On April 25, 2015, Nepal was hit by a massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale that claimed 9000 lives – of which 55 percent were women and girls. 3 million people became homeless and 600,000 private houses were destroyed. 14 out of 75 districts of Nepal were affected. 6 districts were severely hit, including the Kathmandu Valley. The overall loss was estimated at 7 billion USD.
Managing a disaster of such magnitude was undoubtedly far beyond the state’s capacity. However, the emergency preparedness that had been in place, thanks to the programs led by international and national organizations in collaboration with the government and different institutions, paid off. For instance, thanks to the installation of seismic belts and roof bracing (WHO’s retrofitting program), big hospitals in Kathmandu were intact and doctors were able to effectively respond to the victims. Similarly, in order to avoid the consequences of mismanagement of bodies on communities, the “management of dead body after disasters” guidelines were already in place. The “humanitarian staging area”, managed by WFP, close to the Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu enabled the effective functioning of the airport for the arrival of international assistance. The Nepal Army dealt with government-to-government assistance at the airport.
Government functionaries, for their part, responded immediately in terms of putting relevant laws and protocols into effect, and deploying all available state resources. Within hours of the earthquake, the Home Ministry, acting under the National Disaster Relief Framework (NDRF), had already endorsed all necessary provisions and proposals deploying 90 percent of the security forces. Nevertheless, the international assistance and rescue works did meet red-tape in many instances, slowing the rescue and relief process. Moreover, the government had discriminatory policies towards different organizations, and seemed solely interested in taking ownership of every effort made by different individuals and entities.
Meanwhile, highly inspiring and effective aspects of the post-earthquake situation included responses of national and international volunteerism. State-of-the-art techniques, such as “global crisis mapping,” were employed by “digital humanitarians” using Drones, FINDER devices, and Google Earth among other open source services to provide disaster responders with necessary real-time information. Additional impressive support was provided through the expertise and aid of international (non-) governmental organizations such as USAID, Red Cross, Médecins sans Frontières, UNDP, and many others, with especially notable support given by Disaster Assistance Response Team-USA who lost six brave American soldiers in the service of the Nepalese people due to a helicopter crash. Substantial financial and technical assistance by the US among other nations, and generous assistance by India and China, as well as the role of international media in drawing the attention of millions of people around the world were all crucial in responding to the post-earthquake crisis. Similarly, non-traditional ways of raising funds, through social media and crowdfunding, were highly useful. Three crowdfunding sites—GoFundMe, Crowdrise, and Indiegogo—raised 4 million USD and Facebook raised another 10 million USD in just two days. Invaluable contributions also came from the Nepalese diaspora, Nepal-loving foreigners, innovative informal groups of tech-savvy youths, development professionals, etc.
Similarly, the very proactive role played by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the then Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat to call on and convince different donor countries brought about the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction 2015 in Kathmandu a couple of months after the earthquake. Based on the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) prepared by the Nepalese government in partnership with the ADB, JICA, World Bank and the EU, the conference pledged up to 4 billion USD against the estimated US$7 billion of loss detailed in the PDNA. Soon afterwards, in an unexpected turn of events, Nepalese leaders promulgated a new constitution which had seemed nearly impossible for almost 8 years. But unfortunately, that height of the achievement also marked the downfall of the post-quake reconstruction process. As a then member of the National Planning Commission of Nepal and a former World Bank economist Swarnim Wagle put, “The process went from an inspiring phase to disappointment to failure.”
Now after over two years since the earthquake, the National Reconstruction Authority (the Authority which itself took much longer than expected to be formed due to political quibbling and other disruptions like border blockades and so on) now concedes that still thousands of quake-victims are living under makeshift camps. The major reason for this, according to the Authority, is the inability to spend the allocated budget—it could only spend 30 percent of the budget this fiscal year—due mainly to the lack of coordination between agencies, the needs to amend laws, the excess budget for a short time frame because big projects have to follow certain procedures etc. But many bureaucratic issues have been resolved now. Besides, the Authority is comprehensively involving the local administration units to give momentum to the reconstruction process; it claims that by the upcoming national festival of Dasain, about two hundred thousand families will get their homes.
Having said that however, the reality is that the monsoon rain is going on, thus the victims’ hardship continues. Many argue that the problem in Nepal is the high sensitivity of the government in terms of international aid going into social or non-governmental organization hands, the leadership’s insensitivity towards the people’s plight, and the red-tape bureaucracy; all of these factors combined with prolonged political transition make the reconstruction process painstakingly slow.
In any case, let’s hope that the Authority will do its job effectively now so that the victims will get their due share.