Nepal is located in a seismically active zone and is considered the eleventh most vulnerable place on earth from earthquake disaster point of view; Nepal did not recently move to this top spot. The earthquake that severely affected at least 14 districts caused complex problems with loss of life and property. Till date, the worst hit district is Sindhupalchowk, with death toll of over 3200 and more than 90 percent of the houses completely destroyed. The rescue and relief works that are supposed to reach within 24 and 72 hours respectively could not reach within that period due to difficult topography and subsequent landslides that made the transportation of materials impossible. Nepal has no reputation of being prepared for setbacks.
The residents of Baruwa (Sindhupalchowk), Satyadevi, Serthun, Jharlang (Upper Dhading), Mairung, Jibjibe, Borle (Rasuwa) were disconnected from the capital city for more than a week, from where rescue and relief operations were initiated with the help of national and international expert teams. Nepalese security agencies, including Nepal Army, Nepal Police and Armed Police Force did a commendable work with limited resources which they have. Nepalese security forces lacked enough number of helicopters, machines that are used for drilling concrete structure, search-and-rescue robots, unmanned rotorcrafts and other equipments to conduct crucial work of rescue. Therefore, the foreign rescuers, including India, China, Israel, Japan, and Turkey came to Nepal after getting government permission to do search and rescue.
The earthquake that occurred on 25th April has not only shaken the ground, but also the governance system as it largely failed to provide basic facilities to affected people at the time of utmost need. However, the self-initiatives taken by individuals, institutions, clubs and community based organizations (CBOs) were praiseworthy. The individuals of different parts of the country have rushed towards Gorkha, Sindhupalchowk, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Kavre, Dolakha and other severely affected districts with food, tents, blankets, medicines, clothes etc with the true spirit of volunteerism. The representatives of Non-Resident Nepalese (NRN), Non-Government Organizations, and even profit making companies reached remote places for supporting the needy people prior to the government agencies showing their presence. This delay in government initiated relief work is due to the fact that their activities have to go through lengthy bureaucratic processes.
In addition to this, various individuals have taken initiatives in cleaning activities, distribution of drinking water, clearance of rubble and even taking dead bodies out from debris of damaged houses. Many people volunteered in hospitals, health camps and wherever possible to provide medical services. College students were busy in providing psychosocial counseling and education related to awareness especially to children and women in temporary shelters. This kind of selfless activity has definitely increased our willingness to help needy people who are residing in remote locations of our country and who are in very vulnerable conditions after the loss of shelter.
Primarily, the absence of an efficient coordination mechanism with clear lines of responsibility at different levels hampered rapid mobilization of government agencies responsible for providing emergency response. The delay in distribution has led to the relief materials sent by international communities to rot at the airport warehouse; and in humongous quantities. The relief materials, which have hardly reached Village Development Committees (VDCs), could not reach ward level because of absence of local representatives for nearly two decades. Therefore, the victims in remote locations have had to live without food, tents and medical facilities for more than a week. It is not possible to provide all emergency facilities by a VDC secretary as s/he cannot take critical decisions due to non-political nature of the work. If there were locally elected people, they would have taken greater ownership and responsibility because they have better knowledge and information of local community. Such an arrangement would have also kept the misuse of relief materials at check.
Furthermore, the lack of local bodies has also increased undue pressure on the Constituent Assembly members as they need to do the works which otherwise would have been done by locally elected people or representatives of District Development Committees (DDCs). Therefore, it is only natural that they could not give enough time in formulating effective policy for earthquake victims and effectively coordinate with security agencies responsible for rescue and relief operations. The dilemma regarding distribution of tents and collection of funds from national and international supporters for victims through only one channel occurred due to lack of knowledge about the ground level reality to the cabinet members and lack of proper coordination among all stakeholders.
This deadly disaster, which has taken the life and property of thousands of people, has united all Nepalese – who are divided on social and political issues – to serve for those who are badly affected. Nepalese people who have been residing in other countries have also helped by raising funds or directly serving in hard-hit areas. The role of self motivated people should not be undermined in the reconstruction phase as it brings back social cohesion that existed among all Nepalese for centuries. This is the only way that helps to overcome challenges brought by the catastrophic earthquake.
(This article was published in The Himalayan Times on 24th May, 2015 and can be read in the following link http://epaper.thehimalayantimes.com/epaperpdf/24052015/24052015-md-hr-19.pdf)