These accidents are very personal tragedies for a family. The emotional devastation and subsequent healing process is real and lengthy, as with any population in any country or region. These personal tragedies are compounded by the fact that there is limited economic support that can be counted upon. The Juniper Fund's cost of living expenses program allows a number of years to recover without the added burden of financial survival.
Most to the point, it’s important to become an educated consumer. We hope you'll be an advocate as well. And spread the word.
Ask yourself why a particular outfitter could cost half of another more expensive outfitter. The lower costs often come because the local staff are being paid very poorly, are not trained, do not have the requisite equipment, or potentially are working for someone not abiding by regulations, etc. Ask the outfitter these questions.
Because of the weak institutions of Nepal, it’s sputtering economic engine, and near systemic political gridlock there is very little in the way of government support for workers, or a safety net for those injured, killed or in retirement. The extended family is the safety net. As it stands, the only requirement is the insurance. Other limited local support within the industry, including some monetary support, has been offered by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA), Trekking Agents Association of Nepal (TAAN), and the Expedition Operators Association (EOA).
Other help is offered from organizations and donors outside of Nepal. This is essentially filling a gap that should be met by the industry, either privately or by government mandates. Ideally systemic change will eliminate the need for outside aid and the industry will be sustainable and accountable on its own within some framework provided by Nepal’s government entities. This can’t be counted on presently. By the same token the industry should not be subsidized by outside aid in the long term. The significant foreign funds raised after a tragedy have the unintended result of taking some of the responsibility away from the government by relying on foreigners to come through with aid to the families. Until an adequate solution is found we continue to support the families and administer funds through our responsible and effective programs.
This is where your education as a consumer is important. You have a personal responsibility to be educated in your decision as a customer in the industry. Be actively engaged in the decisions you make.
It is a personal choice as to whether you're comfortable using workers in dangerous conditions to support your expedition. We believe if you choose to employ locals on climbing expeditions you should be responsible for knowing what happens in the event of tragedy. What happens if a local worker is killed supporting your expedition once you return home. What would your involvement be? Ask hard questions of yourself, your outfitter and your Trekking Agent.
Often local Nepali or Sherpa operators have poor track records in terms of taking care of their workers. This includes lower compensation levels, inability to provide or secure aid to families who lose a worker, insufficient training, insufficient gear, etc. There are both local and foreign operators that are problematic. A significant number are Nepali operators. This occurs due to a variety of factors but often they don’t have access to wealthier clients who can help support the infrastructure needed for a more responsible organization. They seize the opportunity that tourism offers in an environment with little regulation and little other opportunity.
If you are participating in an expedition in the Himalaya whether privately or commercially, it shouldn’t be a matter of pride that you paid such a low price for your trip, because often there’s a local mountain worker and his family on the losing end of that deal.
Be educated. Be informed. Make responsible choices you can live with.