Frag­ile econ­omy hit hard by quake

Small busi­nesses in the poor coun­try of Nepal have lit­tle hope of help in re­build­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Julie Maki­nen julie.maki­nen@la­ Twit­ter: @JulieMakLAT Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Michael Edi­son Hay­den in Kat­mandu con­trib­uted to this re­port.

KAT­MANDU, Nepal — For 18 years, he toiled in other peo­ple’s eater­ies, ven­tur­ing as far as Bahrain to work as a restau­rant manager and sav­ing up $50,000 to start his own estab­lish­ment.

Fi­nally, four years ago, Pradip Ku­marshrestha threw open the doors to Mc Fast Food, serv­ing Chi­nese, Nepalese and In­dian cui­sine out of a turquoise-and-or­ange build­ing across the road from a ho­tel called the Mys­tic Bud­dha.

But on Wed­nes­day, Ku­marshrestha’s dream lay in a crum­pled heap, with Rus­sian, In­dian and Nepalese res­cue work­ers pick­ing over the rub­ble of his Kat­mandu restau­rant — and his fam­ily’s apart­ment above — look­ing for corpses. He was camp­ing out on the play­ground of the nearby Shine Model School with his wife and two sons, ages 10 and 12, tears welling in his eyes.

“It’s fin­ished. I have noth­ing. I don’t know what to do; I’m still think­ing about it,” said the 40-year-old busi­ness­man, pulling his neck­er­chief over his face.

It wasn’t just his fam­ily Ku­marshrestha was wor­ried about. His 12 em­ploy­ees — seven kitchen work­ers, three wait­ers, a re­cep­tion­ist and a manager — are out of work as well. “My staff, that’s also my re­spon­si­bil­ity. I am help­ing and feed­ing them.”

The mag­ni­tude 7.8 earth­quake that rocked Nepal on Satur­day killed more than 5,000, in­jured many thou­sands and left count­less homes and apart­ments un­in­hab­it­able. As the ex­tent of the dis­as­ter comes into fo­cus, it’s be­com­ing clear that the tem­blor also shat­tered in­nu­mer­able liveli­hoods in a coun­try where many peo­ple are self-em­ployed, in­sur­ance is a rar­ity and the gov­ern­ment’s so­cial safety net is al­most nonex­is­tent.

Nepal, a coun­try of 28 mil­lion, is one of the world’s poor­est. Its gross do­mes­tic prod­uct in 2013 was barely $20 bil­lion, lower than any U.S. state. Remit­tances sent by Nepalese work­ing abroad ac­count for as much as 25% of GDP.

But the na­tion, long re­liant on agri­cul­ture for much of its eco­nomic out­put, has re­cently tried to di­ver­sify and eco­nomic growth reached 5.2% last year. The earth­quake threat­ens to re­verse that progress, damp­ing tourism, slow­ing for­eign in­vest­ment and harm­ing other busi­nesses.

The tents, blan­kets, food and med­i­cal sup­plies pour­ing into Nepal from other coun­tries will help ease im­me­di­ate needs. But such re­lief ef­forts can­not re­con­struct a crushed fur­ni­ture shop or rebuild the smoke­stack of a brick fac­tory that was top­pled by the earth’s shak­ing.

Utam Pande, 46, who ran a gen­eral store in Kat­mandu’s Satun­gal neigh­bor­hood, suf­fered a split kneecap dur­ing the quake when a cooking-gas cylin­der fell on his leg. His shop is a to­tal loss.

“I’m afraid I’m never go­ing to be able to work again,” he said from his bed at Biren­dra Mil­i­tary Hos­pi­tal as his wife, Muna, sat be­side him.

It’s not just small busi­ness­men like Pande and Ku­marshrestha who are feel­ing at loose ends. Even land­lords like the fam­ily who owned the struc­ture that housed Mc Fast Food are anx­ious about their fi­nan­cial fu­ture.

“We own all three build­ings that col­lapsed here,” said Bhuwan Man Shakya, 63, es­ti­mat­ing their to­tal value at $600,000. “We had a bank loan for one of them, so we had in­sur­ance on that one only.”

Whether the in­surer will pay re­mains to be seen. “We have not talked to the in­sur­ance com­pany,” he said. “We will have to ne­go­ti­ate and look at the [con­tract] to see what it says.”

His son, Rukesh Man Shakya, a 35-year-old ra­di­ol­o­gist, said he feared that the fam­ily would have to fin­ish pay­ing off the bank loan if the in­sur­ance com­pany did not come through with resti­tu­tion.

Asked whether he thought the gov­ern­ment would help, Ku­marshrestha was pes­simistic. “I don’t think so,” he said. Although the do­mes­tic and in­ter­na­tional res­cue squads were comb­ing through the Shakyas’ turquoise-and-or­ange pile of con­crete, glass and steel, nei­ther they nor Ku­marshrestha were im­pressed with the gov­ern­ment’s gen­eral re­sponse to the dis­as­ter.

“They’ll send 50 peo­ple here, but they have no proper equip­ment to do the res­cue. The for­eign forces have to come.... The Nepalese just come with picks and their hands,” Ku­marshrestha said.

He hopes he can rebuild his busi­ness. He said he named it Mc Fast Food be­cause he was “in­spired from McDon­ald’s,” adding modestly that his dishes might be a bit tastier than the fast­food gi­ant’s.

“I hope I can do it again,” Ku­marshrestha said. “I have good­will in this area. Peo­ple here, they know me, they know I have good food and a good restau­rant.”

Julie Maki­nen Los An­ge­les Times

“IT’S FIN­ISHED. I have noth­ing,” said Pradip Ku­marshrestha, right, whose restau­rant lay in rub­ble.

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