28 Apr Nepal earthquakes awards
Australians Geoff Bartram and Andrew Lock were this year awarded the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal for their work in Nepal following the 2015 earthquakes.
In April 2015, following the first earthquake, Andrew and Geoff volunteered to travel to the Lower Solukhumbu region where the Australian Himalayan Foundation (AHF) has worked for over a decade. Unlike Kathmandu, this remote area had not yet seen any assistance from international aid agencies.
As expert mountaineers and trained disaster relief workers, Geoff and Andrew are uniquely qualified. They arrived in Nepal in early May, and brought with them several hundred kilograms of emergency supplies – tents, tarpaulins, blankets, medical supplies, lights and radios. AHF’s local partner in Kathmandu REED Nepal bought more essentials such as food (lentils, rice, apples) and drinking water.
Accompanied by two Nepali medics, REED staff and a line of porters, Andrew and Geoff’s task was to head to the Solukhumbu district to get information, and to help in any way possible.
Heading to Solukhumbu…
“For three weeks we trekked, [away from] the popular tracks to villages and townships perched uncertainly on the edges of great forested hills. In every town was damage to houses and schools” – Andrew Lock
Geoff and Andrew gave out emergency supplies, and communicated the needs of each village back to AHF. As they met injured or ill survivors they gave first aid, and in some cases arranged for evacuations to regional centres for those with life-threatening injuries.
They were in Pipalbot village near Sotang when the second earthquake struck.
“When the second earthquake struck on 12 May, its epicentre was much closer to the Solu Khumbu than the first one had been and, in many cases, it finished the work of the first. Houses that had cracked or sagged on 25 April now collapsed or teetered precariously.” – Andrew Lock
“Nothing prepared me for the sensation of the earthquake. We were climbing up to a ridge, me behind Andrew and I said to him that a helicopter was coming. The whooomp, whooomp noise got louder and then the hillside began to shake… rocks started to come from above. It was over as quickly as it started … within a short distance we came across the first family outside their house which was still standing, but split from the ground to the roof of the two storeys.” – Geoff Bartram
Dealing with the aftermath
The majority of damage was to schools. Nearly every school AHF had supported with teacher training and quality education projects for the past ten years was either damaged or completely destroyed.
Similarly, many houses and buildings were damaged or destroyed. Landslides had badly affected villages and surrounding land, wiping out tracks and paths and isolating whole communities. The terrain is tough at the best of times, but the landslides and aftershocks meant the whole emergency response group was at risk.
Still, by the end of May Andrew, Geoff and their team were able to trek to more than 20 villages, providing first aid, supplies and gathering vital information.
With thanks from Australia, and AHF
This year, the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet has awarded both Geoff Bartram and Andrew Lock the Humanitarian Overseas Service Medal. The award officially recognises “humanitarian service that gives immediate assistance to needy or distressed persons in order to sustain their life or dignity”.
The experience and skill sets of both Geoff and Andrew was exactly what the Australian Himalayan Foundation needed during the Nepal earthquakes. Their determination to help with the crisis despite the risk played an important role in aiding AHF to provide the best aid possible to remote communities.
The Australian Himalayan Foundation and the people of Nepal will be forever grateful for their critical support in their time of need.
“Us being there gave people the confidence support would come and they would not be left to rebuild alone, that we would be there to help… And the sort of support that communities need to look to a future, like rebuilding schools and getting kids back to education” – Geoff Bartram