When nature balances itself, humans often go into an unbalanced mode. Since weekend there has been so much said and written about the recent Nepal earthquake that hit the capital city of Kathmandu transforming the bustling metropolis into rubble. While the world is deeply saddened and has provided a helping hand there are lessons that not just Nepal, but other Asian countries need to learn, and I’m afraid to say, learn it before it’s too late. The recent earthquake that happened might have surprised the residents and the world community at large, but not the experts. It was a ticking time-bomb waiting to explode. A disaster waiting to happen in the lap of the mighty Himalayas.
Earthquake prediction technologies are far from reality yet, and therefore we cannot pinpoint the exact time of the quake. Maybe in the future we might have technologies that can avert such events. Currently, the only way to resolve this is to provide swift rescue and relief operations and focus on how life can return to normalcy at the earliest. Five days after the disaster, Nepal is still struggling to dig out the rubble and provide aid to the needy ones, even when the global assistance is flying in from all directions. Now, this is what I call a true disaster – helplessness.
While governments claim to offer immediate assistance, the local residents are frustrated with the relief and rescue operations that they claim is just too slow. It only displays how powerless and vulnerable Nepal government is to care for its own people when faced with such calamity. As per what I read in various reputed newspapers, local residents have taken up the initiative to dig up the rubble with bare hands as they received no major assistance for the first few days. The desperation level of the victims inches higher with every passing moment leading to chaos and suffering. Currently, more than 6000 people are confirmed dead and authorities claim that the number might reach or exceed 10,000 by the time rescue operations are done with. Many remote villages are receiving help now and people are extremely furious about it which in some cases resulted in riots.
Nestled on a fault line, Nepal always knew that they are in the high risk region. The government officials did impose a new building code in 1994, but nothing much has been implemented in reality. The resource-strapped country that struggles to improve it’s per capita GDP has very little choice and options to focus on security and natural disaster risk management. Although, India has been the first to rush and respond to Nepal earthquake victims, the scene in India’s own backyard is not quite good. A recent Hindustan Times article clearly speaks about the slow implementation of India’s ambitious programs of Ministry of Earth Science and the Indian Meteorological Department to prepare for such a disaster. The article claims that while the government initiated the action plan in 2007 and allocated 298 crore for the scheme, microzonation of only few metro cities have been done so far. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report also indicates that the National Disaster Management Authority’s earthquake risk mitigation project awarded to the Buildings Materials and Technology Promotion Council in 2011 is still under preparatory stages. Some of the earthquake prone states in northern part of India like Uttarakhand were covered in 2005 where the cell identified around 7,374 buildings vulnerable to moderate earthquake, but no measures were taken to retrofit it. In 2013, Uttarakhand witnessed a multi-day cloud-burst that led to devastating floods and landslides. The state government now blames the cell officials for failing in their duties and the blame game continues. Similarly, governments in other surrounding countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan are not fully prepared to handle such events which only add to the misery of the situation. In other words, other Asian countries are as vulnerable as Nepal and might face similar situation if any earthquake, tsunami, cyclone or floods occur in the region. Governments in these nations are more focused on urbanization and development while they sidetrack certain issues that need equal attention to protect the lives and property of the common people.
Another reason why Nepal has failed miserably is because the country has no political stability. In last eight years, Nepal had eight prime ministers which clearly showcases that the country has been facing leadership crisis and different political parties have been desperately jockeying for power. Other Asian countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan have been lucky to have a more stable government, but much of the political scenario in Asia is marked with hostilities and internal conflicts that curb the speed of development. Many of the Asian countries do not have proper political channels that speed up the process and act diligently when required. To make it worse, red tapism and extensive paper work breaks down the entire process bringing it to a halt altogether.
It goes without saying that most of the money allocated for disaster management often ends up in the pockets of those who take up such projects. Financial scams and money laundering is quite rampant in politics in Asia. Some of the projects that get approved by the government remain incomplete for years at stretch due to shortage of funds.
While we all are praying for the victims of Nepal earthquake, we also need to realize that something similar can strike in our backyard as well in the near future. Governments need to realize that the amount of money we spend on disaster response after such events is greater than the amount spent on preventing such disasters, or at least minimize the effects of it. Currently, Nepal is trying to focus on providing relief to the victims, but once they are done with it, the country will have to think on not just rebuilding, but to be prepared for the future earthquakes that might once again rock the roof of the world. For the rest of us, its time to learn from it, before the next one occurs.