April 25, 2016
It has been one year to the day since the Nepal earthquake (and the major aftershocks that followed) killed 8,959 people and injured another 22, 303. It was the biggest natural disaster to hit the Himalayan country in over 80 years. Yesterday, a protest in Kathmandu illustrated all too clearly the extent to which the Nepali people feel betrayed by their incompetent and corrupt government, which has done little to foster reconstruction or meaningful aid to the victims. This is in spite of the fact that 4.1 billion dollars was pledged by international donors. The Nepalis have been twice victimized – first by the earthquakes and second by the shameless politicization of the Nepal Reconstruction Authority (RNA).
The quake destroyed 776,895 homes. Another 298,998 require extensive repairs or have been condemned. Access to remote mountain villages have made the challenge of rebuilding more difficult. An Indian blockade of fuel, building supplies and other essential commodities also contributed to the disruption of reconstruction. As of March 2016, more than 200,000 families remain in temporary shelters – interspersed within the rubble of their fallen homes – in many cases at high altitudes where snow began falling last November.
Without help from the government forthcoming, many villagers have simply moved back into their condemned homes or built mud and rock homes on their own. They have lost all faith that they will receive money from the government.
Healthcare infrastructure has been ravaged. 1, 227 health centers were destroyed or damaged during the quake, disrupting service in the remote rural areas. To date, only 40 centers have been repaired with another 100 being worked on.
Approximately 8,000 schools were destroyed or severely damaged. Nearly 1,000,000 children were left without classrooms. With few exceptions, the students are still studying in bamboo and tin shelters, with a paucity of books and supplies to support their education.
Additionally, 131 historical monuments were reduced to rubble in the earthquake, while another 560 structures require extensive repair. In the Kathmandu Valley alone, there are seven UNESCO Heritage sites encompassing irreplaceable temples, monuments and palaces dating back hundreds of years.
WHY SUCH AN ABYSMAL RECORD?
The blame must be put squarely on the Nepali government’s back.
Nepal formed the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) after the quake following a successful donor’s conference in June last year, when $4.1 billion was pledged, but the reconstruction authority has since failed to make meaningful headway, frustrating both donors and survivors.
This was all due to political wrangling and foot-dragging – each political party wanting to have a say in how the donations were to be spent and who would be in control of the money. Ironically, the parties have nevertheless been reluctant to take a lead in reconstruction in fear of public scrutiny: Historically, Nepal’s government agencies have an astonishingly bad record of spending aid money because of corruption and bureaucratic barriers. The NRA took its full shape only in December of last year and little has been achieved since then. As of last month, little more than 3% of the required budget for rebuilding has been released or spent, revealing the extent to which the government’s political commitment is hollow.
In the meantime, the victims of the earthquake are staring hard at the calendar. Monsoon season is only two months away. They’ve already spent one monsoon season in temporary shelters and they know all too well how little protection from the rain these makeshift shelters provided.
Many of the displaced are simply racing against the clock to rebuild their homes on their own, with little money, and no expertise in how to construct an earthquake-proof structure. They would rather take their chances with Mother Nature than the Government of Nepal.
And who can blame them?