An Impact Assessment of a Great Earthquake in Nepal
Prof. Bishnu Pathak

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A devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25, 2015 disrupted the lives of nine million people – almost a third of the population. A second one of magnitude 7.3 on May 12 further complicated getting aid to survivors mainly in the central Nepal.

Home Ministry data shows that there are 49 quake-hit districts. Among them, 14 districts including Sindhupalchowk, Kathmandu, Nuwakot, Dolakha and Dhading have been the hardest hit. Over 8,500 people were died; almost three-times more 24,000 are injured. The Multinational Military Coordination Center reported that over 1,400 people were rescued by air, but 1,500 people alone by the Nepal Army. Another 1,500 people were evacuated by road. Handicap International estimates 30 percent of the wounded people suffers from heads, limbs and spinals injuries. However, the WHO speculates that 12 percent of the injured sustains spinal injuries which need life-time rehabilitation . Many of the injured, cured and displaced are nowhere to go.

Till May 19th, the Ministry of Home Affairs stated that a total of 63,885 private homes out of 68,000 in Sindhupalchowk were fully destroyed of which 57,943 houses in Nuwakot, 48,880 in Dolakha, 43,741 in Dhading, 36,973 in Kathmandu and 7,040 in Rasuwa districts. Similarly, a total of 756,000 houses have fully destroyed of which 2,607,373 houses are partly damaged. 494,936 temporary houses are to be made in the countryside before rainy reason (mid-June). The Global Fairness Initiative and the Brick Clean Group Nepal estimate 40 percent houses in valley are safe to live while another 40 percent need to repair.As of May 20, 2015, 10,803 government buildings have fully been destroyed that marked red sticker and 15,034 houses marked by yellow sticker as they are partially destroyed. 41 percent (7,532) schools out of 18,289 were completely destroyed in 49 districts, but 4,650 schools are affected in 14 major-hit districts. Massive numbers 2,106 toilets and 1,363 drinking waters in schools were also destroyed. An estimated 200 Buddhist nuns and monks 200 died after more than 1,000 monasteries collapsed in the hardest-hit 14 districts.

Most of the Ministries including the Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers (OPMCM) and its Secretariat and the National Planning Commission inside the Singhadurbar have severely been damaged and have set up offices temporarily under the tents. The great quake also destroyed many health posts and maternity hospitals, most of the countryside women are opted to deliver at home. The UN Population Fund estimates that about 2 million women-girls of reproductive age and some 126,000 pregnant women have been affected. Psychological trauma has greatly affected to senior citizens, women and children.

It is to be remarkable that the private and public homes and buildings that are still erected even after quake and repeated aftershocks may collapse during this monsoon. The District Natural Disaster Rescue and Relief Committee, Gorkha proposes shifting 2,314 Barpak (epicenter of April 25th massive quake)-house of 22 Village Development Committees to safer places before monsoon starts fearing of further collapse by landslides. International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) triggered at least 3,000 landslides due to large landmass movement in the Himalayas and flooding is obvious. It has also identified the formation of artificial lakes and sketched the weak status of glacial lakes within the quake-affected areas. The massive avalanche triggered by the disaster killed 18 people including a Google engineer Dan Fredinburg at the Mount Everest base camp and injured more than 60. Still 112 foreigners are unreported in Nepal.

International community and friendly neighbors namely India, China, USA, UK, Norway, Australia, Canada, Japan, Brazil, South Korea, Russia and others provided search and rescue operations along with humanitarian supports under the coordination of the Nepal Army. A U.S. helicopter carrying its six Marines and two Nepalese soldiers were killed while helicopter crashed on its route to earthquake-stricken Dolakha district on May 12th. The friendly countries have announced huge financial assistance in cash and kind for immediate (search, rescue and relief) operations, short-term recovery and rehabilitation and long-term reconstruction.

Coordinating humanitarian teams from 35 different countries and Armed Police and Nepal Police, the Nepal Army has put all its efforts and manpower in search and rescue operations and relief materials distribution to the desperate victims in quake affected areas far and near. Nepal Army has mobilized its personnel soon after the quake struck in Nepal despite limited resources and equipments.

India has been the first country from abroad to respond full-fledged rescue and relief support to the crisis in the name of Operation Maitri (Operation close friendship). Within 15 minutes of the quake, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted first and directed to mediate dispatch of search, rescue and relief including medical teams to Nepal. More than ten teams from National Disaster Response Force and Indian Air Force including several search and rescue dogs within six to seven hours of the earthquake arrived in Nepal. PM Modi spoke with Nepal’s PM Sushil Koirala and assured him of his all-round support and assistance . Indian Army sent three top military commanders  with five air force helicopters.

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang sent condolence message to the Prime Minister of Nepal and pledged to offer assistance. Similarly, Xi Jinping, the President of China also sent his condolence and said that China was “willing to offer all necessary disaster assistance”. China sent a number of search and rescue teams and dogs including tents, blankets and generators and helicopters in chartered plane in the early morning on May 26.

On May 15, Indian PM Modi and his Chinese counterpart Keqiang in Beijing have agreed to work jointly with Nepal for its recovery, rehabilitation, reconstruction and development endeavors respecting country’s independence and sovereignty. Both leaders vow to support Nepal without any precondition as much as they can or a country looking forward to seek assistance and support from them.

The British Embassy stated that they will support to treat 18,000 injured people, rebuilding of 1,000 damaged health posts, immunizations for 3,000 children and access to family planning for 48,000 women. On May 20, the US Embassy in Kathmandu stated that they will continue to work for earthquake response and recovery works along with additional emergency shelter materials, safe drinking water, hygiene kits and improved sanitation to the most critical districts as well as will assist law enforcement and justice sectors to recover from the earthquake.

On May 12, Japan announced Emergency Grant Aid amount US $ 14 million to support food, emergency medical care, shelter, health, water and sanitation to the quake most affected areas through World Food Program, International Federation of Red Cross, UNICEF and so forth.There had been a great hope with multilateral donors namely World Ban, Asia Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, but their grant did not attract that much to Nepal and Nepali people.

A leading appeal by an actress Joanna Lumley collected more than Rs. 7 billion as donation to support Nepal’s quake-hit victims. Dalai Lama, Facebook, GoFundMe, Google.org, Microsoft and others also donated to relief and recovery to quake victims.

There is a lack of proper coordination amongst the government bodies, political parties and among others. The rescue, relief and recovery reach in accessible areas on the one hand, but continue aftershocks and landslides has been a major worry in the remote countryside areas. Political parties are sending their activists to build temporary settlements at the affected areas, but seek cash for volunteers. Even though, Government of Nepal has released Rs. 5.53 billion to provide relief packages in the 38-quake hit districts, but not all victims received allocated cash Rs. 15,000 to buy zinc sheets for their temporary huts before monsoon approaches. Lawmakers have warned that there could have serious security threat to the leaders of the political parties if they failed to promptly provide search and rescue operations, deliver adequate relief materials and initiate recovery and rehabilitation works. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala himself admits poor response of required delivery.

On April 29, 2015, the United Nations launched a $415 million emergency appeal aiming to support Government efforts to address most critical needs of millions of quake-affected people for shelter, water and sanitation, food security, protection for the next three months across 39 of 75 districts. The Government of Nepal has established a fund of Rs. 200 billion with a seed money of Rs. 20 billion and appealed international donor community to provide Rs. 180 billion to carryout rehabilitation and reconstruction. However, international community showed less-interest to grant in it. Why did international community not show interest to put money in the fund? There are numbers of reasons.

First, Nepal lacks of leadership. There is a Government headed by Sushil Koirala. He has its own party Nepali Congress empowers by activists, but without vision and mission to lead the country. He is inactive and little mobility due to his octogenarian age and poor health. Koirala heavily surrounds by tired and retired bureaucracies and less influential youths. Even such a great quake, he could not dare to visit many of the district headquarters to console the affected people and to direct the concerned security agencies to speedily work for search, rescue, relief and recovery. Thus, international community lost their hope and expectation that Koirala-led Government can do miracle on this devastating period.

Second, most of the Ministers of Koirala’s Government took a huge personal advantage from his innocent and honesty position. As Koirala is being surrounded by ill famous and ambitious ministers, he failed to control bad-governance, corruption, unaccountability and ambiguity. Neither his leadership clearly demarcates the path of possible resolutions of constitutional-making differences. He himself accepted the fact that he could not much work, as he desires. A couple months ago, PM Koirala publicly claimed that the budget could not be implemented more than 15-16 percent due to massive corruption. However, he failed to take stern action against the irresponsible corrupt-personnel. Even Germany, United Kingdom, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland retrieved from Peace Fund differing restorative justice delivery system due to amnesty and reconciliation provisions incorporated in Truth and Reconciliation Commission. No such amnesty and reconciliation provisions attract to another truth-finding Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons.

Third, political parties expressed their reluctant to visit their respective constituents fearing of possible aftershocks soon after the quake. However, Nepal Army appeared on the frontline in the name of search, rescue, relief, recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction in almost all quake-hit areas. It means, political parties are behind the security forces. International community has a fear whether Nepal Army will easily back into the barracks after accomplishment of emergency task. Even though, Nepal Army succeeded to develop good rapport with the general people. Previously, common people have perceptions that they were or are the backbone of former kingdom and elite people only.

Fourth, international community does not wish to put money on the Government established emergency fund due to above mentioned factors. While political parties’ did not show any interest to establish the local government conducting local elections in Municipalities and Village Development Committees, international community tries to establish Non-Government Organizations as alternative to them. Therefore, they are more interested to conduct programs to the targeted countryside people through the NGOs. Besides, humanitarian search and rescue operations, relief, and recovery supports, some of the donors wish to fulfill their own-vested political zest and zeal to watch, encircle and play to two emerging superpowers ie, India and China from the strategic ground Nepal. Besides, they also wish to fulfill the country’s need hiring their own people for the NGOs. NGOs personnel heavily influence the donor community weakening the government agencies and ruling parties for their vested interests. In some cases, commission from NGOs-programs also plays a pivotal rule for not to put aid at the Government established fund.

At least $ 5 billion is needed to rebuild private and public houses including historic heritage buildings, schools, hospitals and government offices. Nepal is one of the least developed countries in the world that needs to be paid $ 215 million annually as a debt payment. The poorest country Nepal ranks 145th out of 187 in the UN Human Development Index. South Asian Nepal needs debt relief for short-term quake recovery and long-term infrastructure development and stability. Massive quake-hit Nepal is one of the 38th countries eligible to be granted debt relief by international donors. Haiti received debt relief after an earthquake in February 2010 and Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone granted debt relief following the Ebola outbreak.

A landlocked and sandwiched Nepal is a country where political parties were largely divided on the issues of federalism: boundary, number and name of the federation. Besides, the issue of identity-based federal states became so tense that the Constituent Assembly I was dissolved without Constitution-making. Even Constituent Assembly II could not reach on a conclusion to resolve the differences of identity because of vested political desires. People in general neither cared that much on identity-based division of the country in the past nor post-quake hit Nepal. Moreover, the people show a great unity, solidarity and cooperation despite of caste, ethnicity, sex, age, class, profession, education, culture, religion, region and party differences. The past huge discrepancy between the rich and power is now being narrowed while most of the people take shelter under the same tents without discrimination, division, humiliation and degrading treatment. The people’s unity compelled leadership to come closer to support the quake-hit people leaving behind their previous unhealthy competition, personal or institutional ego, political ideology and socio-cultural partisan.

Thus, the challenge of quake is being turned to opportunity to make a new Nepal forming a national Government headed by a clean, dynamic and honest leadership. Such leadership shall actively participate on the pains, grievances and suffering of quake-hit people and post quake-psyche victims. The technical and financial assistance from international community shall profoundly increase along with the formation of a New Government in Nepal. 

– TRANSCEND Media Service


Friday, Jun 12, 2015 12:52 pm


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