One year after earthquake, Nepalis still left in limbo
Politics and bureaucracy continue to hamper efforts to help millions left homeless by natural disaster
A year after the Nepal earthquake, Hong Kong has finally lowered its red travel alert. Sadly this does not flag a landmark in national reconstruction supported by pledges of support from the world community of US$4 billion. The work has barely begun. It is as if the country remains frozen in the immediate aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude earthquake on April 25 last year.
As a result, the travel warning has only been lowered to amber, with advice to Hong Kong residents to avoid non-essential travel to trekking areas as well as areas along the border with India. That is an inconvenience compared with the plight of Nepalis, many of whom still shelter under tarpaulins, tents and tin-roofed shacks. The streets may have been cleared of rubble and the most unstable structures demolished, but virtually none of hundreds of thousands of buildings destroyed by the quake have been rebuilt, including whole villages in the countryside.
Signs that an emergency relief effort coordinated by the military was being undermined by the civilian bureaucracy emerged soon after the disaster, with officials demanding payment of taxes delaying overseas aid including tents and tarpaulins, and refusing to release donated food because it included “unnecessary” items. Nepalis accustomed to corruption, weak government and self-interested politicians were not surprised, but it did not do justice to the response from 34 countries including China to appeals for assistance.
The government lays the blame for inaction on political conflict over a new constitution followed by a revolt among ethnic groups once it was approved that led to a blockade of the border with India, leading to shortages of essential supplies.
The Red Cross says four million people still live in temporary shelters. The government promised US$2,000 to every family who had lost a home towards rebuilding a new one. It claims the first money is being released. The victims should not be left to endure another monsoon and harsh winter without it.