The Road Back

Dokha EQ

I mentioned in one of my original posts about Nepal that the nation has been leaking, or should I say hemorrhaging, young educated people for some time, as many as 2000 per day. The employment opportunities just don’t exist here. The education is there if they are lucky to find it, afford it and pursue it. Young Nepalis choose business management and technical skills like engineering and finance to qualify for employment outside the country. Just now, the absence of young men is being felt a little more acutely.

There is also the diaspora of young and uneducated Nepalis who have also left Nepal in droves for lack of either economic or educational opportunity. An estimated 6 million are living and working outside the country, half in India and the rest in Malaysia, other nearby nations and many others in the Gulf states. They are known as hardworking and trustworthy, yet as we’ve heard from the Gulf states in particular, they are often exploited and mistreated.

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The road from Pokhara to Kathmandu is less traveled than the reverse direction. It is now reported that 800,000 have left Kathmandu. This is fairly staggering if true. So there are still many more busses leaving than arriving. Approaching the valley from the west, one becomes increasingly aware of the evidence of the earthquake. The small settlements that dot the roadside have all been effected, but mostly, the older brick structures are laid waste. We encountered a convoy of relief trucks from the Government of West Bengal. The Nepali army is in evidence and loads of relief supplies can be seen intermittently along the road waiting for disbursal.

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The headlines offer further disparate indicators of the breadth of this event:

  • All Everest expeditions have been cancelled for the year. This is the second year in a row.
  • The search for survivors in the Langtang National Park north of Kathmandu has been discontinued. There are over 100 foreigners who remain missing.
  • The Israeli government has sent clowns to perform in the hospitals and communities. Question: Will the Nepalis get the jokes? They only sent 5, so the clown car is out.
  • The second largest telecom company in Nepal, Ncell, is being investigated for attempting to avoid import taxes by labeling their imports from China with the Red Cross logo. Question: If you can’t trust Ncell, who can you trust?
  • There is rampant abuse, a shocking degree of lawlessness, really, of the tax-free designation for “relief supplies.”
  • The government is concerned that products like food and bottled water that are past their expiration dates are still being sold. Question: how is the expiration date of bottled water determined?
  • 90% of all schools in Sindhupalchowk district northeast of Kathmandu were either damaged or destroyed. Over 500 total. Question: how much does a school cost?
  • The quake happened on a Saturday. If it had happened during the week, children would have been in those schools. 45,000 children. Current estimates of total deaths when all accounting has been completed range from 10-26,000. How much does a school cost?
  • The UN estimates that of 66,000 homes in the Sindhupalchowk district, only 1000 remain undamaged.
  • Bangladesh is sending 10,000 tons of rice to Nepal.
  • Tourists in Pokhara have apparently collected enough donations to assemble what looked to me like a full truckload of rice to be distributed to earthquake victims. Way to go!
  • Intestinal illness, measles, pneumonia, waste management are all worsening.
  • Profiteering is rampant.
  • Thieves entering abandoned homes is an increasing problem.
  • My first night back in Kathmandu, I awaken, anticipating an aftershock. There was an aftershock today.
  • Economic activity in CA equals the entire annual GDP of Nepal Every.Three.Days.
  • It’s hard to build local resilience when there haven’t been any local elections for 16 years. Having civil servants in charge of local affairs is a core feature of systemic corruption, unaccountability and discriminatory practices.

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Older structures damaged or destroyed by the quake are simply gone. Everyone loses. But in a country with suspiciously ineffective governance, poverty, loose enforcement of building codes and a weak or non-existent legal framework for dealing with catastrophe, the consequences of rapid urbanization and development now present issues of unprecedented complexity. Is there someone responsible for newer buildings that did not withstand the quake, that may be damaged and now uninhabitable? Were they sold as earthquake proof? Are the standards adequate or were they not enforced? Do the tenants sue the realtors or the builders or the investors? Do the investors sue the government? Does the government sue the contractors? Does everybody lose? Who would invest now under these conditions?

One school, with ten rooms, accommodating 50-75 students, earthquake-proof construction, local labor, furnished, hydroelectric power (maybe with solar back-up), will cost in the neighborhood of 30 lakh NRs. That’s 30,000USD. Sounds like a bargain to me.

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