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One of the most popular trekking areas of Nepal has been given the green light by experts three months after powerful earthquakes rocked the country.
The first official report on earthquake-related damage in the Annapurna region has been welcomed by the government of Nepal, trekking companies, and development agencies behind the assessment, who see it as an important step towards the country’s economic recovery.
Tourism is Nepal’s largest source of foreign income, with more than 40% of the country’s 800,000 visitors each year coming for its trekking and adventure activities.
However, operators looking for reassurance on safety for travellers in the Annapurna region have had to rely on anecdotal evidence to date.
Suresh Man Shrestha, secretary of Nepal’s ministry of culture, tourism and civil aviation, said: “There has been a decline in foreign tourists since the earthquake.
“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.”
Earthquake engineering specialists Miyamoto received funding from Samarth-UKAID on behalf of the government of Nepal in a joint public-private initiative 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 three percent of buildings which were damaged in the earthquake all easily repairable”.a
The assessment was conducted by a team of earthquake geotechnical experts, structural engineering experts, conservation officers from the Annapurna Conservation Area Project and Intrepid Travel.
The team conducted a technical inspection of the main trekking routes and selected villages ahead of the monsoon season.
Intrepid Travel CEO Darrell Wade said: “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 operator 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.
Dr Kit Miyamoto, the technical team leader and a structural earthquake engineer, said: “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.
“Conservation officers from Annapurna Conservation Area Project and trekking guides from the region were critical in helping the technical team navigate the almost 200 kilometers of trekking routes that were surveyed for earthquake-related damage.
“Annapurna is ready to open for business. The report highlights areas where organisations can help Nepal rebuild stronger than ever. We now have the information needed to take action. ”
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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