Nepal’s opportunity to seize the moment for the future of its people
04 May 2015 by Sujala Pant, Governance Specialist, UNDP Regional Hub in Bangkok
When the elders in my family spoke of the 1934 earthquake, they talked about how scary it had been, and the damage it left behind. How Dharara, once the tallest structure in Kathmandu (and since April 25th a pile of rubble) was rebuilt.
I was in Kathmandu this time around and it was terrifying to experience the earthquake. I took refuge in my aunt’s house, along with 25 other people whose homes, like many across the city, were either damaged or destroyed.
Four days later, leaving Kathmandu for Bangkok, the earthquake provided a stark reminder of the challenges ahead for Nepal.
The international airport overflowed with passengers whose flights had been delayed for hours. Food was running out at kiosks that sold snacks and drinks, there was little space for people to stand, and mothers took care of children as best they could.
Outside on the tarmac, massive cargo planes - from India, China, the U.S. and a host of other countries - were stationed with supplies and search and rescue equipment, waiting to be picked up.
Despite the chaos, there was no frenzy or signs of frustration. Passengers seemed to accept the fact the country had just suffered a major disaster. But the overcrowded building, with swarms of people sitting and standing, was a reflection of what was happening outside the airport walls.
The earthquake has shattered the lives of millions of people. Camps have sprung up in Kathmandu’s open spaces. In affected districts, shelter is hard to come by, due to the lack of tents and unseasonal, incessant rain. Food and drinking water are scarce. I heard of a woman giving birth in one of these make-shift camps. It has taken Nepal decades to bring down maternal mortality, let us hope this disaster does not lead to a reversal of progress made, in this and other areas.
Thousands of Nepalis, including those abroad, have joined hands to support the country, by mobilizing medicine, tents, blankets, water purifiers, and money.
With aid pouring in, the government has called for a unified approach, requiring all relief to be channeled through the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. Will the disaster be able to trigger long awaited improvements in the governance? Can we seize this opportunity to create a stronger, more efficient Nepal?
This will require many changes. Among them: strengthening the disaster response (experts had warned of a major earthquake for at least a decade); improving and making infrastructure resilient (and making hard-to-reach places accessible); enforcing building regulations; eliminating corruption in the building permit process; being responsive to people needs now and in the long term; and ensuring coordination among different stakeholders including between local and national government, as well as with development partners.
The list is long. But the need of the hour is to ensure that the generously contributed aid is disbursed in a timely and transparent manner and reaches people who need it most. This will be the first, and perhaps most important step on the long road to recovery.