Wednesday, May 06, 2015

Emergency Evacs

In the aftermath of a natural disaster, is it fair to permit emergency evacuations based on nationality?

Five year's ago we faced a similar set of questions in Japan. One of the biggest quakes of the century (9.0) had just struck Japan while we were at the University of Tsukuba. The city was about 300km away from the epicentre we had just seen a high-tech, wealthy prefecture reduced to a helpless, confused silence.

At the evacuation centre, students from various countries seemed to naturally gravitate towards their own compatriots. The Bangladeshi's quickly organised themselves into a self-help group, all the Africans huddled together in one hall, the EU folks in another corner, and everybody else tried to figure out places from where they could get food, drinking water, or even a bath.

Then came the news that the Australian government was sending a bus to ferry all the Australians from Tsukuba to Narita airport. At the time we greeted the news with a mix of envy and relief. Envy for those who found an easy way out, and relief that there would be so much less strain on limited supplies.

The recent earthquake in Nepal brought back these memories, and raised them to an altogether different level.

A friend in Kathmandu operates a travel company that promotes social tourism. Since many of his clients had got stranded in remote rural areas, he spent considerable money and time in hiring helicopters to get them out. When the locals realised that the rescuers had come in to pick up only foreigners, and that they did not have space to accommodate even the seriously wounded villagers, they had started pelting stones at the choppers. Luckily, in this case, an air crash did not add to the body count.

Then came this news about Langtang village in northern Nepal. The entire village was flattened, burying about 100 foreign trekkers and 150 Nepali's. Here is a excerpt from the report -

On the third day after the quake a helicopter landed, but hopes of rescue were dashed when the pilots said they were only there to evacuate Japanese nationals.
A few hours later two more choppers came, this time with an order to evacuate only Israelis -- although they did agree to take the two wounded Nepalis after the hikers protested.
After another 36 hours had passed with no sign of helicopters the mood in the village grew increasingly sombre, until (somebody) finally spotted a US chopper, which made multiple trips and flew them (foreigners) all to safety.
I keep wondering how the tourists felt about their cut-and-run response...
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