Pain Con­tin­ues

The earth­quake in Nepal now seems to be fad­ing in in­ter­na­tional mem­ory as there is a thin­ning out in re­lief ef­forts while the lo­cal bu­reau­cracy con­tin­ues to quib­ble over aid dol­lars.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Asna Ali The writer is a busi­ness grad­u­ate. She has an in­ter­est in po­lit­i­cal and so­cial is­sues.

There are a few things that ex­pose the cracks in a so­ci­ety and gov­ern­ment in­fra­struc­ture faster than a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter. The Nepalese found this out in the days fol­low­ing the earth­quake that killed thou­sands, wiped out en­tire com­mu­ni­ties and left many cut off in re­mote re­gions with no ac­cess to help and lit­tle hope of re­lief.

Aid flooded in soon af­ter but the poorly re­sourced coun­try was sim­ply over­whelmed by a calamity that even a most equipped and pre­pared coun­try would have had a tough time deal­ing with. As Nepal’s only func­tion­ing in­ter­na­tional air­port be­came un­able to cope with the ar­riv­ing aid pack­ages and work­ers, a litany of com­plaints rose against the gov­ern­ment’s poor re­sponse in the emer­gency sit­u­a­tion.

Tales of cor­rup­tion, mis­man­age­ment and in­ep­ti­tude started to pour in. Re­lief work­ers ex­pressed their frus­tra­tion at hav­ing been ham­pered by red tape. In a sit­u­a­tion where the small­est de­lays could re­sult in many more deaths, the Nepalese gov­ern­ment was blamed for block­ing the way for aid to get to the hard­est hit ar­eas.

The dol­lars do­nated for the earth­quake re­lief are nowhere near enough to even get the ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture back up again be­fore the mon­soon sea­son. The gov­ern­ment was blamed for di­vert­ing funds into pri­vate cof­fers rather than to­wards aid work; this low­ered donor trust and dis­cour­aged peo­ple from giv­ing.

If all this was not bad enough, some re­ports al­leged that prices of es­sen­tial sup­plies such as medicines, tar­pau­lins, food and wa­ter had been hiked up man­i­fold. De­spite gov­ern­ment or­ders to not charge for med­i­cal treat­ment, many hos­pi­tals con­tin­ued to do so at ex­or­bi­tant rates, adding to the suf­fer­ing. These charges are now be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by the gov­ern­ment but the dam­age the ac­tions in­flicted in the days fol­low­ing the earth­quake must be colos­sal.

Aid work did im­prove as more and more he­li­copters ac­cessecd far-flung ar­eas but the ini­tial re­sponse left many peo­ple irate and look­ing for an­swers. The Nepalese gov­ern­ment was not in the best of shape even be­fore it had any ma­jor cri­sis on its hands. The coun­try’s path to democ­racy has been bumpy and lit­tered with road­blocks. A Con­sti­tu­tion has still not been agreed upon and the gov­ern­ment has been at best. The Nepalese peo­ple’s frus­tra­tions have con­tin­ued to grow over the past sev­eral years as they have seen politi­cians root for per­sonal gains rather than the greater good.

Nepal is a coun­try di­vided along eth­nic and sec­tar­ian lines. This di­ver­sity has made it dif­fi­cult for all the var­i­ous in­ter­est groups to reach com­mon

ground and find a fi­nal so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of a con­sti­tu­tion that will unify the whole coun­try in a man­ner more or less agree­able to all. The po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis has played a role in slow­ing down Nepal’s steps to­wards its goals of be­com­ing eco­nom­i­cally in­de­pen­dent. Parts of the coun­try in­hab­ited by eth­nic mi­nori­ties tend to be poorer and more or less ig­nored.

All this came into play in the af­ter­math of the earth­quake that shat­tered what lit­tle grip the Nepalese gov­ern­ment had over the af­fairs of the state. It is de­plorable but not at all sur­pris­ing that in a coun­try where cor­rup­tion is rife, this cri­sis has been used by many to line their own pock­ets. It is now time for Nepal’s politi­cians to pull to­gether at least over this one is­sue and en­sure that their coun­try­men do not get the short end of the stick be­cause of their in­com­pe­tency.

The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity and es­pe­cially Nepal’s clos­est neigh­bours did pull to­gether and come to its aid but the lethargy of the post dis­as­ter re­sponse has left a bad taste in many mouths. It is well-known that aid and sup­port tends to dry up fast once a dis­as­ter stops be­ing head­line news. What with the poor pub­lic­ity the Nepalese gov­ern­ment has re­ceived and the short at­ten­tion span of the gen­eral public, it is likely that the plight of the peo­ple may get buried un­der bad press fo­cused on the in­com­pe­tency dur­ing re­lief work.

Once the media has de­parted and so have most of the aid work­ers, only the Nepalese gov­ern­ment and the mil­lions look­ing to it for sup­port will be left be­hind. The sheer scale of de­struc­tion that the earth­quake has left be­hind is such that even with ded­i­cated ef­forts from all quar­ters and suf­fi­cient funds, it will take years be­fore the coun­try can re­build all that it has lost. Amongst the ca­su­al­ties of the dis­as­ter are the his­tor­i­cal and re­li­gious sites that need care­ful ren­o­va­tion. Nepal mainly re­lies on tourist dol­lars for its na­tional in­come and be­cause of ini­tial quakes and tremors that have fol­lowed the big shaker, climb­ing ex­pe­di­tions have been can­celled for this year spell­ing fur­ther woes for an al­ready crip­pled econ­omy.

How the coun­try’s lead­ers cope with this sit­u­a­tion will de­ter­mine both Nepal’s fu­ture and their own. The earth­quake could prove to be the event that brings them to­gether. It could also help Nepalese com­mu­ni­ties to let go of their dif­fer­ences and de­velop a co­he­sive na­tional iden­tity. Or, due to the in­ex­pe­ri­ence and petty-mind­ed­ness that has dogged the po­lit­i­cal process so far, it could re­sult in fur­ther frag­men­ta­tion of the Nepalese so­ci­ety and the po­lit­i­cal land­scape.

One thing is cer­tain though. Nepal needs help. Just like other de­vel­op­ing na­tions, it has failed to cope with a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter and many lives that could have been saved with the help of a bet­ter re­sponse have been lost. Many more are still in dan­ger. The in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity has the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of man­ag­ing dis­as­ter re­lief in a much more ef­fec­tive man­ner than shown in this sit­u­a­tion. And the blame does not wholly lie with gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials scram­bling through the de­bris of gov­ern­ment struc­tures.

Aid agen­cies ar­rive im­me­di­ately af­ter dis­as­ter strikes but their re­lief ef­forts some­times work at cross pur­poses. Rather than unit­ing to make a con­cen­trated ef­fort, re­sources are wasted by fo­cus­ing too nar­rowly on some ar­eas and ig­nor­ing oth­ers due to lack of in­for­ma­tion shar­ing. Surely, in this day and age, the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity needs to re­al­ize that there must be a more col­lab­o­ra­tive ap­proach to deal­ing with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, es­pe­cially in coun­tries which do not have the ca­pa­bil­ity to deal with some­thing of such mas­sive scale all by them­selves.

It is time for Nepal’s big neigh­bours to step up and help it get through this dif­fi­cult time. But even the largest of cof­fers is not enough to re­build a coun­try when its lead­er­ship is fo­cused more on per­sonal gains and less on the good of the peo­ple. It can only be hoped that politi­cians in this in­fant democ­racy will see this as the time to set aside their dif­fer­ences and use the tragedy to re­build Nepal as the po­lit­i­cally and eco­nom­i­cally in­de­pen­dent na­tion that its peo­ple wish for.

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