Oped

Fissures feature

  • The quake has made the political and social inequality existing in Nepal even more prominent
- Narayan Manandhar
Fissures feature

Jun 18, 2015-

The National Planning Commission has estimated $7 billion as the total economic loss from the April 25 earthquake. This figure comprises of two components: $5.1 billion loss due to infrastructure damages and $1.9 billion loss in foregone income. With an estimated total gross domestic product (GDP) of around $19.29 billion, the total loss from the earthquake is around 36 percent of the GDP for Nepal. The Planning Commission has also estimated $6.66 billion as the required investment for recovery.

Colossal damage

Housing and human settlements, comprising half of the total damages, suffers the biggest loss. Tourism comes second followed by industry and commerce, environment and forestry, education and finance sectors, each taking up around five percent of the total damage. These six sectors account for over 80 percent of the total damage. The full political, economic, social and environmental impact of the Great Quake can be assessed only after the end of the monsoon in September.

The massive landslides in Taplejung is just an indication of the scale of destruction the rains could bring this year. The already fragile mountain topography has been further weakened by the quake and is at great risk of facing landslides. This could also result in flashfloods and block rivers as in the case of Kaligandaki River sometime back.  

Unequal effect

At first glance, the April earthquake seemed to be a great class leveller. It did not discriminate between the rich and the poor, the urban and the rural people. It seemed to have affected everybody. The real picture, however, is different. All of the heavily affected 14 districts are in the mountains and hills in the Central Nepal. Similarly, the earthquake had a greater impact on the farming communities in rural areas than those living in urban areas. Almost all mud houses in villages were reduced to rubble, while most of the concrete structures in urban areas remained intact.

Likewise, more women and children lost their lives than male adults. The distributional consequence of the earthquake is going to be massive for Nepal. Most of the mud houses destroyed in the quake belonged to the poor. And most of those who died or were injured in the quake were poor, too. Further, going by the name of the most-affected districts, one can easily assume that the quake affected Janajatis more than people from any other group.

For example, the Tamangs from Sindhuplachowk, who are already among the groups that lie at the bottom of the Human Development Index, were severely affected by the quake.

A report on the need assessment and monitoring of relief works in 10 earthquake-affected districts by the Dalit Civil Society Massive Earthquake Victim Support and Coordination Committee, Asia Dalit Rights Forum and National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights(India) reveals how and why the Dalit community is being discriminated in the distribution of relief materials. Politicis-ation and patronage in the distribution of relief materials, rampant corruption in relief material procurement and distribution of relief materials only in those places accessible by road or air have further accentuated the distributional impact of the earthquake. The poor, marginalised and backward communities, who do not have  access to political power and the right connections, are all going to suffer. The number of poor people living below poverty will not only rise due to the disaster, but

there will also be an increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, urban and rural areas and the mountains, hills and the plains. Invariably, as a consequence of the earthquake, the rich will become richer while the poor will become poorer in Nepal.

Political pressure

Worse still, due to bad governance, corruption and seemingly never-ending political squabbling, even donors are hesitant to support Nepal. The  international donors’ conference scheduled for June 25 aims to collect and mobilise resources. However, it simply does not match with the ongoing political moves to form a national government. It is like putting the cart before the horse. Why would donors trust a finance minister whose personal aide was dragged into controversy over the embezzlement of relief materials?

The earthquake is definitely going to leave a serious impact on every aspect of the Nepali life. Though it is difficult to predict any time lag between the April earthquake and its real impact in Nepal, the quake of 1934 set a tone for the downfall of Rana oligarchy in 1951. Similarly, the quake of 1989 took a toll on the one-party Panchayat regime in 1990. The scale of impact may be difficult to gauge but the speed is very much obvious. Having faced the wrath of the nature, the politicians will have to face the wrath of the people sooner or later. This is the single reason why the politicians in Nepal have hurriedly agreed to a makeshift, ambiguous political settlement to draft a constitution within a month, something that had been pending since the last eight years. The Great Quake in Nepal will be remembered much more in political terms than in any other terms.

Manandhar writes extensively on governance and corruption issues

Published: 18-06-2015 07:25

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