.

But what help does the Sherpa who died earlier on during the season get, and an even more sad situation of one Sherpa who survived this avalanche, but was walking home to his village a few days later and was struck by lightning and was killed, what access to funds does he have? Care needs to be taken to have a structure in place that will be able to channel donations for bereaved families of all high altitude Sherpa workers in the future.

I heard that there was yet another bus crash in Nepal just a couple of days after the avalanche in which 23 people were killed. Accidents like this happen regularly in Nepal but there is never any media attention and these poor people don’t even get even the support which the avalanche victims had. But are these people also not worthy of aid from the government as they have no insurance scheme in place for them? There are so many improvements required in the Nepal community and if the mountaineering industry can lead the way then that would be a great example.

So in conclusion, what needs to be done:
* The Ministry should set up a special committee to investigate the situation that happened this year.
* Those ring leaders that were responsible need to be held accountable.
* The Ministry needs to be overhauled from top to bottom, including the Aviation section.
* New rules and regulations need to be put in place to ensure that Sherpas are better looked after.
* New rules and regulations need to be put in place so that the investment and security of operators and members is ensured.

Will this happen, I very much doubt it under the present leadership of the Ministry? Remember that Nepal is still a developing country so we cannot expect the same standards as a first world country, but it is time that it makes some changes that are meaningful and progressive.

Footnote: That concludes this five part post mortem of the aftermath of the April 2014 avalanche on Everest.

Abbreviations: Expedition Operators Association (EOA), Himalayan Rescue Association (HRA), Khumbu Climbing Centre (KCC), Liaison Officers (LOs) Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Nepal Mountain Guides Association (NMGA)Sagarmartha Pollution Control Committee (SPCC), Trekking Agencies Association Nepal (TAAN).