Over the last several days the United Nations World Food Program has tried to assess the recovery of ordinary commercial operations in the impact zone. Their complete report is here. The WFP recognizes this is merely a high-elevation snapshot of a rapidly changing situation. But as of the last twenty-four to forty-eight hours, here’s what seems to be the case:
Ninety-one markets were assessed in 10 districts, 50 percent were reported as not functioning, with shops damaged/destroyed, food stocks completely depleted or ruined, or shopkeepers and traders displaced or affected. Forty percent were reported as showing early signs of recovery. These markets are currently not fully functioning and would be unable to support local demand, with a few shops open but most closed due to fear of aftershocks, structural collapse, security, or depleted stocks. Ten percent were reported as functioning, with shops open, food stocks available, but price increases and some commodities not available.
Nepal is a poor country where most of the population survives on near-subsistence agriculture. Even in the best of times, Nepal is a food-deficit economy. A 2010 report by the Food and Agricultural Organization found, “Food insecurity and hunger remain pervasive in Nepal, not only in food deficit districts but also within marginalized communities in districts with surplus food production.”
In rural areas — many not connected by roads — food stocks are maintained by individual farmers in their homes. In many cases, these homes were destroyed in the earthquake. This has seriously reduced available food stocks. The WFP report states that in the northern districts of Gorkha, Rasuwa, and Sindhupalchok preexisting foodstocks have been “completely destroyed.” The population of these three districts is over 300,000.
In many of these areas anything remotely similar to what most of us mean by a “supply chain” did not exist prior to the earthquake.
Following are emerging impressions — not final conclusions — that are prompting questions and further research. I am asking for readers to help. I am not offering a confident analysis. But at this point in time:
- It appears that Nepal’s road network, while not extensive, has largely survived the quake. There have been problems caused by landslides. But bridges and basic infrastructure have, for the most part, survived.
- Fuel deliveries have continued mostly uninterrupted. As noted in prior posts, there is a history of fuel shortages brought on by financial and organizational challenges. For the fuel network to — basically — continue at capacity in the aftermath of this quake is very helpful.
- Several Nepalis or expats returned from Nepal have told me they are surprised the telecommunications network has recovered quickly from some outages (or over-use?) immediately after the quake.
An engineer friend notes that ferro-cement is generally resilient up to an 8.0 quake. This was 7.8. Is that the crucial threshold at which modern systems cascade toward catastrophe?
None of this is meant to underplay what happened on April 25 and the terrible task ahead — as suggested by the loss of foodstocks noted above. Hundreds of thousands remain vulnerable to lack of clean water, basic sanitation, sufficient food, and minimal shelter.
But in the midst of the death and destruction are there some unexpected lessons-to-be-learned related to mitigation, resilience, and potential catastrophic thresholds?