October 21, 2014


[The bodies of poorly paid tour guides in casual clothing are recovered from the Nepal avalanche disaster as anger mounts over western trekkers being favoured in rescue mission]

By Dean Nelson, Jomsom

Tour guides caught in the snow storm which struck a Himalayan trekking route in Nepal died because they were so poorly equipped, rescue leaders have said amid resentment that foreign hikers are “put first” in the rescue mission.

The Nepal Army’s top rescue leader, who led more than 70 hikers to safety following the storm and has since recovered the bodies of 25, said local victims had been wearing causal clothes, including flip flops or trains.

Half of the dead were Nepali porters, guides and cooks, many of whom did not have did not have any warm weatherproof coats or boots to protect them from the freezing snow storm, Captain Adhikari said.

His comments came as the rescue team recovered the 40th victim of the devastating blizzard and warned that some of the dead may not be recovered from the snow until next Spring
“The worst thing was [seeing] the equipment and gear of the Nepali porters and guides because it meant they were dead, but they were not well-equipped,” he said.

 “The Nepalis I saw were wearing normal dress, some of them in slippers, some had coats and some didn’t. They did not have proper clothes or protection from the snow...this could be a factor in why so many Nepalis died.”

Tour operators charge up to £1,800 for a three week trek around the Annapurna circuit, but Captain Adhikari said “they’re not spending it on the porters”. Some carry equipment weighing up to 40 kilograms on their backs and earn as little as £9 a day.

His comments were supported by Baburam Bhandari, the Nepal government’s chief district officer in charge of the rescue effort in Mustang, where most of the victims were found dead.

“There was no preparation. Many trekkers that came into the storm arrived without planning,” he said.

“Their porters had no trekking shoes or coats. They were in sports shoes and normal clothes because they’re poor - it is one of the causes of their deaths. Some of them died because they were too cold - it was freezing snow, five or six feet deep.”

Foreign trekkers have prioritised in the rescue effort because because many had travel insurance which provided helicopter evacuation for them, but not their guides and porters.

The army’s helicopters cannot fly to some of the higher paths and passes and their rescue teams have had to rely on private operators focussed on evacuating foreign trekkers.

The Israeli and Swiss embassies are believed to have sent helicopters to recover their nationals stranded on the passes.

One trekker said a Dutch man had been refused a seat on a helicopter sent by the Israeli government by a crew member who said told him it was for “Israelis only”.

“The foreigner is the guest, the sponsor, so the foreigner comes first, it is [a] problem,” Mr Bhandari said.

Keshav Pande of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal said his group offers low cost clothing and equipment rental for porters and guides but many of them believe they do not need them.

Foreign trekkers often hire their own guides directly, rather than through established trekking companies, and are focussed on keeping their costs down.

“If the group is organised they have all the equipment but the tourists want cheaper, they get someone from the street [to guide them]. They want cheap, cheap, cheap”, he said.

@ The Telegraph
[In late September, when she was sentenced to four years in prison for illegally enriching herself during the first of her three terms as chief minister, party faithful entered into a period of demonstrative public grieving, with many party members shaving their heads, fasting or keeping vigil outside her prison cell.]

By Ellen Barry
NEW DELHI — Jayalalithaa Jayaram, the former chief minister of Tamil Nadu who was convicted of corruption charges last month, promised this week to give compensatory payments of about $4,800 each to the families of 193 followers who are said to have died or committed suicide out of distress because of her imprisonment.

Ms. Jayaram, who was released on bail on Saturday pending an appeal, commands extraordinary devotion even by the operatic standards of South Indian politics.

In late September, when she was sentenced to four years in prison for illegally enriching herself during the first of her three terms as chief minister, party faithful entered into a period of demonstrative public grieving, with many party members shaving their heads, fasting or keeping vigil outside her prison cell.

Almost immediately, accounts emerged of followers who had committed suicide over the case, though it was impossible to independently confirm the reports.

Ms. Jayaram’s party, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, claims that 193 people committed suicide or died of shock while she was behind bars, though that number includes 139 people who died of heart attacks during that period. Seventeen of the reported suicides were self-immolations, 20 were hangings and nine were deaths by poison, it said.

C. Ponaiyan, the party’s state organization secretary, said officials made home visits to interview families and friends to determine whether reported deaths were actually because of Ms. Jayaram’s legal predicament.

“If the local public at large says that so-and-so died because he was not eating for the past so many days, we can figure the heart attack might have taken place as a result of the trauma,” he said. “That so-and-so had been weeping and crying since the past so many days is enough to tell us the condition of the person’s heart and state of mind.”

Officials from a rival party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, have questioned the veracity of the reported suicides. M. G. Devasahayam, a community activist, told the newspaper The Hindustan Times that the figure of 193 was “highly exaggerated and absurd.”

Ms. Jayaram returned to her home in Chennai, the state capital, over the weekend, and released an impassioned statement to her followers, promising them she “would not be cowed down or lose heart.”

“My public life amounts to swimming in a sea of inferno,” she said. “As your dear sister, I have realized the perils of dedicating oneself for the cause of public welfare from the day I entered politics.”

Suhasini Raj contributed reporting.