Nepal was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April this year and a number of aftershocks followed; being felt around the country the biggest of which hit a magnitude of 7.3 in May! Hundreds of thousands of people were made homeless with entire villages flattened across many districts. Centuries old buildings were destroyed at UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Kathmandu Valley and more than 8,000 lives were lost. The Himalayan country desperately needed outside help to rebuild the country.
In a humanitarian and relief mission, 36 Engineer Regiment deployed troops to provide immediate help to the worst affected areas as Op LAYLAND in May. This operation then subsequently turned its emphasis to construction as Op MARMAT 1. These efforts have now been followed up by a more deliberate operation Op MARMAT 2.
94 Pax from 70 Gurkha Fd Sqn, QGE and attached units deployed to Nepal for the operation on 27 and 29 Oct 15 on a reconstruction project in support of the Gurkha Welfare Scheme (GWS). Four locations were identified (Jiri, Netrakali, Gorkha and Lamjung), where help was most needed. The limited time frame of the operation made prefabricated construction the most realistic option. The squadron underwent prefabricated construction training as part of an RSOI package based out of BGK before deploying onto the ground.
In order to provide support for the troops on the ground, SHQ Tac deployed to Nepalthok establishing a forward SHQ Tac to enable G4 Support. We have been visiting both sites (Jiri and Netrakali) frequently and we are immensely impressed with the progression on the tasks, but most importantly the enthusiasm, spirit and morale of the boys! They are well settled and integrated in their respective area of responsibilities and are fully focused on their tasks and missions.
Some early updates from the units just before Christmas detailed some positive initial progress:
Update from J Troop:
J Troop are currently based in Jiri, Eastern Nepal, a small town approximately 9 hours’ drive from Kathmandu. Jiri is where Sir Edmund Hillary started his famous quest to the summit of Everest from, and it is still a popular trekking ‘start’ point for those making their way to the Himalayas, which means it has a ready supply of corner shops, tea houses and other assorted shops. The village was badly damaged as a result of the two earthquakes in April and May 2015, so we are here to construct a 4-classroom school and a 6-bedroom accommodation block for the Area Welfare Centre that assists the Gurkha pensioner community. The first week has seen us get straight into the school construction task and begin to start work on the accommodation block. We are very fortunate to have set up our tented camped in the Area Welfare Centre’s grounds which means we have running water (although it is cold!), constant electricity and even a Wi-Fi connection for us to use. Our working day usually finishes at about 1730 when we are fed an excellent ‘messing’ cooked by our chef, Pte Arjun. A range of sporting and entertainment equipment has been provided to us by the Squadron which means the chances of us becoming bored are very slim.
GOPE village, Netrakali is a small settlement 120 km southeast of Kathmandu. The journey from Kathmandu begins with a 2-hour hour road move before branching right onto a steep dirt track that, despite only being 15 miles in length, takes a further 2.5 hours to travel! The site itself is made up of three distinct terraces on a steep hillside.
An advance party was sent out on the 29th of October to the village of GOPE tasked with conducting enabling works and setting up the G4 chain; ensuring resources were readily available once the MCF arrived. On Tuesday 3rd November the main body arrived at site to find the ground had already been levelled, compacted and the strip foundations had undergone the first phase of excavation. Once the required RLS facilities were established the workforce soon went to work on the school site situated on the lower of the three terraces.
The excavation proved extremely difficult due to the amount of rock found just below the surface of the soil.
Once dug, the first layer of the strip foundation was constructed using a technique known as stone soling; commonly used in Nepal. It involves tightly packing together large rocks to provide a firm base and is often used for road construction in Nepal. Concurrently the wooden formwork was being prepared and driven into the ground to ensure the strip foundations were the correct width. With the formwork levelled and stone soling complete a 150 mm layer of concrete was poured into the foundation. After a very successful week of work in an extremely austere environment the task remains on schedule to finish in early December.