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.
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.