Updated: May 11, 2015 12:00:26 am
By Yubaraj Ghimire
Search and rescue teams from 34 countries, apart from internal security agencies, are slowly leaving a Nepal that is still mourning the loss of life and property caused by the April 25 earthquake. How the government will mobilise much-needed support for providing relief and shelter is something eight million victims have no clue about. Official figures so far indicate that around 8,000 people lost their lives, with more than 14,000 wounded and nearly 6,00,000 houses damaged.
The absence of coordination has hit relief work, especially in remote corners of the 14 worst-hit districts. Despite helping hands extended by many external donors and NGOs, complaints continue that the three key parties — the Nepali Congress, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) and the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-M) — are influencing the distribution of relief, injecting partisan politics into a humanitarian tragedy. Donors, including the UN and the US, have asked the government to be less bureaucratic in lifting aid-material from customs and allowing them to work with their partners, instead of the government and its agencies.
The appeal comes in the wake of the government’s decision that any money raised or donated must be deposited with the prime minister’s relief fund. The PM’s concern is understandable, but the past experience of the use, misuse and abuse of government coffers by the major parties, without accountability, has made the people and external donors sceptical of a single-door approach. In many affected districts, villagers living in tents have asked that the army — and not political parties — be involved in relief distribution.
The government’s poor response in the first 10 days further eroded public faith. Neither PM Sushil Koirala nor his Nepali Congress, nor even coalition partner UML, to say nothing of the opposition Maoists, called meetings of their respective party’s central committees to assess the impact of the disaster. Parliament was called only on the 12th day, since a regular session was due. Only once in the first 12 days did three top leaders — Koirala, UML chief K.P. Oli and Maoist chief Prachanda — travel on a helicopter together to convey the message that they were working together to meet the challenge.
From the international community, Indian PM Narendra Modi was the first to dispatch rescue teams. He has promised all help for the reconstruction, including the demolished heritage site. The Chinese have officially conveyed that they would be willing to work with India on reconstruction. In fact, there is an enviable degree of cooperation on offer from competing countries like Nepal’s two neighbours, which has been motivating many others. But all of that will mean nothing without the host government being clear about what it wants its neighbours and others to do.
The only mega scheme that the central bank has announced so far is interest-free loans for houses. But what will the government do with those who have nothing to “mortgage” for the loan? Indeed, top leaders of the three parties are still debating how much the government would need for reconstruction. The three parties also want a monopoly over monitoring and executing post-earthquake expenditure.
The effective handling of the post-earthquake situation in 1934 by Juddha Shumsher, then PM and head of the reigning oligarchy, is being cited in the media as a role model. In 1989, the then king, Birendra, personally supervised the relief and rescue work and camped with the victims. The current government’s lack of clarity may invite an angry response from the people.
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