On April 25, much of Nepal's most densely populated regions was struck by a massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Thousands were killed in the initial disaster, but aftershocks and other powerful tremors continue to cripple the nation. In the past three catastrophic weeks, the earthquake has lead to over eight thousand deaths and 76 thousand injuries. Initial estimates indicate that over 2.8 million people have been displaced, and an already fragile infrastructure has been maimed, making relief efforts even more arduous.
There has been a tremendous amount of support from the international community, with USAID working to bring close to 50 tons of supplies, and Chinese and Indian disaster response teams mobilizing only a day after the quake. Millions of dollars in private donations have helped assist relief across the country, and the IMF is working with the Nepalese government to help finance the reconstruction efforts in the long run.
However, as a special UN General Assembly session revealed this Friday, the international community has not committed enough. According to UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, about $423 million is needed to support the people of Nepal -- so far only 14 percent of this goal has been reached.
The main issue is that disaster relief in nations like Nepal go far beyond the typical search and rescue operations. Food security and access to clean water is perhaps the greatest concern. The Food Security Center estimates that 3.5 million people are in need of food assistance, and many agriculture-based livelihoods have been ripped apart by the disaster. Planting season begins in close to a month, and if farmers are unable to start rebuilding, the food insecurity will be compounded. Nepal is also highly reliant on trucking and wells for potable water, and with fuel running low and many wells damaged the risk of water-borne diseases is running high.
At the special session of the UN General Assembly, acting Vice-President of the General Assembly, Kaha Imnadze, explained "As we have learned from similar natural disasters, increases in mortality, morbidity and outbreaks of communicable diseases can be prevented through access to basic health care and clean water."
There is also only a limited window for relief in Nepal -- monsoon season is fast approaching, and the inclement weather might hamper relief efforts. Some of the worst hit villages are in the most difficult to reach areas of the country, and access to health care, sanitation, and hygiene services will get more and more problematic as time passes. A US helicopter was destroyed in a crash on Thursday, leaving no survivors, and highlights the perils of rescue operations.
However, the onus cannot be solely on the International Community. The disaster in Nepal has cast a stark light on the insidious political dysfunction that holds a vice grip on the country. Nepal is not only one of the poorest countries in the world, it also is one of the most corrupt. While the nascent democracy of Nepal comes from a heritage of poor governance and internal struggle, it doesn't excuse the poor handling of a disaster affecting the entire nation.
Reports have noted significant ire within tent camps surrounding Katmandu about the government's inadequate response. A video even surfaced showing villagers blocking a convoy bringing supplies in protest to the government.
The governmental inaction is a factor of Nepal's diverse populous. A cultural cross roads of religion, ethnicity, and race has meant that Nepal is a melting pot of culture. While this diversity has helped build a vibrant society, it has also made the creation of a fair government even more difficult. When the first constituent assembly was formed in 2008, following the slaughtering of the Royal Family and years of protest, it was dominated by Maoists and made up of 601 members. The gargantuan assembly has been a disappointment, barely ever coming to a consensus, and a constitution is yet to be written.
Reuters reported just one month before the earthquake that the British Government wished to cut Nepalese aid due to "endemic" corruption. Nepal was ranked 126th out of 175 countries in watchdog Transparency International's global corruption perception index last year, down from 116 in 2013. It's been a downward slope for the government, and the recent disaster has shown no signs of stopping the decline.
The situation in Nepal is certainly dire and the international community has much more work to do to support Nepal. But the world needs to reflect on their role in disaster management and prevention. Supporting good governance and rule of law goes beyond political theory, but has a legitimate impact on the lives of those in fragile nations. As Nepal recovers and eventually rebuilds, the international community will need to help Nepal transition into a more sustainable future.
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