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Nepal provides more doctors and rescue equipment at Everest base camp

Jason Burke in DELHI: Nepal is to increase the number of medical staff at the Everest base camp and improve provision for rescues on the mountain in an effort to cut casualties among climbers and support staff.

The move comes as climbers start arriving for the busiest season on the world’s highest peak.

Nepal and the mountaineering world were shaken last year after 16 local guides were killed by an ice avalanche. The incident, Everest’s deadliest,prompted calls for fundamental reform of the way commercial expeditions are managed and more protection for support staff working with fee-paying climbers.

The course of the standard route taken by most climbers of the 29,000ft (8,848m) mountain has been changed to avoid a repeat of the tragedy.

“We have all learned a terribly tragic and expensive lesson. We have lost our brothers,” said Tashi Tenzing, a climber and grandson of Tenzing Norgay, one of the first two men to summit the mountain. “Everyone will be much more cautious and aware of the dangers of Everest. Hopefully we will all have a good climb.”

Devi Bahadur Koirala, of the Himalayan Rescue Association Nepal, said that four doctors, rather than the previous two or three, would be stationed in the emergency room tent at base camp, at 17,380ft (5,300m). Rescue helicopters would airlift the sick or injured out from base camp within 90 minutes, Koirala added. Previously, each team had to arrange its own rescue, which would often take hours.

Climbers would first be treated at the base camp, at 17,380ft, and then flown toa clinic at lower altitude and, if necessary, to Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.

Expedition staff have been campaigning for better healthcare and insurance and more substantial compensation for injury or death. Top local guides can earn up to $7,500 (£5,000) in a season, more than 10 times the average annual earnings in Nepal. Clients pay up to $50,000 (£35,000) for a place on an expedition up the mountain.

During the spring climbing season, which runs from 1 March to 31 May, there are sometimes up to 400 foreign climbers attempting to scale Everest. Their local guides and support staff swell the base camp’s population to more than 1,000. In addition, hundreds of trekkers hike up to the base camp.

Last year’s avalanche struck the infamous Ice Fall, a maze of crevasses and giant cliffs just above base camp. “The new route avoids the worst area for avalanches and that will help a lot, but it is much harder work to [build],” said Tashi Tenzing.

Nepal was criticised for not having a disaster rescue plan or any government presence at the base camp, despite charging climbers thousands of dollars in permit fees.

This year, officials will be present at base camp throughout the climbing season to provide security, settle disputes among climbers and monitor the activities of the hundreds of climbers and guides at the base camp. They will also provide information on climbing conditions, weather, and carry communication equipment.

More than 4,000 climbers have scaled Everest since 1953, when it was first conquered by the New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide, Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds of others have died in the attempt.

This month, the chief of Nepal’s mountaineering association said the human waste left by climbers on Everest was causing pollution and threatening to spread disease.

Ang Tshering said Nepal’s government needed to get the climbers to dispose of the waste properly so that the mountain remained pristine. Climbers spend weeks acclimatising around the four camps set up between the base camp and the 29,035ft summit. The camps have tents and some essential equipment and supplies, but do not have toilets.

“Climbers usually dig holes in the snow for their toilet use and leave the human waste there,” Tshering said, adding that the waste has been “piling up” for years around the four camps.

Dawa Steven Sherpa, who has been leading Everest cleanup expeditions since 2008, said some climbers carried disposable travel toilet bags to use in the higher camps. “It is a health hazard and the issue needs to be addressed,” he said.

Nepal’s government has not come up with a plan yet to tackle the problem of human waste. But the officials stationed at the base camp will strictly monitor litter on the mountain, said Puspa Raj Katuwal, head of the government’s mountaineering department.

The government imposed new rules last year requiring each climber to bring back down to the base camp 8kg (18lb) of rubbish, the amount it estimates a climber discards along the route. Climbing teams must leave a $4,000 deposit, which they lose if they do not comply with the regulations, Katuwal said.

:: Rescue helicopters will take sick or injured climbers out of base camp, pictured, within 90 minutes. Previously, each team had to arrange its own rescue, which would often take hours. Photograph: Alamy (Source: The Guardian)

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