By: Yubaraj Ghimire
A powerful aftershock on May 12 — almost as powerful as the earthquake on April 25 — took an additional toll not only on human life and property but also on the collective confidence of a people engaged in rebuilding what they had lost. The focus shifted again to search and rescue operations as fresh areas — Dolakha, Solu, Sindhupalchowk and Ramechhap — all east of Kathmandu saw houses falling. It is still not clear how many are buried underneath.
Indian, American and Chinese aircraft that had remained in Nepal promptly joined the mission, but it was hampered by the tragic crash of a US Marine chopper, with six American and two Nepalese military personnel on board. Incidentally, parliament was in session, to pay homage to those who lost their lives on April 25 and to announce the relief and reconstruction package, when the floor and the convention hall shook, forcing members to rub for safety.
The poor quality of governance, political instability and the total absence of accountability are further eroding people’s confidence in the government, even after it came out with a 27-point pledge for relief distribution and reconstruction. The absence of central authority has never been so starkly visible. President Ram Baran Yadav, supreme commander of the Nepal army, is apparently sulking, complaining that neither the cabinet nor the army chief briefed him when the army was being deployed for the rescue and relief operation.
The Nepal army — much vilified by the Maoists and others as the “king’s private army” in the aftermath of the 2006 change — which is working in coordination with the Armed Police Force and the Nepal Police, is the most admired institution in the country in the aftermath of the disaster. At
a time when the focus should have been on reaching succour to people, the state apparatus is not only in disarray but a section is fearing a political fallout, given the army’s current popularity.
The fear, perhaps, is more a reflection of their own shortcomings — especially on the part of the major political parties — that they failed to convince people about their ability to do what a natural disaster of this magnitude demands. Signs of a backlash against politicians are not hard to read. Social media is replete with hatred for MPs who collected a tent each for themselves, although the tents were meant for those who lost their homes.
The “donors’ world” is not united in terms of the approach they will adopt on how to move forward, despite generous offers of help from all quarters. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called a meeting for a “pledge” for Nepal next month, but at home, the government and political parties are not yet clear about what specifically they want each individual donor to do in the rebuilding process. The pressure on Prime Minister Sushil Koirala to quit and pave the way for a national government is rising. But the bigger parties have so far failed to define what constitutes the common agenda for such a government, or who would be the best person to lead it.
What is needed in this hour of crisis is clarity of approach and vision, as well as a collective resolve. That is just what is missing.