How high is the risk of an earthquake in Nepal now?

भुकम्प [bhukampa] – earthquake
जोखिम [jokhim] – risk
मृत्यु [mRtyu] – death , मृत्युहरू [mRtyuharu] – deaths
भूमि [bhuumi] – soil, ground

When you look at the earthquake catalog of Nepal it becomes quite apparent that there are several lower magnitude earthquakes happening every year.
Nepal is a high risk earthquake nation, located at the contact line between two tectonic plates: The Indian plate which is moving north and the Eurasian plate which is moving south. In total the speed of movement between the two plates amounts to 2 meters per century. The Indian plate is pressed under the Eurasian plate, which has been creating the Himalaya for the last 45 Million years. This kind of movement creates pressure at the contact line, which can only be released through earthquakes.

The destruction by the earthquake in Nepal
Picture by Krish Dulal

Historical data shows that a major earthquake (above 8 magnitude on the Richter scale) has been happening every 80 years. The last earthquake happened in 1934, causing around 10.000 मृत्युहरू [mRtyuharu] in Nepal and the neigbouring Indian state of Bihar. Therefore the happening of the earthquake on the 25th of April 2015 aligns perfectly with the statistics.

The question now is: How high is the जोखिम [jokhim] after this भुकम्प [bhukampa]?
Obviously the likelihood of a major earthquake happening soon again is much lower, since the peak-pressure has been taken off and will need time to build again to a point where it will be released as a major earthquake. The statistics suggest every 80 years, but to actually know when the next earthquake is going to happen is difficult even in the short-term.

‘Any information about the future occurrence of earthquakes contains large uncertainties and, therefore, can only be evaluated and provided in terms of probabilities’.

says Professor Ian Maine in a ICEF report.

So basically what you need to know is this: Yes. Nepal is an earthquake high-risk country. It is important to be aware of the जोखिम [jokhim] when travelling there and to know what to do in the case of an earthquake. In 2004, during my internship with the German Embassy in Kathmandu, one of my tasks was actually reviewing and updating the earthquake emergency guidelines for the German citizens living in Nepal. Since that time I was vividly aware of the risk and the especially high risk of great damage in the Kathmandu Valley because of the soft भूमि [bhuumi].

Estimating conservatively 20.000 foreigners being in Nepal at the time of the earthquake, and assuming all missing foreigners to be dead, we arrive at a “risk” of 0.84% fatality for foreigners during the earthquake. Now estimating how likely it is is that you run into a major earhtquake during the average 4 week stay in Nepal : 0.025% (depending on the historical statistics and the size of impact of an earthquake) and multiplying those numbers you arrive at a “guesstimated” likelihood of 0,02% likelihood that you will die in Nepal due to an earthquake. Which puts it at a risk level of being 1 1/2 times as high as dying in a car accident per year if you live in the US and three times as high as dying in a car accident in Germany if you live (that is estimated for the total of population no matter if they drive a car or not).

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