Perspective

No relief for Nepals latest crisis

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Maximillian Morch

On the 25thApril 2015 Nepal was rocked by a massive earthquake in Barpak, Gorkha district. The resulting damage was immense, over 8,000 died, entire villages were destroyed, families torn apart and livelihoods devastated. The whole world looked on at Nepal, with TV crews from all over the world descending on mass to Kathmandu. Nepal has been struggling to come back to its feet ever since. However since the camera crews have left Nepal has been suffering from another crisis, which has potentially caused more damage to the country than the earthquake. Yet no-one is watching.

When the earthquake hit Nepal, the International Disaster Management community sprang into action. Less than 30 minutes after the earthquake, a relief force in Delhi was being mobilized. In the weeks and months that followed Kathmandu became home to a circus of international media and international actors. For a week or so at least, the world’s eyes were on Nepal. Over $4.4 billion was pledged to help the country, along with countless messages of support and solidarity with Kathmandu. Teams from America, UK, France, Germany and New Zealand, to name but a few, arrived with the aid and medical supplies needed to stop a disaster turning into a country wide tragedy. There were undoubtedly certain issues with the aid distribution; however it can’t be denied the aid teams provided vital aid and supplies to those who needed it. It is now when the same supplies are still sorely needed.

Several months after the earthquake, a sense of normalcy was returning to Kathmandu. The remote villages still and will continue to bear the brunt of the damage but the capital at least was on its way back to its feet. Then on the 20th September, Nepal signed a new constitution. Despite having spent 8 years trying, and failing, to sign a constitution as a secular, democratic republic, it took an earthquake to bring the leaders to a compromise.However what has followed for many has been more damaging to Nepal than the earthquake. Due to a lack of representation and perceived discrimination against ethnic groups in the southern plains protests have erupted across the country. There are daily reports of protests, shootings and deathsin the Terai.  Since then a blockade has effectively stopped petrol, cooking gas and trucks with other vital supplies from entering the country. Nepali politicians have blamed India for tacitly complying with the protests by stopping or slowing down the traffic into Nepal. The damage this is having on a country already struggling to find its feet is immense.

Schools and universities that had just reopened after the earthquake have now shut again.The effects on the economy have been equally devastating with industrial zones and factories having been closed since the protests began. The lack of fuel means transport throughout the country has been hampered. This has also led to a drop in the numberof tourists coming to Nepal, hugely damaging due to Nepal’s reliance upon the tourism industry. Pharmacies are running out of medicine, there are kilometres long lines for both petrol and cooking gas. Yet certain industrialists and businessmen are making huge sums of money from hoarding and selling on the black market. This will cause internal divisions that will really threaten the weak cohesion of the Nepali society and may very well led to serious derailments in the country’s future developments.

While the earthquake managed to make at the very least a form of rough ad-hoc consensus, the events of the last few weeks have done their best to erode that and worse, create a hostile us and them mentality. What is worse is due to the fuel crisis, the very needy are left without while those with access to money can easily afford to buy petrol on the gas market or induction cookers and electric heaters. Therefore those hit hardest by the earthquake are the same ones being hit again, except this time there is no international agency for the government to rely on. It is no surprise then to hear UNICEF declare that the blockade “threatens the future of the country itself”. This is particularly worrying this winter, as thousands still reside in temporary housing. It will be a very cold winter for those in the hills without adequate shelter or protection from the cold. The blockade has become a humanitarian crisis. However this is a humanitarian crisis lacking a humanitarian response.