One Year After Nepal Earthquake, a Nation Still Struggling to Recover
April 20, 2016
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 earthquake hit Nepal, followed by an even more devastating quake two weeks later resulting in almost 9,000 deaths, 8 million people affected, and vast swaths of the nation in rubble including the capital, Kathmandu. Now one year on, hundreds of aftershocks are still ongoing and the nation is still struggling to recover.
Just days ago, deadly quakes hit Japan and Ecuador, leaving scores dead and reminding of the global vulnerability to natural disasters and the importance of coordinated preparation. Assuring relief to the quake victims of Nepal is now even more urgent as monsoon season approaches.
Estimates suggest that the quake affected over 40 percent of Nepal in 39 of its 75 districts. Over 500,000 homes were destroyed and an estimated 2.8 million people needed humanitarian assistance. Initially paralyzed by the magnitude and rapid succession of the quakes, to its credit, the government was able to mobilize and coordinate security forces for rescue efforts and for public safety in the weeks that followed. However, relief dropped off significantly, and of the 14 worst-affected districts including those of Kathmandu valley, most have still not been reached by the government.
The situation has been further exacerbated by the political and economic instability that resulted after the parliament passed the constitution in September 2015, which was opposed by a large segment of Nepalese people as being non-inclusive. The ensuing political protests and economic blockade further derailed the reconstruction and recovery process, with the focus shifting to amending the new constitution. With tourism accounting for nearly a 10th of Nepal’s economy, the country has also suffered sorely in terms of lost revenue. The numbers of travelers to Nepal in the first 10 months after the disaster dropped by half.
According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, more than 31,000 earthquake survivors in 11 of the 14 worst affected districts have rebuilt their homes on their own. For many, the wait for government assistance was simply too long.
One area that often goes unmentioned is the potential for serious societal problems to manifest themselves in the months surrounding the one-year anniversary of a natural disaster. According to experts on societal impacts of natural disaster, the immediate aftermath of a disaster is usually met by people with immediate problem-focused coping activities and the instinct to survive. It is only many months later that the realities of increased debt and the need to rebuild are more fully realized. This may lead to even greater levels of indebtedness, increased human trafficking, prostitution, and higher rates of violence against women and substance abuse. So it should not come as a complete surprise if we soon see a spike in the statistics monitoring societal impacts.
However, as we close in on the one-year anniversary of the first earthquake, the wheels of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), long bogged down by a political dispute, are beginning to turn, with a CEO finally put in place in January 2016. The first tranche of reconstruction grants for displaced families has been signed and funds are trickling to survivors. In another positive sign, the NRA has reversed an earlier position and endorsed guidelines that allow INGOs and NGOs to work in reconstruction. Political parties agreed to move ahead with making amendments to the constitution, and recent statistics show an uptick in tourist arrivals as trekking routes open and some historic buildings in the capital have been restored.
As Nepal struggles to cope with post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction as well as political transition toward more stable and effective governance, change will have to be managed at multiple levels so that it can respond to the significant social, political, and economic issues that need resolution. The physical reconstruction of infrastructure and habitat has to be backed by a strong focus on social inclusion and equity to address the mental and psychosocial devastation faced by the people.
On April 21, The Asia Foundation’s field advisor in Nepal Ashray Pande will join local experts and development practitioners for a Give2Asia webinar discussion on the progress and challenges facing Nepal after the earthquake.
Edward Anderson is The Asia Foundation’s acting country representative in Nepal and Nandita Baruah is deputy country representative there. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not those of The Asia Foundation or its funders.
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