Nepal’s Sherpas have demanded compensation of US$10,000 for the families of 16 colleagues dead or missing in an avalanche on Mt Everest and double the insurance cover for expeditions on the world’s highest mountain.
The Nepalese government has announced an immediate payment of US$400 to the victims’ families to cover funeral costs.
However, there is no provision for compensation for Sherpas, who are hired by international expeditions to carry gear, and in the past, these groups have provided financial assistance on their own in the event of accidents.
On Sunday, Sherpas with 31 foreign expeditions held a meeting at the base camp of the 8,850m summit and agreed to launch protests if their demands are not met.
At least 13 guides were killed, three are still missing and at least three others are under intensive care for broken limbs, ribs, blood clots and other injuries in Kathmandu hospitals after an avalanche swept the Khumbu Icefall on Friday.
The men were trying to fix ropes, and crack snow and ice to carve out a route for foreign climbers when they were caught in the avalanche on one of the most dangerous parts of the climb to Everest.
Besides the cash compensation, the mountain guides have demanded that the government pay for the treatment of the injured and raise the insurance cover to US$20,000.
“If the demands are not met, we will be forced to launch strong protests for the sake of daily bread of the entire Sherpa community,” the Sherpas said in a statement.
It was not clear what form the protests might take if the demands were not met. Some guides have asked for the mountain to be closed to expeditions during the popular climbing season that runs through May this year as a mark of respect for the dead.
Guiding foreign climbers is the main livelihood for Sherpas, helping them make up to US$5,000 a year in a country with an average annual income of just more than US$700.
Ang Tshering Sherpa of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said the guides had given the government seven days to fulfill their demands.
“There is a situation of conflict up in the mountain. It is serious and could have far reaching consequences for climbing in Nepal,” he said. “So the government must act on their demands immediately.”
The accident has reignited debate on the risks Sherpas take and about overcrowding on Everest, where the number of fatal accidents has risen in the past decades as more and more commercial expeditions are launched.
The Nepalese government has issued 334 permits this season, up from 328 last year.