Recent events on Everest, and their consequences, have focused global attention on the challenging working conditions faced by the Sherpa mountain guides who are critical to the success of any high altitude climbing expedition in the Himalaya. Far less attention has been focused on the plight of the mountain porters who act as the human pack horses for the transportation of the stores and equipment which are equally critical components of any successful expedition. The porters of the trekking industry are too often abandoned when they fall ill and frequently live and work under far more severe conditions than the people whose loads they carry. It is these brave and resourceful but vulnerable people who benefit from the work of PPUK and our associated charities Community Action Nepal (CAN) and IPPG.”
In 1997, a young Nepali porter employed by a trekking company became severely ill with altitude illness. He was paid off and sent down alone. It took just another 30 hours for him to die….He was 20 years old and left behind a wife and 2 small children.
The International Porter Protection Group (IPPG) was formed to prevent these recurring tragedies. IPPG works to improve the well being of mountain porters in the tourism industry around the world, but particularly in Nepal. IPPG’s aim is for every porter to have:
- Access to adequate clothing, boots, shelter and food (appropriate to the altitude and weather)
- Medical care when ill or injured
These aims are achieved by lobbying, education, monitoring and direct action through support of clothing banks, the construction of shelters and rescue posts.
IPPG is run entirely by volunteers with a minimum of bureaucracy. All monies raised are spent directly on various porter projects or to support other porter NGOs.
The organisation’s principal project is the Porter Shelter and Rescue Post at 4400m in Machermo Village in the SoluKhumbu (Everest) region of Nepal, and its satellite post in Gokyo Village (4750m). The Machermo Rescue Post opened in 2004, initially operating out of one of the local lodges before moving to a purpose built substantial stone building in 2006. The post is a joint project between IPPG, Community Action Nepal (CAN), The Sagamartha National Park and local villagers who make up the Local Management Committee (LMC).
The post has 3 principal roles:
1) The provision of shelter for mountain porters who prior to the opening of the post were expected to sleep outdoors in the open; in caves on the hillside or to crowd into lodge dining rooms after their western clients had gone to bed. Accommodation is provided for a nominal fee in a large dormitory. Meals are available to purchase and cooking facilities are also provided.
2) To operate as a rescue post to provide immediate care to anybody who presents to it. The seriously ill are stabilised before being evacuative to a definitive medical facility. Porters are treated for free. Local people pay a nominal charge for care and westerner’s pay the full cost of their care. On average between 300 and 500 patients are seen each year, with 20-30 evacuations of patients with life threatening altitude illness per season.
3) The education of trekkers and tourists in the avoidance, recognition and management of altitude illness and also in how to look after their porters. This is principally undertaken through a free talk at 3pm every afternoon throughout the spring and autumn trekking seasons, but also through advertising and the provision of altitude information packs at the lodges in the Gokyo Valley. In the five years between 2007 and 2012 over 8000 people attended the afternoon altitude talks at Machermo.
PPUK have a very close working relationship with IPPG (similar to that with CAN), given the obvious symmetry between our overall objectives, and in particular with Dr Nick Mason, Chair of Trustees. More details about IPPG’s activities and ways of supporting them can be found at ippg.net.