A humanitarian crisis in the Himalayas may seem a distant concern for the three Baltic States, but the governments of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have moved quickly to provide relief to those hit by the earthquake in Nepal.
At least one Estonian citizen is among the thousands killed in Nepal during the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on 25 April, the Foreign Ministry of Estonia has confirmed. Lithuania stated that all 36 Lithuanian citizens have been accounted for, and Latvia has confirmed that the whereabouts of all of the 43 Latvians residing in Nepal are known.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry has made contact with its remaining citizens in Nepal. “We have received confirmation that they are okay and were staying in a village where there was no electricity and therefore were not able to get in touch,” said Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus.
“Currently the most important thing is to get all the Estonian citizens to Kathmandu so they can travel on to Estonia,” Foreign Minister Pentus-Rosimannus added.
In a transnational show of good faith, Russia sent two airplanes from the Russian Emergency Situations Ministry to evacuate 128 people, including Latvian and Ukrainian citizens.
The Latvian and Polish Embassies will ask for Nepal to provide air transport to evacuate existing nationals from Namche Bazaar, said Latvian Foreign Ministry press secretary Ivars Lasis.
At the initiative of the Latvian Embassy in India, a meeting of the current European Union (EU) Member States’ consular officials took place to coordinate assistance to EU citizens in Nepal. Air transport assistance will be sought for EU citizens, including climbers, to transport them to the closest airport to Namche Bazaar in Lukla, a two-day walk from Namche Bazaar. The airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world, due to the rapid changes in weather. These efforts may take several days as the main focus is on emergency assistance to the wounded.
As of May 4, the group of six climbers from Latvia, on an expedition to the Himalayas, have made it to the capital of Kathmandu early in the morning.
Without waiting for an evacuation helicopter, which is still out performing emergency rescue missions, the group flew using internal flights, and transported all their equipment.
One of the climbers, Julija Grinberga, wrote of their experiences on social media.
“We are six. We are Latvian citizens. We are in Nepal. The last few days have not been easy. Something that most have seen only on TV has happened to us. We ourselves have experienced the force of a natural disaster, surviving several earthquakes. We are very fortunate - we are alive and healthy! But the surroundings are a devastated land and despair. Minor tremors are still ongoing. Our organisers, relatives, friends are now doing everything to help us get out,” writes Grinberga.
Tremors are still felt in Kathmandu, and the group has decided to fly back to Latvia on 6 May, spending their remaining time in Nepal outside the city, in a small rural village in tents.
There were more than 40 Latvians living in Nepal at the time of the earthquake, a part of whom have already returned to Latvia.
Baltic Disaster Aid
The Baltics have announced their financial support for Nepal’s relief effort. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania will allocate EUR 18,000 from the Development Cooperation and Democracy Support Programme to Nepal, to be transferred to United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In addition to dispatching a team of 15 relief workers to Nepal, including Finnish team members, Estonian Foreign Minister Keit Pentus-Rosimannus said that Estonia has also pledged to help Nepal with EUR 50 000, transferred through the World Health Organization (WHO).
Despite best efforts, the team was turned away, as Nepal authorities told the Finnish-Estonian group on May 4 that additional assistance in search operations was not required. The plane carrying the rescuers was not granted permission to land by Nepalese authorities.
“The earthquake victims are in need of first aid and post-trauma counselling, as well as the usual medical care. Unfortunately, hospitals are overloaded or destroyed, and there is also a lack of medicines and medical instruments. People in need of medical care are being treated in the streets,” Foreign Minister Pentus-Rosimannus said.
About EUR 3 million has been allocated by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (GD ECHO) for Nepal, and also sent 9 of its experts. The European Union Member States announced jointly that they would donate EUR 22.6 million.
The 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April leaving at least 7,000 people dead and 14,000 injured. Half a million buildings have been damaged by the earthquake, with 70,000 completely destroyed, according to current estimates from the Nepalese Government’s National Emergency Operation Center.