As foreign relief and support groups pour in to join Nepal’s race against time and weather to reach people hit by quakes over the weekend, its government is struggling to keep politics out of relief distribution and focus on areas where it is needed most.
Men and material have arrived in droves but government officials concede that distribution and directions have not been as swift, suggesting lack of preparedness on the ground and poor coordination among agencies.
People with access to power are pulling strings to be the first in queue for bottled water, dry rations, medicines and tents. This is causing deep resentment, given that there’s a vast majority without “contacts” in politics and administration.
On Tuesday, a group of Kathmandu businessmen circulated a message saying they had collected relief material but wanted to hand it over to “responsible people for fair distribution”.
Moreover, much of the attention of search-and-rescue missions has been on the Kathmandu Valley. The extent of the devastation in the mountain districts such as Gorkha is not yet known and relief efforts there have only just begun.
Sindhupalchok, Dhading, Rasuwa, Bhaktapur too are in desperate need of help. Many of the injured came in a bus on their own from Sindhupalchok to the Kathmandu Medical College Hospital on Tuesday to get themselves treated.
Officials are blaming poor connectivity, erratic phone lines and snapping of road links for not making it to the far-flung areas.
Politics, says an official, creeps in every time a big decision has to be taken. “For every decision, a four-party committee is formed. Each in the committee favours his own, so that doesn’t really help, especially in a situation such as this.”
Nepal’s coalition government of the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML still has to deal with the Maoists and the Madhesi parties, and politics here has been on a rollercoaster ever since the end of a decade-long Maoist insurgency and the abolition of 240 years of monarchy.
One official said relief material is essentially being distributed to those whose houses have been damaged or have taken shelter in 16 designated camps. But there are hundreds outside these camps who have been shut out of the relief process. A hailstorm on Tuesday afternoon has added to their misery as they sleep in the open, crawling beneath sheets rigged as tents.
Chief Secretary Leela Mani Paudyal told reporters: “The big challenge is relief. We urge countries to give us special materials and medical teams. We are really desperate for more foreign expertise to pull through this crisis.”
Anger is mounting. As he watched men of the Nepal Armed Police search through the debris of a toppled building in the heart of Kathmandu, a policemen controlling the crowds said, “You can’t stop people from surging forward. They have lost everything. The government should step in quickly. So much has come from so many countries but even three days after the earthquake, very little has been distributed.”
There is no consolidated list of the relief material that has poured in since Saturday. Officials say information is still being collected to draw up a list. Authorities at the Tribhuvan international airport are working round the clock to accommodate relief flights and allot parking bays to airlines ready to fly out the hundreds stranded.