The Days Af­ter

A land that con­tin­ues to suf­fer.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Ma­lik Muham­mad Ashraf

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

Mount Ever­est.

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.

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