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.
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.
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.