NEPAL – Political situation hinders aid and reconstruction after devastating earthquake
Reconstruction efforts continue several months after devastating earthquake
Seven months ago a devastating 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, claiming the lives of more than 9000 people and causing extensive damage to buildings and infrastructure.
Although only less than 1% of the population in Nepal is Catholic, church agencies including Aid to the Church in Need and Caritas have played an import part in the country’s recovery. In the first few months after the earthquake, the main priority was to provide emergency supplies including clothing, blankets, tents and bathrooms. Catholic aid agencies also distributed food to some villages where there was a food shortage. Aid was given to over 70,000 families.
Among the tasks that lie ahead is the reconstruction of over 3500 houses and restoring the means of earning a livelihood. Other programmes involve security and reducing the risk of disaster.
The UN coordinator in Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, warned that 80,000 displaced families still need food and shelter with the onset of winter.
According to figures from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) , the joint relief effort by the government of Nepal and NGOs has benefited over 700 thousand families.
Bishop Paul Simick of Nepal has written to Aid to the Church in Need about the current situation in Nepal as a result of this year’s earthquakes and political tension between Nepal and India.
Nepal’s present situation: Bishop Paul Simick
The situation of Nepal at the moment is pretty frightening as the closure of Nepal’s main borders crossing with India continues for the third month now. There is a shortage of essential commodities including fuel and medicines and emergency medical and surgical supplies and equipment. Nepal depends hugely for its fuel and medicines on India. In Kathmandu capital city one can see people queuing with their cars and motorbikes for hours and hours to get fuel rationed by the Nepal Oil Corporation. Many restaurants have brought their shutters down because of the shortage of cooking gas (LPG). In some point in the city the Government has started selling firewood to make up for cooking gas. Very few private vehicles are plying. City Buses and long distance Buses are packed; people are even compelled to travel on the roof. Taxi fares have increased three to four times the usual rate. This crisis has also greatly disturbed schools and colleges. Schools in the Kathmandu valley have begun closing down, as the school authorities aren’t able to provide fuel for school buses. Many of these children were already studying at the temporary learning centers. More than 16,000 public and private schools were destroyed and thousand more damaged by the earthquake. Schools and Colleges in the Southern plains have been closed for more than 100 days now.
This problem began after the promulgation of the New Constitution of Nepal on September 20, 2015 as the Madhesi ethnic minority in the southern plains (tarai) expressed their dissatisfaction over political representation in the New Constitution. Since then the tensions and violence have spread all over the Nepal-India bordering areas. So far more than 50 people have lost their lives and thousands have been injured. I think it is another disaster after the twin earthquakes that killed more than 9000 people.
The situation is going from bad to worst day by day with no sign of solving the problem. There is a blame game played by both Nepal and India. Nepali politicians blame India for “unofficial blockade” while New Delhi categorically denies and urges Nepal to amend its newly promulgated constitution in line with the demands of the Madhesi people.
The problem has affected Nepali people not only on a political level but also socially. The victims of the massive earthquake of April have been severely hit by the closure. Essential food and shelter materials have not been able to reach those who are still in relief camps in time. Moreover winter has arrived and they need warm clothes and blankets because most of the areas worst hit by the earthquake are in extreme cold zones (districts) during the winter.
This closure has also severely affected earthquake relief and restoration work. Most of the reconstruction materials like cement, zinc sheets and iron rods are imported from India. The Catholic Church through its social arm “Caritas Nepal” has been working in the worst hit areas from day one since the massive catastrophe took place. Caritas Nepal along with its International Caritas Federation was ready for the rehabilitation and restoration work after the monsoon but sad to say that we have not able to carry out the work as we had planned. We are not even able to go to those places to distribute warm clothes and blankets because of the lack of mobility. Our rehabilitation programs have been halted because our delivery trucks are out of fuel.
Many of our Religious Congregations and many INGOs and NGOs are struggling to continue their ongoing efforts of reconstruction in various earthquake-affected areas. Everyone who is involved in earthquake relief tells the same story. It is heart breaking to see that worst-affected people are still living in tents and not getting what they have been promised.
Along with reconstruction and rehabilitation work, the Catholic Church is also giving psychological help spiritual support to children and adults who have been traumatized. Even recently there was an aftershock of 5.3 MMS.. This psychological help is very important as people are mentally scarred, children need healing.
We are grateful for all the help we received from many people and places. We do still need help in whatever way possible from our donors. We need your spiritual support. Please pray for Nepal and her people.
What surprises me, is that after more than three months of this border closure that led to deterioration of the National economy and people’s living conditions, Nepali people have not made any major protest against India or their own political leaders. People seem to have accepted it as their fate.