Disaster-Hit Nation Stays Vulnerable
On April 25, 2015, a small part of the tectonic plate between India and the rest of Eurasia slipped, sending a powerful earthquake (with a magnitude of 7.8) waves, whose epicenter was in the mountains northwest to the Kathmandu (50 miles from the capital city). Although Kathmandu and its surrounding valley didn’t face immense disaster, the rural areas were plunged to despair, affecting the lives of at least 3 million people. On May 12, a similar kind of large magnitude earthquake (7.3 on Richter scale) struck the nation. Both these earthquakes claimed the lives of more than 8,800 people and injured more than 23,000 people.
The earthquakes also shattered glaciers, raining upon tons of icy rocks and snow on tranquil villages, where hundreds of bodies of people still lie buried. This natural crisis has also led to man-made crisis, from which there is no easy respite. Many people rendered homeless by the earthquake are still living under tarps and in tents. A year has passed and still the government had made little progress, in terms of reconstruction & rehabilitation. Although the government has begun distributing 200,000 Nepali rupees to construct houses, due to lack of proper government policies, many are yet to receive the money. However, few business corporations and NGOs have started construction of temporary houses. The political parties in Nepal along with the government have failed to capitalize on the funds received or pledged by different donor agencies.
To qualify for government assistance, people need to possess a land certificate to prove their ownership of land, but in many cases the people didn’t held any such documents (despite living on the same patch for lot of generations) or in some cases the documents were buried in the rubble. The land titles, if registered, it is done under the name of male in the family. Women, who have lost the men in their family, are finding it difficult to make their family eligible for assistance, despite having land certificate. The inactive bureaucratic structure has provided no assist for the international helpers’ intent on constructing the damaged structures. The government and the donor agencies haven’t found an answer to their dispute of ‘how to channel the donations’. The former government of Nepal proposed National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) through an ordinance, but soon unnecessary political crisis loomed over, taking the priority from earthquake rehabilitation. A new government took charge in October 2015 (Communist Party of Nepal) but still the disputes among political parties persisted. On December 2015, the government eventually endorsed the Nepal Reconstruction Authority Bill, but as of April 2016, no framework had been finalized for reconstruction.
The unannounced economic embargo imposed by Indian government after Nepal’s earlier proclamation of new constitution also affected reconstruction by leading to shortage of fuel for several months. Even if the current government overcomes the technical problems like the manpower and policies, the lack of good and accountable elected structure at grassroots level would cause more political wrangling, leading to more delays. There were plans to involve NGOs to speed up the process, but it draw criticism, since most of the people running the NGOs were closer to people enjoying top positions in political parties. An anti-graft constitutional body Commission for Investigations of Abuse of Authority (CIAA) has commenced its investigations on the corruption allegations against officials handling relief funds.
Meanwhile, people in the 14 of the most affected districts are forced to dwell in temporary shelters with less food & water and no proper sanitation. Many of the children living in the country had to walk at least 2 or 3 hours to the nearest source of water as many village wells have been contaminated or dried up after the earthquake. The risk of human trafficking (especially the girl children) is on the rise as kids, who lost their parents or parents unable to support their kids allow them to work in bigger cities in virtual slavery. UNICEF states that at least thousand kids have been stopped at checkpoints, in & around Nepal, where those kids were accompanied by total strangers. Although child labor is illegal in Nepal, many children, in order to survive, work in brick-works, 11 hours a day. Tourism, which accounts for 10 percent of Nepal’s economy have taken a heavy hit, and the tourist bookings said to have dropped between 30 and 70 percent.
The marginalized people of Nepal in the past year have endured a monsoon and cold winter season, living under tin sheets & tarps. There is little hope that the Nepali government would able to rebuild houses before this monsoon season. The psychological as well as physical scars endured by these people after natural disaster are only being heightened by the man-made misery.