Kathmandu: from Playground to Chessboard?

“Kathmandu today is an entirely different city from the one almost levelled in 1934. It is now a densely populated home to almost 2.5 million people, many living and working in buildings that will not withstand a significant seismic event. An earthquake, experts say, could displace more than 1.8 million people, kill over 100,000 and injure a further 300,000. Sixty percent of buildings could be destroyed.” This is an extract from a report on the OCHA website, of an international conference, held in April 2013, when Nepalese and international disaster officials gathered to imagine ‘once again’ the humanitarian consequences of another earthquake, and to consider the response.

80 years after the disastrous 1934 earthquake, the warning signs were there. The meeting also worked out ways in which to mitigate the consequences of the earthquake. So why wasn’t Kathmandu ready?

Unfortunately, South Asian governments don’t seem to have the political will to  take tough decisions on proper planning, especially when it comes to ‘freak events’ like earthquakes. Nepal is the 16th poorest country in the world. It has had a decade of civil war,  that some believe was quietly abetted by its larger neighbours, but that’s another issue. The country hasn’t been able to redraft its constitution ever since it changed from a Hindu monarchy to a secular democracy. Then there is the matter of corruption and bribery that allows ‘unsafe’ construction to grow.

The 2015 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction (GAR15), prepared by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) released in march 2015 by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, states that economic losses from disasters are now reaching an average of US$250 billion to US$300 billion annually.

In connection with the report’s findings, the Secretary-General said: “We are playing with fire. There is a very real possibility that disaster risk, fuelled by climate change, will reach a tipping point beyond which the effort and resources necessary to reduce it will exceed the capacity of future generations.”

Relief operations are on, but as an editorial in the Guardian put it, this ‘callous disproportion between Everest as a playground for a certain kind of privileged westerner and the poverty of their hosts is nothing new.’

The world has started to respond, and India and China are doing their ‘big brother’ bit. But this is only the beginning of a long and hard road.  An earthquake lasts mere minutes. But in the debris lie lifetimes of hopes and plans.

Nepal has always been poor and has been seen as a pawn by China and India, that’s no secret. The earthquake ensures that Nepal will need  support for years to come. But Nepal, like never before, will become a diplomatic chess board because international aid rarely comes with no strings attached.

-Frank Krishner

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Posted by on April 30, 2015. Filed under Breaking News,COLUMNS,Editorial. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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