Why Nepal needs to learn from the events of 2015 and ensure it takes the right path in 2016.
Frankly speaking 2015 has been an awful year for Nepal. In the last 9 months alone earthquakes have rocked the country, a new constitution has been met with strong opposition and more recently the political crisis that’s gripped the Terai has held back the supplies so vital for reconstruction.
The earthquake that struck Barpak in April devastated several districts and posed Nepal with numerous challenges both physically and economically. In the Post Disaster Needs Assessment the damage was estimated at over $7billion. Compounding these problems is the political crisis in the Terai resulting from the new constitution deemed by many in the Terai to be discriminatory. The constitution, ushered in a hurry, which had been aimed at creating a ‘New Nepal’ united and prepared for reconstruction has instead divided the country, stoking pre-existing resentment and letting simmering tensions boil over into scarcely disguised rage. The scenes that unfolded were reminiscent of Nepal during the insurgency. These are not the images of a country united under a new constitution.
Yet the bad news does not end there, the economic damage from the political crisis, which effectively closed the majority of the borders with India, threatens to overshadow the earthquake. With hospitals lacking medicine, schools closed due to a lack of available transport the only sector that is doing well is the booming black market, creating yet more problems and disparity.
The economy has been dealt a serious blow, with industry running at less than 30% of capacity and tourist numbers heavily down. This threatens to combine into a slump that once entered into Nepal may fail to recover from.There are less flights coming into Kathmandu, and the ones that are, are worringly often half full. Hotels and restaurants are struggling to cope, both with the reduced footfall and a scarcity of vital supplies. This is not a healthy economy. Everest, for many seen as the location for the ultimate conquest of man over nature, has failed to see a successful summit attempt for over 2 years now. This famous cash cow is inextricably linked with Nepal’s image to the rest of the world. The opening of Nepal’s borders in 1950 and the resulting Everest expeditions was the sign to many that Nepal was opening up to the world. It is highly symbolic therefore that the upper echelons of the mountain remain deserted.
A devastating earthquake, a fuel crisis and a political crisis; each of these on their own would be enough to derail a country’s development. The fact that despite such a toxic combination having occurred, Nepal is still in relative peace is remarkable. It is hard not to think back to images of looting in Haiti and breathe a collective sigh of relief that it never occurred here. Yet while Nepal never succumbed to looting or violence after the earthquake their troubles are far from over.
Reconstruction of any country after such devastation would be difficult, resource intensive and wrought with challenges. We just have to look at the issues Japan has faced with Fukushima to see how it can stretch the capacity of a highly developed nation. For lesser-developed nations such as Nepal these challenges can become scarcely surmountable.
Whilst it can be easy, and certainly often appealing, to blame others or outside interferences for some of these issues not all the problems are external and can be blamed on a foreign hand. Last week the Commission of Inquiry into Abuse of Authority summoned 29 people, including politicians and and public post holders, for investigation. None of this makes heartening reading, it’s certainly been a long time since the papers were able to report something resembling good news, however this is exactly what is needed.For things to improve a sense of normality, but not apathy, has to be restored in 2016.
With rumours of a sub-par monsoon in 2016 to come, threatening agricultural outputs that have become so vital in recent months, it is imperative that those working in Singha Durbar come together to deliver concrete results and tangible benefits. As many brace themselves for a winter with scarce fuel and gas there is yet to be sign of a brighter dawn coming, but it must. This cannot continue next year, if it were, Nepal seriously risks not only future development but its stability and security. Currently Nepal stands straddling two worlds, progression and regression. It is the job of policymakers and politicians to ensure Nepal sticks to the right path. This nation has come too far and overcome too many challenges to be allowed to falter now. - Max Mørch