Print Edition - 2014-10-21  |  Development

Advanced intervention

  • Experts suggest setting up modern weather forecast technology and introducing policies to ensure safety of trekkers and mountaineers
- SANGAM PRASAIN
Advanced intervention

Oct 20, 2014-

Less than six months after an avalanche in Mt Everest killed 16 mountain guides, 39 people have lost their lives in Annapurna and Dhaulagiri mountain regions in one of the worst trekking disasters this past week.

The government rescued more than 400 trekkers, including 216 foreigners, from the high altitude districts of Mustang, Manang, Myagdi and Dolpa that were hit by blizzards and avalanches. More than 45 choppers were mobilised over four days to rescue the stranded trekkers.

These two incidents could peg back the growth of Nepal’s tourism industry which has been struggling to attain the long-held target of bringing in a million tourists annually.  Analysts argue the incident could damage the reputation of the country’s tourism industry that started picking up since 2011, after the Maoist insurgency deterred potential tourist growth for a decade.

“Obviously, the chain of misfortunes do not augur well for the growth of tourism,” says Prof Hari Sarmah, CEO of Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents. “These incidents call for an immediate need for investing on advanced climate technologies to ensure safety of trekkers and mountaineers in Nepal.”  

Tourism entrepreneurs are upbeat of late, because of growth in the number of tourist arrival. Hoteliers are on an expansion spree, adding to the existing inventory or constructing new properties, in view of the improved scenario. The government has also launched an ambitious Vision 2020 campaign to boost the number of annual tourist arrival to two million. All these expectations could take a hit if a prompt action is not taken to address the safety issue of trekkers and mountaineers, says Sarmah.

The Trekking Agencies Association of Nepal (Taan) has blamed the “policy lapses” of the government for the disaster in the Annapurna region. Taan President Ramesh Dhamala says they had proposed the government several times to monitor trekking guides, enforce one-trekker one-guide policy, set up four porter shelters along the Annapurna circuit and training manpower serving in the high-altitude regions. None of the suggestions were heeded, claims Dhamala.

“Snowfall and strong winds are normal in the high-altitude regions, but the questions is what precautions measures should be applied to prevent accident. Guides are not properly trained and many lacks safety ideas on how to response on such situations. Even trekkers are found trekking the areas wearing sandals.”  

The Annapurna region witnessed unseasonal snowfall and high wind, which arose from Cyclone Hudhud in south eastern part of India, but the guides were  apparently forced to continue their ascent to 4,540m Thorong Phedi despite the inclement weather. Many trekkers choose to spend the night in Thorong Phedi before attempting to trek across Thorong La pass. “Had there been a porter shelter in the areas, we wouldn’t be dealing with high number of casualties,” says Dhamala.

He believes that the accidents in Manang and Mustang districts were due to negligence of untrained guides who did not know how to deal with the situation. “We can do nothing about avalanches, but casualty from blizzard could have been prevented.”

There are three major trekking routes in the Annapurna region--the Jomson trek to Jomsom and Muktinath, the Annapurna sanctuary route to Annapurna base camp, and the Annapurna circuit which circles the Annapurna itself and includes the Jomsom route.

According to Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the Tourism Ministry, many trekkers were found buried under snow and some were seen rushing to Thorong Phedi as they thought it might be safe reaching there.

While experts suggest that the government should invest on advanced weather forecast technologies, Taan has called for enforcing no trekking without guide policy without any delay.

Taan has been lobbying for the policy since a long time to ensure safety of trekkers and generate employment.  Dhamala says about 85 percent of the trekkers in Annapurna circuit were not assisted by guides.  Keeping in mind the safety and security of trekkers, the Tourism Ministry on Monday decided to implement various safety measures, including strengthening Trekkers Information Management System, introducing trekking insurance policy, disseminating weather reports for trekkers and making compulsory of communication equipment. The government also plans to construct shades and tents at an interval of every 60 minutes walking distance along the trekking routes for emergency, set up search and rescue fund, introduce trekkers tracking system and encourage trekkers to take enough clothes, foods and equipment. The Tourism Ministry records show that 113,213 trekkers visited the Annapurna region last year while the Everest region received 36,750 visitors.

Published: 21-10-2014 09:17

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