One of Nepal’s most popular trekking areas has been given the green light by experts, three months after the country was rocked by powerful earthquakes.
The first official report on earthquake-related damage in the Annapurna region has been welcomed by the Nepalese government, as well as trekking companies and development agencies, who labelled it an important step towards the country’s economic recovery.
Tourism remains Nepal’s largest source of foreign income, with more than 40% of the country’s 800,000 visitors coming each year for trekking and adventure activities.
Tour operators seeking reassurance on safety for travellers in the Annapurna region have had to rely on anecdotal evidence to date.
“There has been a decline in foreign tourists since the earthquake,” said Suresh Man Shrestha, the ministry of culture, tourism and civil aviation’s secretary,
“Tourism is very important for Nepal’s economy and for the Nepalese people. But, we needed to assess which areas of the trekking regions have to be reconstructed for the safety of our visitors.”
In a joint public-private initiative, earthquake engineering specialists Miyamoto received funding from SAMARTH-UKAID on behalf of the government of Nepal to conduct the expert assessment.
The report confirms that the Annapurna region, located in the Himalayas in north-central Nepal, sustained “very little damage, with the 3% of buildings which were damaged in the earthquake all easily repairable.”
The assessment of the Annapurna region was conducted by Intrepid Travel, who used local mountain guides who provided their extensive knowledge of the region and insight into historical hazards, working alongside a team of earthquake geotechnical experts, structural engineering experts, conservation officers from the Annapurna Conservation Area Project (ACAP).
In a statement, Intrepid Group said the team had conducted a technical inspection of the main trekking routes and selected villages ahead of the monsoon season.
“The aim of the report was to develop an overall understanding of the extent of the damage from the earthquakes so that we could assess the safety of the region’s trekking routes,” said Dr Kit Miyamoto, the technical team leader and a structural earthquake engineer.
Darrell Wade, chief executive of Intrepid Travel added: “Like many other tour operators we’ve seen a significant slump in bookings since the quake as travellers are concerned about safety in Nepal. There’s been speculation about the condition of the treks, but we believe that the industry needed a proper assessment to make decisions based on facts.”
The company is donating all profits from the upcoming season in Nepal back to support charities in Nepal as part of the initiative to return tourism to the country.
“We’re one of the largest trekking operators in Nepal, and we know how reliant the country is on tourism so we felt a big responsibility to get things in Nepal back to normal as soon as possible by kick-starting the trekking season in September,” Wade said.
The assessment is believed to be the first ever completed by international earthquake engineering specialists on trekking routes in Nepal, and the recommendations include opportunities to manage potential hazards not associated with the April and May earthquakes.
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