One year later: Nepali earthquake recovery moves forward [video]

Rebuilding after a natural disaster isn’t easy, and it can take years — but innovation is pointing the way forward in Nepal 12 months after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck near the country’s capital, Kathmandu.

April 25, 2016, marks the anniversary of the quake, which claimed almost 9,000 lives and affected more than 6.6 million people in Nepal, India, China and Bangladesh.

In the disaster’s immediate aftermath, relief workers rescued survivors, delivered emergency supplies and provided medical care.

Soldier carrying young child in front of helicopter (DOD)
A Nepalese soldier carries a young earthquake victim to a medical triage area in Kathmandu. (DOD)

Two FINDER (Finding Individuals for Disaster and Emergency Response) prototypes helped save lives. The devices, jointly developed by NASA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, detect movement in the same way that NASA measures planetary orbits.

Using a FINDER device, rescuers located the heartbeats of four men trapped beneath 3 meters of debris when buildings collapsed in the village of Chautara. (FINDER’s software can distinguish between animal and human heartbeats in up to 10 meters of rubble.)

Technology’s ongoing role

The humanitarian situation has steadily improved since the quake, but because it destroyed so many structures, long-term rebuilding — with the aid of technology — continues:

  • “We are using the Global Positioning System capability of tablets and smartphones to measure the location of all buildings in earthquake-hit districts, cameras to capture images of damage, and software apps to collect information” about affected populations, said Nama Budhathoki, the director of Kathmandu Living Labs. Engineers have uploaded information on 700,000 buildings so far.
  • Drones are surveying Nepal and capturing aerial images for damage assessment. U.S. tech expert Patrick Meier — founder of UAViators: Humanitarian UAV Network — is talking with Nepali physicians about the potential for drones to deliver medical supplies to remote villages.
  • SERVIR, a partnership between NASA and USAID that provides satellite data to track climate change, is supporting earthquake relief efforts with hubs in Kathmandu, East Africa and the lower Mekong.

Ongoing Nepali-U.S. collaboration, U.S. aid ($130 million) and the resourcefulness of Nepal’s tech-savvy people inspire hope that Nepal will be able to tackle the challenges of rebuilding the country.