Nepal 13: Earthquake Aftermath

Nepal after earthquake

As I walked around Thamel, I noticed there was a lot of rubble lying in the streets. In places, large sections of the city seemed to be missing. The flow of people adapted to these oddities by simply detouring elsewhere.

The rubble was the result of the 2015 earthquake, which had devastated Nepal a little under a year ago.

From the U.S., I remembered a flood of news coverage and charitable donation campaigns. The way I remembered it, hundreds of millions of dollars had been donated for disaster relief, as well as innumerable hours and personas from many international NGOs. And yet, here I was, a year later, in the capital city of Nepal, and people were still living in tents.

Growing up in Colorado, I was mercifully insulated from natural disasters for all of my life. Colorado doesn’t get many tornadoes, we never experience earthquakes, and coastal hazards like typhoons and tsunamis are a far-off fantasy to us.

An earthquake had rung southern Taiwan while Holly and I were there; but living in the capital city of Taipei, way up north, we had slept straight through the tremors.

To see the damage this earthquake had wrought on Kathmandu was devastating. If this was the state of things now, a year after the disaster, what must life have been like in the days and weeks immediately after? How many people saw their families halved, their homes destroyed, and their livelihoods crushed under rubble?

Was the earthquake responsible for the high level of unemployment I saw on the streets, so many young Nepali seemingly just lounging the day away? And if the damage was this bad in Kathmandu, the capital, what had happened to rural Nepal?

Rural Nepal was devastated.

Hundreds of villages suffered damage or were outright destroyed. The economic impact has been unquantifiable. The incredibly important Everest climbing season was canceled after the earthquake triggered an avalanche which flattened Everest Base Camp, and only half the usual amount of people showed up in 2016 to climb after the quake. Tourism dropped off a cliff, and agriculture was obviously interrupted too, as roads and structures had to be rebuilt.

Families had to mourn, and the entire country, even those areas which remained mercifully unaffected, felt the quake had to be a collective rebuke.

Otherwise, why would such a terrible thing happen?

The Nepali are an immensely happy, welcoming people.

Unfortunately, their government seems to be totally incompetent and corrupt. It’s a frequent accusation that senators and other government officials quietly Hoovered up all the international aid money, leaving the common people to rebuild for themselves. One female trekking guide I met, later in my trip, said her entire village had been leveled by the quake. The amount of aid they received from the government? $100, followed by another $200 four months later. That’s enough to rebuild one house, maybe, she said.

So now she works as a trekking guide. Most Nepali look down on females working in the trekking industry, which is traditionally considered men’s work. It is a serious mark of shame on her social status, but what else is there to do? The government will not help her, and her family needs the income.

In fact, most people believe the government of Nepal seriously hindered the relief efforts.

IMG_2235

About six months after the earthquake, Nepal’s parliament finally approved a new constitution. I say finally because they had been working on this constitution for eight years. So, they spent eight years on this constitution, passed it six months after the quake, and were immediately hit with a fuel blockade from India.

(Why, exactly, India cut off fuel seems to be a complicated question — I got a different answer from every person I asked. But you probably don’t know exactly why gas goes up and down in price, either).

Now, if you take a look at a map of Nepal, you’ll immediately understand the importance of trade with India. Nepal only borders two countries: India, to the south, and Tibet (China) to the north. The Tibet—Nepal border happens to be defined by the Himalayan mountain range, one of the most severe physical borders that exists on planet Earth. Not much trade passes through those mountains, and even less had been flowing since the earthquake damaged some of the roads.

nepalmap

India, meanwhile, is a country with innumerable ports and a strong manufacturing sector. Their economy dwarfs Nepal’s, as does their political clout. Nepal is dependent on India for a great number of goods and services, including fuel.

Six months after a terrible disaster which required massive mobilization, transportation, and relief efforts across the country, the government of Nepal managed to anger India – their most important trade partner – which promptly cut off the supply of fuel to the disaster-stricken country. Without fuel, reaching the remote areas of Nepal became prohibitively expensive, and the relief efforts ground to a halt.

Safe to say, the Nepali I met weren’t big fans of their government.

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11 thoughts on “Nepal 13: Earthquake Aftermath

  1. Wondering why even though millions of dollars of donations flooded their country and yet it seems no help received from the world? I do understand that, because it happened in my country as well. It’s corruption which I cannot comprehend because how these people still do that with their conscience knowing their own countrymen lost everything and still suffering? This is another facts of life.

  2. Hello! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m undoubtedly enjoying your blog and look forward to new posts.

  3. Good post, the world needs to know how Nepal is fairing. We understand from acquaintances that anyone that can is leaving Nepal due to the situation after such a long time of little recovery. This will not help the recovery.

  4. I enjoy your excellent insight and realization that even though we Americans have an inefficient government, it does try at least to help people, not as much as they need or that is fair, but they at least make an attempt. I am so glad that you write about your travels. Thank you….

  5. Good up-close perspective of the effects of a geopolitical machination that wasn’t covered in Western media. The timing of Nepal’s new constitution was unfortunate. India felt that it shifted too much political power away from amicable ethnic groups and provinces near their border. Regardless, a Nepali fuel agreement with PetroChina and the removal of Chinese travel visa requirements seemed to rather suddenly bring India back to the table. Too bad ordinary Nepalis had to suffer in the interim.

  6. God, you would think that after a year people would get there normal lives again. Unfortunately the news is only news in the heat of the moment, earthquakes, tsunamis, etc. The consequences are big, but the attention slips away soon.

    • It was really quite tragic the degree to which these problems haven’t been addressed. The Nepali I talked to, down to a woman, blame the government. Every time I hear people complaining about our government here in the U.S., I think back to the way the Nepali talked about their government. Our government, no matter how inefficient, at least tries to do WHAT THEY SEE AS RIGHT to help the people.

      The Nepali clearly don’t think their government even tries.

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