Nepal earthquake: Time to rebuild

Two weeks after the calamitous earthquake, the country is slowly limping back to life.

The quake brought death and destruction, especially to the central part of the country, with the latest death toll according to the official count hitting 7,912 and the number of injured at over 17,871. Hundreds of thousands have been rendered homeless.

As of Saturday, 297,266 private houses have been completely damaged and 277,050 houses partially damaged. Still, the casualty figure is expected to rise as more information comes in from the districts which have been hardest hit.

The rescue and relief operation is in full swing now, although it was belated in the beginning.

The first couple of days after the quake, the government were in a kind of confusion regarding how to go about the rescue and relief works due to the sheer scale of damages and its ill-preparedness. But later on the government came to its senses and started expediting the rescue and relief distribution works in a systematic and well-coordinated manner.

The rescue and relief operations are intensified by the Nepalese Army, police and numerous international teams.

However, there are reports from many quake-ravaged areas of relief not reaching the needy people. Or even if relief has reached to these remote places, it is inadequate.

Amidst all this, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala has announced that special relief and rehabilitation package would be brought for the earthquake affected people, now languishing in makeshift shelters or in some cases under the open sky, without enough food.

Addressing the Parliament session on Friday, the Prime Minister called for greater unity among all the parties and the people at this difficult time to overcome the adversity. He exhorted the people to have composure and join hands to ameliorate the situation.

Premier Koirala, along with CPN (UML) chairman KP Oli and the Unified CPN (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, on Thursday visited Rasuwa, Nuwakot and Dhading districts to take stock of the damage caused by the April 25 earthquake.

Before visiting these districts, the PM on Wednesday visited Gorkha and saw for himself the extent of damage there.

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister had visited Sindhupalchok district, another hardest-hit district.

Barpak of Gorkha district is the epicentre of the 7.6-magnitude quake.

During his field trips to these quake affected districts, Prime Minister Koirala tried to assuage the people that although the political parties might differ on matters political, they were one on the question of relief and rehabilitation.

He reiterated that the government and the major political parties are agreed on providing short-term relief to the quake victims and their long-term rehabilitation.

The immediate task at hand now is to provide relief to and make arrangements for temporary shelter for the quake victims. The need for speeding up the rehabilitation works is also more pressing as monsoon season is barely two months away.

The State should also not lose sight of the need to plan for the long term relief and rehabilitation of the quake affected people.

The government has also announced a resettlement programme for the quake victims. Individuals and organisations in the private sector have also announced that they are going to help build temporary shelters and permanent houses for the homeless.

These are some welcome news but attention should be given to undertaking the rehabilitation and resettlement programmes in a coordinated manner. The poor should be prioritised in this task.

A vital point would be missed here if the destruction by the devastating earthquake of many of our historical heritage sites is not mentioned here.

Many temples and historic buildings at the Kathmandu Durbar Square, Bhaktapur Durbar Square and Lalitpur Durbar Square, listed under the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, have been razed to the ground.

It is said that the quake demolished 116 such heritages in Bhaktapur alone.

The Dharahara, another ancient monument, is gone and what remains of it is only a stump. We will have to restore and rebuild these important heritages to preserve the identity of Kathmandu and the landmarks of our civilization.

After the rescue, rehabilitation and recovery phase is over, then, the country will move on to the phase of rebuilding.

The nation must pull its resources together for this rebuilding phase for it is going to require much investment and efforts. The rebuilding should be sustainable.

The April 25 Great Quake has taught us a great lesson. Now, we cannot afford to take things for granted and remain complacent when it comes to rebuilding our towns. We should make it a point to strictly adhere to the building code, always keeping in mind that we are living on a geological fault line and therefore always vulnerable to quakes – big and small.

Moreover, this is a testing time for our country. In a way, this earthquake has foisted upon us the opportunity of building a new Nepal.

It is at trying times like the present one that a nation’s strength is put to test. It is an occasion for all Nepalis to rise with a new mindset and rebuild its damaged infrastructure.

Let us all call to our collective responsibility and turn this adversity into one of opportunity for development and renewal.

Author: Deepraj Sanyal