It seems earthquakes have their own rules. According to the records, normally, an earthquake with intensity of 9 Richter scale or more are rare whereas earthquakes measuring between 7 to 8 Richter scale are normal and these are big earthquakes. On 11 March 2011, a massive earthquake with 9 Richter scale hit eastern parts of Japan. In the same area, there was an earthquake of same level on 7 July 869 A.D. Experts said, to occur an earthquake of that intensity it takes thousand years to collect energy. Biggest earthquake in the world, recorded so far, with intensity of 9.5 Richter scale hit Valdivia city of Chile on 22 May 1960. From the earth’s surface, there is a total of 6,378 kilometers to the core (central part of the earth) and it is layered like core, inner core, mantle and crust.
Nepal has a record of earthquake history since 1255 A.D. The same year, a massive earthquake killed thousands of people including then King Avaya Malla. Since then, major earthquakes have hit Nepal from time to time and the one with biggest intensity of 8.2 Richter scale hit Nepal in 1934. Experts were predicting that another major earthquake is due in Nepal anytime, any day since a long time. Truly, a massive earthquake measuring 7.6 Richter scale struck Nepal on 25 April 2015 (i.e. Baisakh 12, 2072 B.S.) making Barpak village in the Gorkha District as the epicenter. Thereafter, another earthquakes with 6.9 and 7.3 Richter scale hit the country again on 26 April and 12 May. Aftershocks of less intensity have numbered around 250 so far.
It was a beautiful Saturday with sunny sky and people were relaxing without a hint of suspicion that such a devastating earthquake might hit so suddenly. The shaking and moving of the ground with never heard creaking sounds made everyone most terrified. Lucky people fled and survived. But more than 8600 people perished and more than 21,000 have been maimed. Millions of people have become homeless and being sheltered in available open spaces.
Loss of precious human lives of parents, children, and husbands/wives are too many to count and that of properties also comes to a colossal amount. A fifty second earthquake brought miseries to people especially at the hardest districts in mid-Nepal beyond description. The harrowing experiences unleashed by the earthquake have greatly traumatized the psyche of the people and they have no way than to live in a constant shock and panic. It will take time to heal this trauma and return to normal life.
The news of the earthquake hitting Nepal spread like a wildfire. It is but natural that in this age of information super highway, such news does not take time to be spread. Many rescue teams arrived in the country from India, China, USA, Japan, France, Malaysia, Israel, Turkey and many others making a total of 36 countries. There was an instant and spontaneous response to this crisis as an indication of international camaraderie.
Our Government, of course, need such expert rescue operations, as it does not have of its own with modern techniques. As such, many precious human lives could be saved and few miracle rescue works got international attention too. Our army and police personnel worked day and night to rescue the victims of earthquake as the most sacred duty and keeping aside their own personal tragedies at bay. Nepalese people cooperated with each other in most humane ways in the rescue works.
It has proved that Nepalese people, although of multi-ethnic fabric, are one when natural calamity like such a massive earthquake strikes. No one can stop this natural phenomena occurring beneath our earth’s crust, but wisdom lies in our efforts to mitigate the damages. Cautious steps are always required to insulate ourselves from the damages by earthquakes.
Relief and Rehabilitation
In a precarious and chaotic situation like this, next most important work is to provide relief to the victims. Relief materials can be goods to make shelters and edible items which are being consumed by Nepalese on daily basis. Rescue and relief operations are, indeed, cumbersome due to the fact that some of the villages hard hit by the earthquake are not that easily accessible. However, with the joint operation of relief works by the Government agencies, army and police personnel and by domestic NGOs and foreign INGOs have brought some succor to the victims. This earthquake has given some important lessons to the Nepalese people.
To face a situation as emergency like this, we need to prepare some important goods like tents, tarpaulins, edible goods and basic medicines. The dearth of tents, tarpaulins and zinc plates became big news as these are most needed to protect in the sheltering places. In one instance, there was news of a beaming village woman with a tarpaulin on her head as if she has got a star-studded vest. Another lesson we need to learn is that there must be an efficient government machinery to handle such unexpected emergency situation with a chain of command to avoid duplication and chaos. The country now faces an enormous task of rehabilitation of the earthquake victims.
The Government has already initiated some actions with a provision to provide low interest loan for village and city dwellers who have lost their homes. Markets are agog with new fancy ideas to make low cost houses. Mitigating cost is a good idea, but houses should not be jerry-built to save some money. People need houses which can withstand earthquake of such intensity of 25 April, at least and with the longevity of 40-50 years. Making of houses in an integrated manner sounds good so that the requisite basic services can be extended to the people at all times.
Outpouring of Sympathy
Sufferings being faced by the victims of the quake have been felt by all the Nepalese people at home and abroad. People have been giving donation according to their capacity either in the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund or through other sources. The recent earthquake has also unraveled and reinforced the idea that Nepalese people, wherever they live, love their motherland most. Moreover, Nepalese people have kind heart compounded with brotherly and sisterly emotions.
Nepalese nationals living in foreign countries, near and far, rich or poor, came forward to extend helping hand to put some ointment in the aching hearts of the victims of the earthquake. They paid their travel expenses, got leave from job, contributed from their savings, sought cooperation from their foreign friends, opened charity boxes and also asked their parent companies to initiate charity works. These all efforts contributed immensely in the relief and rehabilitations works also. Moreover, friendly government also came forward to make donations to help the Government in its relief and rehabilitation works.
A matter of great joy is that people from different walks of life in various countries put their efforts to raise large amounts for relief works. Prime Minister of Bhutan travelled to Nepal in person to give sympathy and a cheque for Rs.100 million and Algeria, a country in far western Africa also sent same level amount. It shows Nepal is not alone to combat this natural calamity and to tackle its aftermath. We need to spend every penny of the donation amounts received in an efficient and transparent way. Accountability in spending donated amounts is a must which will further encourage those who wish to donate.
Many Nepalese both, at personal and corporate, levels came forward to make donations to help earthquake victims. Few Nepalese billionaires, this time, opened their purses too and promised to make thousands of homes for the indigent rural victims. But, we have not heard CEOs of major banks making any contribution despite their fat annual salaries published in the papers. Non-Resident Nepalese Association took swift steps to indulge in the rescue and relief operations which is praiseworthy. Nepalese Diaspora got activated spontaneously to raise donations in many countries supported by their foreign friends. It made me very happy.
During my service in France as Nepalese Ambassador, at the end of our programs, I used to say that there exists a reservoir of goodwill towards Nepal and Nepalese people at the international level. My opinion is being reinforced and I am more than reassured that love for Nepal and Nepalese people would never vanish. A country big or small, developed or developing, rich or poor, at times, might need to face natural calamities like earthquakes, flooding, hurricane etc. I remember my friend Ambassador of Serbia to France Madam Nina Sadic told me one day in 2013 that two thirds of my country is under water when Serbia was inundated by floods in 2013. However, we will overcome this great hardship, she further said.
Let us begin a new
Of course, the losses of precious lives are irreparable. But, physical infrastructures can be rebuild with total dedication and good planning. The indomitable spirits of Nepalese people are traumatized by earthquake terror. However, I presume, but our courage and fortitude are not defeated. We have lost some of our precious cultural heritages, but not our masterly hands and skill to make them again. We Nepalese people are resilient people and we have capacity to rebuild our lost homes and other infrastructures. Valor lies in standing again from the ashes. We need to further strengthen our brotherly cooperative spirits to overcome this tragedy. We must turn this tragedy into a blessing in disguise.
Let us learn from the good examples where countries have succeeded in rebuilding their cities reduced to rubble by the earthquake and also imbibe the failed experience of others. We can apply good examples from success stories and avoid mistakes of unsuccessful stories. Earthquake hit Nepal at a time when the country was trying to graduate from the least developed country status by 2022 A.D. Economic indicators say Nepal’s capacity of loan repayment has been increasing. Nepalese banks holds 1355 billion rupees as deposits which can be used for major infrastructure developments projects in the country. Donor countries and world financial institutions are also equally sympathetic to the need of financial resources in our country for development pursuits. We must, first of all, produce enough electricity which is desperately needed to spur the engine of economic growth. Estimated commercially exploitable hydropower capacity of 44,000 megawatts is enough to make Nepal a rich as any rich country of today. Government and private sector must join hands in a mutually cooperative spirit to bolster the efforts for economic development.
We must increase our capacity in trade where lies our competitive edge. Endowed with enough natural resources, Nepal holds immense capacity for speedy economic development to unshackle the stigma of a poor country. Elephantine bureaucracy needs to be trimmed and made more efficient.
Sensitivity at the high level
Barely hours after the earthquake hit Nepal, we heard Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was trying to know where was the epicentre of the quake. Convening a cabinet meeting, India was so quick to dispatch the rescue and relief teams. In view of the age-old relations, India is assisting Nepal in multifarious ways in her economic development. Similarly, China also sent its rescue teams promptly. Further, Chinese President Xi Jing Ping sent his Assistant Foreign Minister Liu Jian Zhao to have talks with Nepalese high dignitaries to know where our priority lies in the relief and rehabilitation efforts. China showed its deepest concerns to the plight of Nepalese people and showed her readiness to help in the ways possible. Similarly, other friendly countries like USA, UK, and Japan have also shown their sensitivities in helping Nepal at this difficult time. Sensitivity at this highest level with our big north and south neighbours, indeed, is the hallmark of our deep and true friendship which is being strengthened with the passage of time. Even seminal talks for fostering mutually beneficial and reinforcing relations between Nepal, China and India on tripartite level have begun.
No matter how traumatic and troublesome our tragedies are, time will heal this wound and we will rededicate ourselves in the task of nation building from villages to the cities to make a new Nepal where people will have happiness and smiles on their faces as ever.
Shrestha is Former Ambassador of Nepal to France and Permanent Representative to UNESCO.