November 2016 – Written by Flora Deverell
(AFP: Prakash Mathema)
On April 25th 2015, an earthquake of 7.8 magnitude hit Nepal’s capital Kathmandu and its surrounding areas, followed by a series of 120 aftershocks. To make matters inconceivably worse, a large area in Eastern Nepal (near Mt. Everest) was struck by a second earthquake of similar magnitude a little over two weeks later. The combined impact of these two quakes caused nearly 9,000 deaths, injured some 22,000 people and damaged nearly a million homes. The earthquakes also did significant damage to many of Nepal’s heritage and religious sites – many of which are UNESCO world heritage sites – as well as destroying government buildings and other crucial elements of civil infrastructure. Nepal, already one of the world’s poorest countries, fell to new lows of economic and social crisis. In the months immediately following the earthquakes, a government led assessment reported that nearly 1 million people were in danger of falling below the world poverty line of USD$1.25 a day. Moreover, in addition to the food, water and supplies shortages that were already incurred by the earthquake, imports through the southern border of Nepal were massively restricted due to an on going constitutional battle in government.
Nepal is a landlocked country bordered by both China and India, and as such has often suffered at the hands of neighbouring political players. Since the borders were opened to foreigners in the 1950s, Nepal has witnessed a decade long Maoist insurgency and the abolition of a monarchy in favour of a republic. As a largely mountainous country, only about 20% of its land is arable, and so its terrain offers the country little opportunity for export, or indeed, self-sufficiency. Even before the earthquake, Nepal’s economy still relied heavily on aid and tourism.
This week marks the 18 month anniversary of the Nepal Earthquake, and in many respects, not much has changed for the Nepalis as of yet. Thousands still live in a painful stasis, unable to rebuild their lives and unaided by an apathetic and ineffective government. The country remains sustained by substandard makeshift shelters and tents, as nearly 600,000 Nepalis still live in temporary or unsafe housing. The lack of progress is entirely in spite of the international community’s overwhelming reaction to the earthquake. Indeed, during the weeks following the disaster international donors came together and raised around USD $4.1bn. However, this money is yet to be used. Instead, the government, rife with internal chasms, struggles over a matter of constitution, and, turning its gaze away from the streets, has grown increasingly averse to a course of action. The result is paralysis. The situation in Nepal has now been dubbed a ‘man-made disaster.’
As time passed and little changed, the world watched on dubiously as the people of Nepal grew resigned, rather than defiant or angry. Soon after, as often is the case, more recent global events started to overshadow the crisis in Nepal. In many respects, Nepal still suffers in its stagnancy alone. However, numerous aid agencies, including UNICEF, continue their work in the country, and because of that, hope still prevails. UNICEF has played, and indeed does still play, a large role in the humanitarian support provided by international organisations. In the first three months after the earthquakes, UNICEF contributed the following:
“Procuring 1,000 metric tonnes of essential supplies including tents, hygiene kits, therapeutic foods, vaccinations and other life-saving medicines, medical kits, bed nets, new-born packages, and school-in-a-box and early childhood development kits.
• Helping over 100,000 children to continue their education in UNICEF-supported temporary learning centres.
• Supplying clean water to over 650,000 people in homes and camp settings.
• Restoring birthing centres in more than 150 health facilities. Helping intercept 513 children and women from being trafficked or illegally moved out of the country.
• Providing nearly 30,000 children with psychosocial support to help them recover from their experiences.”
UNICEF’s work in psychosocial support has been paramount. Even still to this day, many Nepalis suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder incurred by the experience of the earthquake. UNICEF’s work in this area is a reminder that crises of this proportion often incur tantamount, and largely unseen, psychological impact on citizens, rather than just in physical and economic spheres. For the past four decades UNICEF has also enacted other policies in the country, which aim to combat social and economic inequity, better education and infrastructure, and encourage empowerment and self-sustainability.
As a harsh winter and another monsoon season fast approaches, aid (such as that of UNICEF) becomes increasingly important, and hope remains that the government will desist from its paralysis and resume a course of action.
Alan Taylor. “Nepal Earthquakes: One Year Later.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, 25 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Rowlatt, Justin. “Nepal Earthquake: Patience Wearing Thin One Year on.” BBC News. N.p., 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
@unicef. “Three Months on from First Nepal Quake, Children Still at Risk.” UNICEF. N.p., 25 July 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Nikhil Kumar. “Why Nepal Is Still in Rubble a Year After a Devastating Quake.” Time. N.p., 24 Apr. 2015. Web. 23 Oct. 2016.
Stephanie March “Nepal earthquake: Magnitude-7.3 quake strikes near Everest base camp; at least 66 killed” 12 May 2015. ABC.net