AKF Programme Officer, Stefan Cramer, provides an eye-witness account into the ever-apparent devastation of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal nine months on.
I arrived in Kathmandu, Nepal, not really knowing what to expect. I had heard and read so much about this nation, but first-hand experiences can always surprise. The reality could be different, or indeed, it could be the same. After arriving at Kathmandu International Airport, we drove to the hotel in the centre of Kathmandu. As we proceeded through the bumpy and narrow roads, an omnipresent image revealed itself: the sheer amount of damage the earthquake had caused, and the fact it still exists. Damaged half-built apartment towers with large cracks snaking up the side and the remnants of other houses, now just a pile of rubble. These are now living testaments to the 2015 earthquake, the legacy that Nepal and the international community must now attempt to overcome. As we drove further, the streets were lined with small fires, people huddled around the flames to keep warm and to cook food. Poverty still persists, exacerbated further by the devastation last year.
The earthquake is an ever-present factor and is still pre-eminent in everyday life of the Nepalese. What has made this worse is the fuel crisis that has gripped the country since September 2015. Wherever you go in Kathmandu, lines of vehicles waiting for fuel are simply unbelievable, stretching and winding as far as the eye can see. Not only that, almost all of the population has been hit with power outages and experience long periods without any electricity, hot water or heating. As Nepal is now well into the winter season, these have had, and are still having, dramatic effects on the population only increasing their vulnerability. These latest shortages in absolutely crucial resources have only made Nepalese life even more difficult. Furthermore, the recovery and development of the country have been compromised due to this, with supplies waiting in limbo, unable to cross the border.
The April and May earthquake and the subsequent series of almost continuous aftershocks culminated in the destruction and damaging of houses, infrastructure and national monuments, even in the centre of Kathmandu. Once out of Kathmandu and into the surrounding areas, the extent of the damage becomes far more apparent. Neglected by the Nepalese government and the international community at large, Lalitpur District lies close to Kathmandu, yet almost a world apart. These areas, namely Bungmati and Harisidhi, have been largely neglected by the government and aid organisations that have instead focused their attentions and aid efforts on Kathmandu. When walking through these areas, the extent of the damage remains apparent. Collapsed houses, now totally uninhabitable, are littered across the landscape with isolated pockets of people beginning to reconstruct their homes. National, religious and historic monuments were not impervious to the destruction, with a temple laying in the heart of the central square completely gone and no remnants or trace of its existence. Yet, amidst all this devastation, the people smile and say “Namaste???, even in such a dire situation as this, the people are hospitable and friendly.
With the consequences of the Nepal earthquake looming everywhere, Nepal’s recovery yet to fully materialise and be implemented anywhere near the extent it needs to from the terrible events of last year. Like many natural disasters, it struck at a precarious time. The earthquake exacerbated pre-eminent and underlying issues: the innate poverty that has shaped, and continues to shape, Nepalese society; the heavily reliance on foreign aid; political tensions within, and from without, and its vulnerability to natural disasters. Nepalese society has been moulded by a kaleidoscope of different cultures, religions and ethnicities that have created what is an utterly astonishing country. But one where political wrangling, protests and general unrest are prominent features of Nepal. Despite these prevalent issues, there is great hope for the future.
However, despite the many challenges and setbacks, Nepalese continues to experience the heavy presence of INGOs and NGOs in Kathmandu operating across Nepal have eased the suffering of the most vulnerable in Nepalese society. There is now a general consensus that a degree of normality can slowly be reintroduced to Nepal. The government has recently announced an ambitious National Reconstruction plan, with other international institutions developing their own programmes in line with the government’s overall strategy. Now that the Rehabilitation phase has begun in Nepal, the future is looking increasingly brighter for the Nepalese. There is a glimmer of hope for these people, and the International organisations, working alongside and with the government, and perhaps more importantly, the Nepalese people themselves, can bring this hope and make it a reality. The vision of a fully recovered Nepal can only be realised with the coordination, collaboration and cooperation between these different parties. Nepal depends on it now more than ever.