Seven months after a devastating earthquake wreaked havoc in its serene valleys, Nepal’s road to recovery has proved to be a slow and challenging process.
Slow recovery after
At first glance, 12-year-old Sushma looks like an average schoolgirl; standing right at the threshold of puberty, yet still desperately clinging to adolescence. Alas, her bright smile hides an immense trauma no young girl should have to bear. Like many other children, Sushma’s world was turned upside down on one fateful day in April when two devastating earthquakes measuring up to 7.8 on the Richter scale struck the northwestern region of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu. The disaster killed nearly 8,000 people, injured over 16,000 and completely destroyed nearly 300,000 homes.
Sushma remembers that day, all too vividly. “I was at home that day when all of a sudden, people from upstairs started screaming, ‘Earthquake!’ After that, our house collapsed.” With nowhere to go, Sushma and her family ended up spending the night in a tomato shed. “We lost everything that day”, she recalls. “When I looked
around, I saw debris of buildings, and animals and people buried. There were insects flying around and thieves roaming about. I was very scared.”
Within six weeks of the earthquakes, however, Sushma was back at school thanks to a UNICEFfunded Temporary Learning Centre. Apart from carrying on with their education, children there are also provided with therapy through drama and music, so that they were able to express themselves and their feelings.
Unfortunately, Sushma can be classified as one of the few lucky ones to have had her life returned to at least some degree of normalcy. Several months following the catastrophe that befell Nepal, thousands of people are still displaced, rubble and debris from buildings still remain scattered on the streets and for many children, school continues to be a distant dream.
“There was so much destruction,” says Kathy Ludwig, Charity Development Project Manager for the Luxembourg charity Aide à l'Enfance de l'Inde (AEI), which is currently funding two rehabilitation and reconstruction projects in the area. “[Currently], we can only help two villages. The country needs a lot of money.”
As if these conditions were not challenging enough, the impact of protests held by Nepal’s minority Madhesi people, on the pretext that their interests were not being properly represented in the constitution, created further problems for the country. All imports into Nepal were blocked, causing many people to go without basic items such as food, clothing, medicine and even fuel. The president of the Luxembourg charity AIE, Françoise Binsfeld, on a recent visit to the country, described the situation as ‘desperate.’ “We passed a queue of vehicles several kilometers long which had been waiting for three or four days for a few litres of fuel,” said Françoise. “You could [even] see lines of people queuing to purchase cooking fuel.” Locals complain of costs of taxis, medicine and food almost tripling as rehabilitation and reconstruction slow down to an almost complete standstill. Add to this a dynamic political environment with the country having just elected a new leader and drafted a new constitution and one is left with a hotbed of virtually insurmountable issues.
“We hope the crisis will be resolved very soon from the political point of view,” says Kathy. “If it continues, the situation will get worse and we will have a real humanitarian crisis.” With a substantial number of people living in some of the most remote areas of the country, many of which have already been cut off by rivers overflowing during the rainy season, the recent blockades have only aggravated the extremely challenging task of providing relief to the region’s residents. Currently, there is a paucity of funds needed to carry on the reconstruction of nearly 11 schools, eight water tanks and a dispensary. As a result, many families have been forced to make temporary homes out of mud and corrugated sheets.
Apart from the various challenges faced by Nepal’s population as they struggle to recover from one of nature’s deadliest attacks in several decades, numerous experts have expressed concern regarding tourism, its largest industry and perhaps its biggest source of revenue. Possessing eight out of 10 of the highest mountains in the world as well as a rich culture and history, Nepal has become one of the most attractive destinations for travelers worldwide.
Currently, tourism in Nepal supplies more than 504,000 jobs according to a survey conducted by the World Travel & Tourism Council in 2013. And considering that the country was ranked 145th among the 187 countries on the Human Development Index (H.D.I) in 2014, it is no wonder why Nepal attaches so much significance to the sector. Nepal is in desperate need of money, now more than ever. Even though the president of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, Shannon Stowell, after getting a chance to survey the country in October, has reported back to industry leaders that Nepal is ‘ready and open for business,’ it is necessary for the government in Nepal to secure more funds to help spur the reconstruction process.
In order to ensure sustainability in terms of a healthy economy and society, it is imperative for Nepal to get back on its feet and restore avenues leading to some of the most spectacular tourist destinations in the world.
The writer is a member of the staff.