By Agya P
(Photo Credit: Sagar Chhetri)
When I was reading articles, posts, and news links on the aftermath of the April 25th earthquake, I was wary of becoming a complainer. After I saw the first reaction of the government towards the disaster I made sure to not whine about its approach. It is tough for any government to have an effective plan in place when a sudden natural disaster occurs. It takes a while before any government can compose itself to send relief to each and every person in need. But I tell you it is tough not to complain. It has been three weeks after the first earthquake hit Nepal and the leadership seems to be undergoing a deep crisis of empathy.
People of central Nepal have had no respite from the continuous aftershocks. The death toll is rising and villagers are dealing with devastated homes, broken families, high risk of diseases, communication lapses, landslides, food scarcity, and many other such problems. I was heartbroken to read Bijaydai’s facebook post this morning from a remote village in Gorkha where painful death seemed to be the only option even for people who had managed to officially survive. Another story quoted that two million corrugated sheets were required to carry out immediate relief. I could go on and on about the plight of people in Ramechap, Gorkha, Langtang, Rasuwa, Sindhupalchowk, Lamjung, Dhading and Dolakha.
Let us not forget that the government faces a Herculean task right now. I do not in any way want to undermine the inspiring work that some police forces, armed forces, and even bureaucrats are doing to reach the right places. But I have big problems with how insensitively the leadership has handled the situation, especially given the number of ways in which the government has shown a serious lack of empathy.
First, even in situations where roads are open, there are limitations to the number of people you can reach on foot or by vehicle. If we are to reach as many people as we can out of the 6 million people that need immediate help, we have no option but to use helicopters. The Chinnoks offered by the UK present an effective option for the government to make relief easy and efficient not just for the victims, but also for its own human resources who will soon be running out of energy if they are to work continuously. Imagine how many tents, corrugated sheets, and food supplies the Chinooks would be able to deliver at one go. How many homes would we have already reached in one week? In these circumstances, it makes no sense for the government to not accept the Chinooks and all the other aid that is coming from one of its oldest diplomatic allies.
Each day the government comes up with a new reason to not allow the Chinooks in Nepal.
1. First they mentioned that glasses and roofs of Kathmandu’s homes would be blown off by the Chinooks.
2. Then the media quoted a “high ranking government official” and related it with Lama’s prosecution in Britain.
3. Then it said that they have done enough relief and rescue work and do not require foreign support, which does not hold true for millions outside Kathmandu still waiting for relief aid.
4. And now the Foreign Minister has been quoted to saying that our airports cannot handle choppers like Chinooks. This topsy-turvy “explanation” is evidence of the fact that the government must have some other reason to prevent Chinooks from entering Nepal.
In any case, such bickering should not compromise the lives of millions of its citizens and allow politicking at this time of grave need. This politicking demonstrates how the leadership of Nepal lacks empathy, particularly towards the most needy in rural Nepal.
The only reason I see is that the government right now is so disconnected to the plight of the victims is that it is becoming harder and harder to even push for a well managed relief effort. Thousands of Nepalis have already died as a result of this earthquake and many more remain vulnerable to a similar fate unless greater support can reach them immediately. Yet, the government has been caught largely incapable of dealing with this situation.
Right from the start of this mayhem, the government has been a disappointment. But I for one cannot keep quiet now when the government has shown least amount of concern for its citizens while also distributing tents to members of the constituent assembly. This has just crossed all limits.
I refrained from criticizing the government in the beginning because it was not the time to discuss corruption and bad governance. The least one can do to is provide support to a government that has no good infrastructure or plan in place to begin with. But after this incident, with what hope should I expect the leadership to get better?
With what face do I ask my friends to send in aid to be deposited to the PM earthquake relief fund when I see parliamentarians walking away with tents that came for the victims who lost their homes in the earthquake? Now some of you may comment that I should not complain because this will create a bad image of Nepal in the international scenario. If we are to worry about this image then we better start acting by holding the leadership accountable. Only this could build a better image. Let us question them so that they stand on their toes. I feel ashamed and this is precisely why I am writing about this. What relief will a government give if it cannot even offer emotional strength to its people?
Just because we elected these people doesn’t mean that we have to support their every move. That is the beauty of democracy. If we can elect them we can also throw them out if they fail us. I WILL criticize this government because I love my country. So should you, because unless you do, they will never be held accountable. They will never rectify their behaviour.
I do not know how I can be supportive of the government if I do not criticize this decision that affects so many Nepalis throughout the county. You cannot have control over the earthquake, but you have control over how you deal with the aftermath. There may be reasons for being unprepared, there may be reasons for not having nice machinery to expedite the relief work, but there cannot be any excuse for the country’s leadership to have a crisis of empathy.