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David Morton Emphasizes Critical Role of The Juniper Fund in the Aftermath of Everest Tragedy
Posted on June 23, 2015

Tshering Doka Sherpa, mother of Chhiring Ongchu lights candles for her son on the one year anniversary of his passing.

Two months ago, when a magnitude-7.8 earthquake devastated Nepal and triggered a tragic avalanche on Mt. Everest, Eddie Bauer guide and Juniper Fund co-founder David Morton was eighty miles east in Thame. Morton was guiding a longtime client on Kyajo Ri Peak with two Sherpa friends he’d known for years, when the earth started to shake. The immediate struggle for survival turned quickly into a journey of emotional intensity and a realization of the life-shattering nature of the tragedy, especially when the first aftershock hit less than a day later. For Morton, who now serves as executive director of The Juniper Fund, the quake dramatically and suddenly expanded the mission of the philanthropic effort he co-founded with Eddie Bauer teammate Melissa Arnot—to financially support the families of all 27 high-altitude workers lost during the last two tragic seasons on the world’s tallest peak. In the following piece, he describes the critical role of The Juniper Fund and what you can do to help. —LYA Editor

DaChikki Sherpa holds her favorite photo of her son, Mingma Tenzing Sherpa. They shared a home together.

Words and Images by David Morton

So what now? Two devastating years on the busiest mountain in the Himalaya leaves many questions.

 

The earthquakes in Nepal this season have had a devastating effect on the local people, particularly those in the mountainous regions of the country. The economic and emotional damage will endure for the foreseeable future, and the loss of life, and livelihoods, has been profound. The nation is dealing with unfathomable difficulties due to the long road of rebuilding, and many of the poorest districts are the hardest hit. The expedition industry and its workers also took a hit.

“On Mt. Everest, the tragedies of April 18, 2014, in the Khumbu Icefall and of April 25, 2015, at Everest Base Camp caused dramatic casualties among local expedition workers. Twenty-seven Nepali expedition workers were killed in these two events.”

 

On Mt. Everest, the tragedies of April 18, 2014, in the Khumbu Icefall and of April 25, 2015, at Everest Base Camp caused dramatic casualties among local expedition workers. Twenty-seven Nepali expedition workers were killed in these two events. When you include all expedition worker deaths in 2014 and 2015 (to date), the number rises to 35. Expedition work is dangerous, and has devastating consequences for the families left behind. Nepal desperately needs the return of tourism to bring dollars back after the earthquake. If for you that includes climbing expeditions, it’s important to be informed about worker welfare.

Pasang Chuttin, daughter of Lhakpa Tenjing Sherpa who was killed in 2014 on Mt. Everest.

 

Tourism has been very beneficial to development in the Everest region. Health care, education, and infrastructure, including excellent electrical power, have all greatly benefited this area. But because of the weak institutions of Nepal, its anemic economic engine, and near-systemic political gridlock, there is little in the way of government support for workers. A sufficient safety net for those injured, killed, or in retirement does not exist via the government or from an industry organization. The extended family is the safety net. As it stands, the safety net is a mandatory private Nepali insurance policy. This policy pays out what is essentially three years of income for a well-employed high- altitude worker, the vast majority of whom are ethnic Sherpas.

“Expedition work is dangerous, and has devastating consequences for the families left behind. Nepal desperately needs the return of tourism to bring dollars back after the earthquake. If for you that includes climbing expeditions, it’s important to be informed about worker welfare.”

 

It is a complicated and personal decision regarding your comfort level for using workers in dangerous conditions to support your expedition. If you do choose to employ locals on climbing expeditions, you should be responsible for knowing what happens in the event of tragedy, and being engaged in the process. Ask hard questions of yourself and your outfitter: What would your involvement be after an accident? What does the employer have in place presently? Are you comfortable with the arrangement available for these workers?

Foreign aid is offered in a haphazard way, benefiting those workers who work for employers better able to call on their clients for further support. Long-term support for most workers does not exist. The industry is big enough to provide sustainable, long-term welfare to all workers. This would greatly decrease any dependency on outside aid.

 

Until a more adequate, uniform solution is found, The Juniper Fund continues to support the families by administering funds through a financial support program. We also actively take part in the welfare of the families though consistent visits, including monitoring the status of their homes after the recent earthquakes. It’s not the best model for the industry to be subsidized by outside aid in the long term. When we began The Juniper Fund in 2012, it was a surprise to learn that a number of Western operators weren’t aware that the insurance death benefit was $5,000 USD, that a policy was required by the Ministry of Tourism, or whether or not their trekking agent was charging them appropriately for this.

An older photo of Chhiring Ongchu and his family.

 

As a result of worldwide coverage in 2014 on Everest, support that included educational assistance was offered by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), in conjunction with Himalayan Trust, for the 16 victims’ families. Additionally, the Ministry of Tourism, along with the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN) and the Expedition Operator’s Association (EOA), provided a one-time financial assistance payment. We hope the educational commitments can be kept for these 16, though this limited influx of support does not extend to other families who lost workers in 2014, or the 11 who perished on Everest in 2015, or the others who have died on other mountains.

“Nearly everyone I know who climbs in the Himalaya respects these expedition workers immensely, whether they use high-altitude porters or not. The most important sign of respect would be a robust employee welfare fund that was instituted industry-wide and was compulsory.”

 

Unemployment and underemployment are extreme in Nepal, with nearly 2,000 individuals leaving each day to find work outside of the country. The recent earthquakes will only exacerbate this situation, as more income is needed for rebuilding and family support. Tourism offers excellent local work opportunities and keeps more families in the villages. Mountaineering is an important part of that tourism. Nearly everyone I know who climbs in the Himalaya respects these expedition workers immensely, whether they use high-altitude porters or not. The most important sign of respect would be a robust employee welfare fund that was instituted industry-wide and was compulsory.

Tourism needs to return to Nepal in order to help the country recover. Hopefully the trekkers and climbers will return en masse. Using high-altitude expedition workers is one aspect of tourism that should require more of your engagement. That choice should not be taken lightly. Be educated. Be informed. Make responsible choices you can live with.

In the ongoing aftermath of the quake and tragedy in Nepal, Eddie Bauer is backing David Morton and Melissa Arnot’s Juniper Fund effort to raise financial assistance support for the familes of high-altitude workers lost in the tragedy. Learn more about their mission and donate at thejuniperfund.org.

 

 

 

Author: - Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
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