Print Edition - 2015-05-24  |  Free the Words

Remarkable resilience

  • Meeting the challenges of reconstruction and rehabilitation will require a leadership that is young and dynamic
- Gopal Thapa
Remarkable resilience

May 23, 2015-

It is now almost a month since the Great Quake hit many parts of the country. Frequent aftershocks occurring almost every day since then have further added to fear and anxiety. Meanwhile, reports of survivors not being able to receive adequate government support for temporary shelter and food, leave aside medical attention and safe drinking water, are pouring in on an almost daily basis. By now, the lack of initial coordination must have been addressed to some extent. Yet, these reports expose lingering weaknesses and inefficiencies of the various government agencies.  

The victims have apparently managed to survive, not through government help and assistance, but mostly by helping each other and sharing whatever they have with each other. Ask any quake survivor about the government response and they will express deep resentment and anger at the state and their elected representatives for having failed to come forward to help them. There is widespread fear that Nepal could become a repeat of Haiti, if the present post-disaster chaos, confusion, and mismanagement are not addressed well in time. The need to streamline relief delivery and distribution in a more coordinated and efficient manner, therefore, has to be the main focus of the government.

 

Caught napping

In Nepal, there had always been the looming possibility of a killer quake; the government and its concerned agencies were well aware of it. When it did strike, the government and its disaster response mechanisms were caught napping. The post-disaster period exposed that government preparedness for disaster response was abysmally wanting. In fact, it was seemingly content with merely preaching to the people what they were and weren’t supposed to do should a quake hit them. For their own part, concerned agencies charged with handling natural disasters of all kinds were found to be awfully understaffed and under-resourced. The criticism, therefore, was fair and justified.

Understandably, having to deal with such a massive crisis is a daunting challenge even for countries with sound technical knowledge and sufficient experience and are well equipped in terms of human and financial resources and logistics. One fails, however, to comprehend what really hampered effective and timely delivery and distribution of relief materials, even after almost a month! Except for the security forces’ active response in the aftermath, together with international experts’ teams and their relentless efforts day-in and day-out risking their own lives, which did make a big difference in the search-and-rescue operations, the government, its armchair ministers and senior bureaucrats are still seemingly invisible.

A new leadership

Coping with the crisis of this magnitude effectively will require long-term vision, including the ability to carry out that vision honestly. Meeting this challenge is unthinkable in the absence of a new leadership—a leadership that is dynamic, has vision, integrity, character, and is committed to moving ahead with a sense of urgency and empathy. In this context, the  ‘Resolution motion’ passed by the Parliament can be called a step in the right direction. At least, it seeks to provide a preliminary roadmap for a way forward. Meanwhile, three former prime ministers have underlined the need for a national unity government led by some young and visionary leaders. In the absence of a concrete proposal, the call for a national unity government, though appreciable, doesn’t hold much water. Nevertheless, it has set the tone for further discussion among key political parties. Without tangible progress on the ground, people are seemingly skeptical, because many such rosy promises made to them in the past were never fulfilled. One has to wait and see how discussion on this call for a national unity government will unfold in the coming days. If only they were to agree on a national unity government, this could be some sort of  a ‘redemption opportunity’ for our leaders to disprove lingering public misperceptions about them.

One thing is crystal clear, nonetheless. The daunting challenges of recovery, reconstruction, and rehabilitation can’t be met with the existing mindset and the snail-pace speed of those currently in power. The task of rebuilding thousands of cultural sites, schools, roads, hospitals, health centres, government institutions, alongside erecting temporary shelters and permanent homes and other infrastructure, is alarmingly staggering. Massive national and international support and assistance is essential to accomplish this. Managing international support in an open and transparent manner and only in areas prioritised by the government is another challenge. Our ministers and political leaders are infamous for having a soft corner for their foreign friends. The need, therefore, is to stay alert, observe, and avert such practices if possible.

The Foreign Aid Division of the Finance Ministry is reportedly mulling over the formulation of a strict code of conduct to properly channel international assistance in close coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Donors who express clear hesitancy to trust the government must also not  be trusted. Taking national sensitivity into account, the task of rebuilding our cultural sites and historical monuments, which are symbols of our national pride and identity, must be undertaken by the government with its own national resources.

New challenges require new leaders with new ideas, imaginations, plans and programmes. Rebuilding a new Nepal from the rubble of destruction is possible only when the whole nation is untied for this great cause, under a government led by young, energetic, and farsighted leaders with sufficient national and international credibility.

Spring is not far

For now, we must reach out to the quake victims and extend all possible help to reinforce their resolve and restore their confidence so that they are able to rise from the rubble of destruction and begin life anew. The outpouring of national support from people of all walks of life, as well as the generous assistance of our immediate friendly neighbours and international community at this hour of profound national crisis have been exemplary and helped immensely in rebuilding the hope and confidence of those who suffered and survived the quake.  

Their promise of further support and assistance for the post-disaster rehabilitation and reconstruction phase is quite reassuring. The gloom and agonies, the death and destruction that our nation has been pushed into indeed represents yet another dark period in our history. Nevertheless, it may also have a silver lining. The famous two lines below from the poem ‘The West Wind’ by PB Shelly may appropriately sum-up human hope for a better time after every dark and daunting moment: “The trumpet of prophesy, O Wind, If winter comes, can spring be far behind?”

Thapa is a former Chief of Protocol at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Published: 24-05-2015 06:57

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