The Days After
A land that continues to suffer.
The tragedy that struck Nepal in the shape of a severe earthquake on April 25 and then again on May 12 is said to be the worst natural disaster in the country since the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. The tremors reportedly claimed more than eight thousand lives and inflicted multiple injuries on twenty three thousand people. The strong shakers deprived a big chunk of the population of shelter, including 1.7 million children who, according to UNICEF, were driven out into the open and were in desperate need of drinking water, psychological counseling, temporary shelters, sanitation and protection from outbreak of disease. The first earthquake also triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing some 19 people.
Indian newspaper The Hindu quoted a seismologist Vinod Kumar Gaur who said in an interview in 2013 that “calculations show that sufficient accumulated energy in the Main Frontal Thrust could produce an earthquake of 8 magnitude. I cannot say when but it could possibly happen sometime this century or wait long to produce a much larger one.”
Notwithstanding the fact that the risk of the tremor of this intensity was known, the fact remains that there was not much which could have been done to prevent the onslaught of this natural calamity for a resource-constrained country like Nepal or even countries with all the modern technologies and resources available to them, except for providing quick relief to the people affected by the natural disaster. However, regarding rehabilitation and reconstruction of the destroyed infrastructure with indigenous resources supplemented by contributions from the international community, an affected country would be in a good position to recover within the shortest time due to the strength, efficiency and honesty of its bureaucratic structure guided by an honest and committed national leadership. However, in case of Nepal all these ingredients are missing.
The damage in Nepal to the infrastructure and cultural heritage sites is reported to be colossal in terms of the resources that would be required to rebuild and rehabilitate them and put the economy back on its feet. According to some estimates it could well be in the vicinity of $5 billion or nearly one-fourth of Nepal’s GDP of $19.221billion.. Some NGOs and relief agencies are striving to raise money on their own to bolster the financial support for Nepal. The Asian Development Bank has committed to provide a $ 3 million grant for immediate relief and a further $ 200 million for the first phase
of rehabilitation. As is evident, the international financial support is far below the required resources.
As far as the rescue and relief measures are concerned, there was an overwhelming international response. The world community, including neighbors of Nepal, such as Pakistan, immediately sent rescue teams and relief goods. USA, China and other nations also provided helicopters to bolster the rescue efforts at the request of the Nepalese government. The UK has been the largest bilateral aid donor with $131 million out of a total international financial support of $294 million. Bu the Nepalese government has failed to handle the aid due to bureaucratic snags, inefficiency and reported corruption in the bureaucratic echelons. Relief efforts were also hampered by insistence of the Nepalese government on routing aid through the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund and the National Emergency Center. However, it was after several complaints that the Nepalese government allowed the NGOs already working in the country to continue receiving aid directly and bypass the official agencies. Mistrust over control of the distribution of funds and the relief goods and congestion and customs delays at Kathmandu airport and border check posts were also reported by the aid agencies. The problems were further compounded when restrictions were imposed on heavy aircraft flying in with aid supplies due to the cracks in the runway at the Tribhuvan Airstrip.
Nepal, with a population of 27 million, is ranked among the poorest and the least developed countries in the world. Nearly 25% of the population lives below the poverty line. It heavily depends on remittances which account for 22-25% of the GDP. Agriculture is the mainstay of the economy employing 70% of the labour force and contributing 33% to the GDP. It has an agro-based industry involved in the processing of agricultural products, including pulses, jute, sugarcane, tobacco and grain. Its exports, evidently, consist of low-tech products. Tourism is another source of the national income. The factors that hinder economic progress of Nepal and its progress towards a modern economy are based on political instability, a debilitating business environment that discourages foreign investment, persistent power shortages, a primitive transportation infrastructure and susceptibility to natural disasters. Nepal’s economy also depends on tourism and it might lose the income this year as all the mountain expeditions have been cancelled. Nepal hosts the world’s ten tallest mountains, including
A monarchy throughout its history, Nepal made a transition to democracy in 2008 when the first constituent assembly was elected. The second assembly was installed in 2013 but despite this, the country is still grappling with the issue of agreeing on a consensus constitution. The aforementioned factors clearly manifest that the political and economic profile of Nepal does not present an encouraging scenario as far as the resources required to rebuild the infrastructure and providing shelter to the people rendered homeless by the earthquake, is concerned. The people of Nepal will probably have to endure the impact of the devastation for a long time to come.
To shorten the span of the sufferings of the people and revive the devastated economy, the Nepalese government will have to depend heavily on donations and assistance from the international community and the world bodies financing reconstruction and development, provided it can assure the donors that the money provided would be judiciously and honestly spent. The rampant corruption and filching of the aid provided by the international community, at present, is a major factor and a stumbling block in the liberal flow of international aid.
The other alternative for Nepal, though a long-term undertaking, is to attract foreign investment in the infrastructure projects, tourism, industry and energy sectors. Nepal has a known potential for generation of 42000 MW of hydro power and at present the installed capacity is in the vicinity of 7000 MW. If the Nepalese government can lure foreign investors to invest in energy projects which are high cost ventures, it could give tremendous boost to the Nepalese economy and generate thousands of jobs besides helping Nepal’s transition towards a modern economy. The success of the strategy would surely depend on political stability in the country.
and a small country like Nepal would have to struggle over a long period to mitigate the effects of earthquake, rehabilitate the destroyed infrastructure, arrange shelter for the people rendered homeless, arrest the negative social fallout and revive the economy. To achieve all this, the international community needs to help Nepal with more generous and liberal contributions. As time progresses, donor fatigue sets in, which is not helped at all by the corruption and bureaucratic lethargy in the country and the impact of the tragedy slowly fades.