It was a grim weekend in Nepal. Saturday morning’s earthquake left over 2,000 dead in 30 of the country’s 75 districts. With access roads damaged and communications lines broken, the death toll is likely to rise further as news comes in from Nepal’s mountainous hinterland.
Tremors continue in the earthquake’s wake, with more than 30 aftershocks, including a 6.7 magnitude earthquake on Sunday afternoon.
They have created panic among the survivors, and hampered rescue and relief operations. Two Indian commercial flights had to return without landing at Kathmandu on Sunday afternoon as the officials manning the ATC towers had vacated them after a major aftershock.
The US has pledged $1 million to the aid effort and a disaster response team. Australia has also pledged a $5 million aid package, while Sri Lanka, the United Kingdom and China are sending teams to assist in search and rescue.
The major rescue and relief effort has come from India. Now christened “Operation Maitri”, it started within hours of the calamity when an Indian Air Force aircraft landed in Nepal with relief material and disaster management teams.
Since then, aircraft and helicopters have been pressed into service to provide relief material, undertake search missions and bring back Indians stuck in Nepal. A two-star general has been moved to Nepal to coordinate these efforts. In his radio address, “Mann ki Baat”, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke feelingly about the disaster and promised all efforts to save as many lives as possible. “Nepal’s pain is India’s pain… We will wipe the tears of every Nepali, hold their hand and give every support. The first thing is to beef up rescue operations,” he said. By all accounts, the response of the ministry of external affairs has been hearteningly agile, with the external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, leading from the front.
Prime Minister Modi made a highly successful visit to Nepal immediately after assuming office, but relations between the two countries have been uneven. They have strong cultural, social and economic ties, but the prevailing political instability in Nepal and Kathmandu’s increasing intimacies with Beijing have been a matter of concern for Delhi. A stronger relationship with Saarc countries, where they can benefit from India’s resources and growth story, has been a cornerstone of Modi’s foreign policy. By providing all possible help to Nepal in this moment of crisis, the Indian government appears to have lived up to its promise.