Words by Peter Franklin BSc PgDip PgCert FEWM MFPHC MCPara MEPS
At 11:56 on 25 April 2015, Nepal suffered one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history when 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck. Its epicentre was located in the east of the Gorkha District, and its hypocentre was at a depth of approximately 8.2 km (5.1 miles) ……simply it was massive! 1 The earthquake was felt as far afield as China to the North and Bangladesh to the South East. It caused over $10 billion USD in damage which roughly equates to 50% of Nepal’s GDP and left nearly 9000 people dead. Approximately 22000 people were injured, and 3.5 million people were left homeless. In the year immediately post-earthquake Nepal suffered over 450 aftershocks with two aftershocks nearly as powerful as the original earthquake including a 7.3 tremor just 17 days later. 2,3
At the request of the Nepali government, humanitarian organisations responded quickly with search and rescue teams and immediate aid deploying. Work commenced almost immediately to rebuild infrastructure such as schools, health clinics, houses, livelihoods, and to help families and communities gain more resilience to environmental shocks. This is where I joined the story.
Nepal is a developing country with extremely challenging geography. Yet the most inspiring and humble of people I have met live in mountainous regions with frequent landslides effecting roads and supply lines. With an extensive background in both paramedic operations and disaster management I was invited to lead the response on behalf of the Australian Red Cross Blood Service. My primary responsibility was to deliver an $11 million project coordinating the recovery program for the Nepal Red Cross Blood Service. The earthquake had decimated the nations capacity to collect, synthesise and distribute blood to those who needed it. Unfortunately, other than the initial funding there was limited funding to achieve this. As such I was left to negotiate with multiple non-government organisations (NGO’s) to fundraise for the project. Eventually and gratefully, we secured partial funding from nine donor countries to ensure the project commenced.
The project was aimed primarily with re-establishing the blood capacity and as such the raising and building of seven medical centres within Nepal was required. However, the roads were severely damaged by the earthquake which complicated things. Added to the complexity was that Red Cross personnel were not permitted to fly. We established rapport with the Nepali stakeholders and worked with them on the identification and procurement of critical medical equipment which could be serviced and maintained in country. This strategy built on their business continuity and disaster management plans.
Additionally, as a project we provided advice and assistance to International Federation Red Cross (IFRC) societies on post-disaster response & assisted the IFRC Medical Emergency Response Group regarding emergency blood and plasma provision in disaster relief to support WHO EMT level 2 classification operations.
Once this project was established and functioning well it was handed back over to the Nepali stakeholders to develop a better sense of national ownership. As a paramedic it was an amazing experience and I was able to use my paramedic & emergency management skills to help during a desperate time. On reflection this was probably the most rewarding experience of my career and I would encourage any other paramedics out there to get involved in humanitarian organisations and give your time and skills willingly. Those interested can also look to the newly developed Faculty of Remote, Rural and Humanitarian Healthcare at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the World Extreme Medicine Academy who are at the forefront of developing healthcare in extreme conditions.
1. Facts About The Nepal Earthquake 2015 [Internet]. Trending Net Nepal. [cited 12 January 2022]. Available from: https://www.trendingnetnepal.com/facts-about-the-nepal-earthquake-2015/
2. Disaster Relief Archives | Page 8 of 13 | World Vision [Internet]. World Vision. [cited 12 January 2022]. Available from: https://www.worldvision.org/category/disaster-relief-news-stories/page/8
3. Australia's response to the Nepal earthquake [Internet]. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. 2022 [cited 12 January 2022]. Available from: https://www.dfat.gov.au/geo/nepal/australias-response-to-the-nepal-earthquakes