Nepal then and now BLOGAlmost every news outlet is calling this week’s earthquake ‘the worst disaster to hit Nepal since 1934’. But what exactly happened 80 years ago – and how did the Red Cross help?

There’s precious little good news coming out of Nepal this week.

The death toll is rising. Infrastructure is hopelessly compromised. Getting enough food, shelter and medical care to so many people is going to be a huge challenge.

But there are positives in even the grimmest situations. For one thing: modern communications and transport have transformed disaster response in recent years.

Nepal-running-stretcher-BLOGAfter this quake hit, a global fundraising effort was underway in hours. Expert rescue teams criss-crossed the world in a single day to help. Aid agencies are virtually queuing up to bring in relief, and many governments are digging deep to help.

What’s more, much of the local population in Nepal has been training and preparing for just such an event for years.

Catastrophic quake

It’s all a far cry from when the last great disaster struck the region.

The Nepal-Bihar earthquake of 1934, which hit the Kathmandu Valley and northern India, was by any account a monumental disaster.

Nepal-rubble-1934Bigger and more powerful than the current earthquake – it measured 8.1 magnitude and covered four times the surface area – the quake had a catastrophic impact.

More than 10,600 people died. Entire cities were levelled. A huge sandy fissure (known as the Slump Belt) opened up and stretched 300 kilometres across the region, swallowing up buildings. It was relentless.

Massive relief operation

But even by the 1930s, the Red Cross was already an international movement with a global reach.

As soon as news of the disaster got out, Red Cross organisations across the world responded immediately.

Nepal-temple-1934-BLOGWorking together, countries as disparate as New Zealand, Turkey, Egypt, Switzerland, Germany (and, of course, Britain) cranked a massive relief operation into gear.

They pledged money. They launched appeals. They sent emergency supplies to the Indian Red Cross, which was co-ordinating much of the relief work.

One big family

Long before jumbo planes, satellite phones and computerised logistics systems appeared on the scene, the international Red Cross movement put together a mammoth response that saved many lives.

It’s remarkable now to think of how much was done with so few resources. But the words of an Indian Red Cross spokesman at the time capture how much it must have meant.

Nepal-old-image-3-1934-BLOGHe said: “The response was exceedingly generous and we rejoice at this proof of the solidarity of the Red Cross family.

“In the case of [the] Bihar [earthquake], Red Cross Societies from all over the world came to our assistance, and we wish to record our gratitude for their timely aid.”

Donate to the Nepal Earthquake Appeal.

Why Kathmandu was so vulnerable to the threat of an earthquake.