The Af­ter­math

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.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Mahrukh Fa­rooq

Slow re­cov­ery af­ter

the tragedy.

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.

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