Rebuilding of Nepal must take into account inevitability of earthquakes
The heartbreak being felt by Nepalis is familiar to the people of Sichuan and Qinghai : the provinces over the past decade have been hit by earthquakes similar in strength to that which rocked the Himalayan nation on Saturday. China was among the first nations to send a rescue team and mobilise aid, and more support is on the way. But the scale of the devastation, Nepal's unpreparedness and the remoteness of affected areas makes for a mammoth task. With the aid effort only now getting into its stride, it is important that foreign militaries and civilian agencies coordinate efforts to provide as efficient as possible a response.
It is difficult to grasp the scale of the disaster. The quake, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, was centred just 80km from Kathmandu and has affected eight million people, about 30 per cent of the country's population. Buildings have been flattened, roads destroyed and electricity and water supplies cut off. At least 4,600 have been killed and 8,000 injured. Hongkongers and mainland citizens are among the hundreds of foreigners missing in a nation where tourism is important.
International aid, at first slow in coming due to the government's inability to cope and damage to infrastructure, is now finding its way to victims, but the need is enormous: the UN says up to 1.4 million urgently require food. And that is just the immediate need - it will take years for Nepal to recover. One of Asia's poorest countries, the quake struck as it was beginning to experience economic growth and stability after a decade-long Maoist insurgency and a coup that overthrew the royal government. Progress had been slow due to corruption and the ineptitude of officials. Finding those buried by rubble, helping the injured, sheltering the homeless and getting food and water to the needy will be challenging enough; rebuilding the shattered nation will be a daunting task.
The quake had been predicted and long expected. Nepal sits astride the convergence of the Indian and Asian tectonic plates and seismic activity is common. A tremor the size of that at the weekend occurs about every eight decades and it had been 81 years since one as big last hit. Despite that, buildings had been poorly constructed and the government unprepared.
International operations are finally stepping up pace. Coordination is necessary to ensure help gets to where it is most needed. But longer-term, a reconstruction plan has to be worked out so that Nepal can better weather nature's fury.