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Gurkhas end earthquake response mission

09 December 2016

The Gurkha mission to help Nepal’s recovery from last year’s devastating earthquakes ended today as the final soldier pulled out from a remote construction site deep in the Himalayan foothills.

About 90 troops including 50 specialists from the Queen’s Gurkha Engineers (QGE) were deployed to Nepal in September as part of Operation MARMAT 4 – meaning ‘rebuild’ in Nepali. The team has built a quake-resistant school and a number of homes for Gurkha veterans in Lamjung district, near the epicentre of the 7.8 magnitude quake in April 2015.

This is the final chapter in the British Army’s efforts to assist the Nepali Government’s disaster response. By working with its partner charity, The Gurkha Welfare Trust (GWT), the UK Brigade of Gurkhas has provided aid to thousands of Nepali citizens over the last 18 months. 

In the video, John White of the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

Gurkha veterans

After initially deploying to support the immediate humanitarian relief efforts, the emphasis soon turned to reconstruction. Following the monsoon, troops returned to the country in October 2015 and spent eight months supporting GWT’s long-term response for Gurkha veterans, their families and wider communities.

Sergeant Major Birendra Kambang, who has over 20 years’ experience in QGE, including seven tours of Iraq and Afghanistan, is preparing to return to the UK after his second stint with Op MARMAT. Birendra said: “We arrived in the tail end of a long monsoon, which made the initial construction work especially challenging.

“The guys showed real resilience to get through those early weeks when many locals were away celebrating the major Nepali festivals. They worked incredibly hard because they wanted to complete the mission before they left.

“Now it’s over they have a real sense of achievement. To start from scratch and leave behind something that the children will use for many years to come – the guys can be very proud of what they’ve done.”

Royal Gurkha Engineers working on the school rebuild in Nepal.

Pictured: Gurkha soldiers working on the school rebuild in Nepal.

'Amazing feats'

Royal Gurkha Engineers working on the school rebuild in Nepal. Major Robert Oakes, the senior officer for the last leg of the mission, said: “It’s been a real test of everyone’s flexibility and ingenuity. We’ve had to adapt some local construction techniques, in some extreme terrain and weather at the end of a very long line of communication.

“The Gurkha Sappers, with wider Brigade of Gurkhas and Army personnel supporting them, have achieved some amazing feats in support of those in need, in a very short space of time.”

The Gurkha Welfare Trust has an extensive network for delivering aid in Nepal having operated in the country since 1969. Op MARMAT’s contribution is part of the charity’s wider ambition to help build or repair over 1,700 Gurkha homes, 600 water supply systems and 220 schools across Nepal by 2020.

Regional seismologists predict that further earthquakes are likely to occur in Nepal, a risk that was highlighted by a 5.6 magnitude tremor last month. In light of this, the need for quality, quake-resistant construction is pressing.

Fitting way to support Nepal

The head of GWT’s earthquake response, John White, said: “Op MARMAT offers a true Rolls Royce solution. The work they’ve carried out serves as an example to all of our other construction teams working in the hills and they’ve been generous in sharing their expertise with our own staff and local labourers.

“The Brigade of Gurkhas brought a huge boost to our response over the last 18 months, from bolstering the immediate relief effort to giving real impetus to our rebuilding work. It’s a fitting way to support Nepal after 200 years of friendship.”

Operation MARMAT Facts and Figures

Op MARMAT overall (Apr 15 to Dec 16)

·         7 Toyota Landcruisers broken due to the roughness of the terrain

·         7,700 km travelled in the hills replenishing troops in the field

·         71 buildings constructed

·         1,800 sheets of corrugated iron sheets used for roofing

·         14,121 portions of dal bhat eaten by the troops

Op MARMAT 1 (Apr to Jul 15)

·         96 personnel providing emergency relief across severely affected areas

·         7,000+ CGI sheets distributed for temporary shelters

·         6,000 kg of rice distributed

·         1 semi-permanent Welfare Centre built in Dolakha District

·         1 semi-permanent school built in Gorkha District

Op MARMAT 2 (Oct 15 to Feb 16)

·         82 personnel, working up to 160 km from base location (Kathmandu)

·         5 semi-permanent schools, 2 semi-permanent community halls and 4 Gurkha homes built in Sindhuli, Gorkha and Lamjung Districts

Op MARMAT 3 (Feb to Jun 16)

·         29 personnel supporting 60 Locally employed civilians working 180 km from base location (Kathmandu)

·         38 Gurkha home builds supervised in Ramechhap District

Op MARMAT 4 (Sep to Dec 16)

·         89 British Army personnel involved including from each of the core Gurkha Regiments – Rifles, Signals, Engineers and Logistics

·         Rebuilt Amar Jyoti Lower Secondary School in Simi village, Lamjung district (28°16'53.0"N 84°31'41.0"E)

·         Supervised 19 Gurkha home builds in Lamjung, Gorkha and Syangja districts

·         School construction site 120 km from base location (Pokhara)

·         School is 1,630m above sea level

·         Provides education to 125 children who walk up to 2 hours to attend

·         School built using 28,000 bricks and 5,000 reinforcing links cut and bent by a team of 4 soldiers

·         The 8-classroom, earthquake-resistant school costs around £80,000

·         10th school rebuilt by GWT since the earthquakes, with 13 more to be completed by the monsoon in 2017

·         GWT has already built 622 homes in the Himalayan foothills

·         £7.25 million already spent by GWT on earthquake response

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