On April 25, Nepal was devastated by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Approximately 9,000 people died. Thousands more were injured in the chaos as the country’s futile infrastructure system crumbled during the earthquake and subsequent aftershocks. The United Nations estimated there was $7 billion in damage. A third of the country’s population was displaced and schools remained closed for five weeks.
The tiny Himalayan country bordered by India to the south and China to the north was never prepared to deal with such a disaster. According to the Human Development Index, Nepal ranks in the bottom quarter of countries. Per capita GPD is just over $1,000.
The country is perched on the fault line of the Eurasian and South Asian tectonic plates. Home to the tallest mountain range on earth, violent seismic activity is inevitable. However, the aforementioned poverty and lagging infrastructure exacerbated the wrath of April’s quake.
Over the past two decades, political instability engulfed the country. The Maoist rebellion that ended in 2005 overthrew a monarchy that had ruled for over three centuries. Political factions with competing interests have impeded the democratic process that the rebellion promised. The country still doesn’t have a constitution and has had nine prime ministers in the past eight years.
In April, the citizens paid dearly for the political instability. During the everlasting political gridlock, essential infrastructure investments became less of a priority to other agendas. Many citizens built their own homes without the oversight of structural engineers.
Although there have been efforts in recent years to strengthen building codes and train engineers, most citizens cannot afford the material or expertise. In an article by Time Magazine, a litany of civilians expressed frustration about their government’s lack of response. Some suburbs outside the capital Kathmandu were not reached until international relief entered the country, weeks after the disaster. People had nothing to eat, nowhere to go and limited access to medical treatment.
“Our government is totally unprepared to deal with this type of disaster,” explains Kshitiz Nyaupane, a local from Kathmandu. The burden of relief has fallen on the international community. The World Food Programme, U.S. Agency for International Development, along with monetary and material support from a dozen countries spearheaded relief efforts.
The citizens of Nepal have welcomed their presence. Thanks to aid, Nepal will recover. Now armed with $4.4 billion in international relief, the Nepalese government will initiate a massive rebuilding project for the most devastated portions of the country.
These donations come with a requirement, however. Donors implored the Nepalese government to finalize a constitution to create the elusive political stability. With reconstruction, donors want infrastructure that is equipped to handle the strongest earthquakes and aftershocks.
Caroline Baudot, Oxfam’s Humanitarian Policy Advisor, told the International Press Service in a recent interview that this earthquake, despite the tragedy and suffering it has caused, opens opportunity. “This is the golden ticket for the Nepalese government. With the influx of aid, they will be able to get off their feet, make needed infrastructure investments and set up a more promising economic future than there was before.”
– Kevin Meyers
Sources: Global Issues, KSL, Time 1, Time 2
Photo: Global Issues