KATHMANDU, April 23: As we mourn the loss of 9,000 plus lives in last year's tragic earthquakes, Ecuador, a South American country, was also struck by a devastating magnitude 7.8 earthquake last week, leaving more than 600 dead and a damage of 2-3 billion dollars. President Rafael Correa said the country will increase taxes, sell assets and issue bonds to raise billions required for rebuilding efforts. Hours after the disaster, President Correa visited areas destroyed by the quake and assured the people of full-fledged government support.
The speed with which the country's leader took the front seat in expediting relief and rebuilding is indeed an inspiring anecdote for our leaders here in Nepal. In the absence of then Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, the acting prime minister Bam Dev Gautam did not even bother to visit the heart of Kathmandu on Saturday, April 25, 2015. He was chased away by the locals near Dharahara when he showed up the next day while people were busy clearing debris and searching for the missing people.
The devastating earthquake of April/May 2015 and subsequent aftershocks shook the foundations of our economy and took away thousands of promising lives. The tragedy also brought us together as a nation. Both old and young people went out of their way to help and support those in need. We witnessed extraordinary resilience, bravery and love all across Nepal. However, the response from our government and international organizations, including the UN agencies, did not stand out. People chose to support each other, without expecting anything from the government. A year after the tragedy, we are now seeing communities and individuals coming together to rebuild their destroyed lives, in a true spirit of Nepalis.
The KP Oli administration and the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) seem to be lost in bureaucratic and business-as-usual conundrum. The International Conference on Nepal Reconstruction, held in June 2015 in Kathmandu, received a pledge of US$4.4 billion. There was a sense of optimism among the earthquake victims of timely reconstruction initiation. That all faded soon after the Conference, as the then Sushil Koirala government failed to appoint a CEO in the NRA. Then the rebuilding work became a non-issue as parties busied themselves in fighting over the new constitution.
The Oli administration has been frustratingly apathetic to the sufferings of the earthquake victims. On the day when Nepal's major national dailies reported deaths of earthquake survivors of cold in December 2015, PM Oli expanded his cabinet in Kathmandu. This was an insult to the people who were just beginning to move on from the disaster.
If you ask the NRA and the government, they have all the excuses for the delay in reconstruction work. President Bidya Bhandari and Prime Minister KP Oli launched a mega reconstruction campaign in January 2016 in Kathmandu. That too ended up being just one of many gimmicks of the Oli administration.
With the number of activities and high-level visits by the UN and other agencies to mark the anniversary of April/May earthquakes this week, Kathmandu feels incongruously festive. Photo exhibitions, field visits and glossy reports of support provided to earthquake victims are flooding our newsrooms. Credits will be taken and given, but the people continue to suffer. The upcoming monsoon will once again take away promising young lives, makeshift shelters will be swept away by swollen rivers, and Singha Durbar will carry on with its business.
It appears that we never learn from our past missteps and governmental delays. It seems that those in power in Kathmandu simply choose to ignore the earthquake victims. There were no protests and strikes against the government for its abysmal failure in expediting the reconstruction work. Resource and expertise were not the issue, unwillingness on the political front killed any hopes of getting things done on time. British PM Winston Churchill is once believed to have said, "Never let a good crisis go to waste." And we, as a nation, are doing exactly the opposite. The government failed to mobilize technological expertise, young people's willingness to contribute to rebuilding and the generosity of the international community. If the Oli administration cannot accelerate reconstruction, this will be the darkest stain on his premiership. We can only hope that this first anniversary will provide our government with the wisdom and unwavering commitment to finally begin the long-delayed reconstruction project, and this will be a true tribute to those who lost their lives last year in the quake.