– Sandhya Regmi
(Founder President, BH Foundation)
(Published in the KTM Post on June 7, 2015)
The devastating earthquakes of 25th April and 12th May and its continuing aftershocks—that destroyed the fabric of the nation by killing and injuring tens of thousands, traumatizing millions, destroying property worth billions—was unavoidable. But its consequences were, only if we were prepared for it. And to the extent we were prepared for it.
The earthquake has stark-naked our ill preparedness. This, despite our knowledge that an unscheduled visit by the unwelcome guest was unavoidable, and despite the decades-long drum-beats on the preparation from the state machineries and non-state persons. At the state level, requirement to draft stringent building codes and their enforcement remained not far placed from the fairy tale. The concept of alternative international airports and other transport routes and systems remained far-fetched dreams. But why was even the country’s only air-entry point repeatedly shut down, when its service was badly wanted? Wasn’t it too built to the standard? How about residences’ whereabouts, didn’t the state even consider it necessary to maintain residence-log that could have helped find the number of missing victims? Even at heart of the capital, the state’s mass-communication system failed its robustness test, at the time when people needed it most. In absence of the state-communication, people in the camp were compelled to rely on rumors.
The quake has served to warn our politicians, planners, rule-makers, and rulers that, the necessity of the country’s physical infrastructures and their standard must stand taller than the usually professed internal-rate-of-return doctrine. The state needs to freshly work on the requirements and standards of additional international and national level airports, road transports, including their feasible implementation scheme and schedule. Similarly, the country needs fresh review on its building codes and implementation scheme for each class of building structure: airport infrastructure, hospital, national heritage, school, public building, commercial building, and residential building.
The consequences of the ugly guest’s nasty acts have compelled to put ourselves to trial on the stage of our civilization. Far from indulging into lootings and vandalism, the quake affected people themselves helped each other, from bare-hand-scratching of rubbles and sharing their tent-and-food to providing security to themselves. In the aftermath, people from across the country unified as one—regardless of their geographical location, cast, class, colour, or religion—standing taller than the artificial divides devised by the politicians. In the same basket, the event has offered our politicians an opportunity to introspect worthwhileness of their dragging the country for years in the name of federating the state to their likes.
The earthquake has provided an opportunity to hold the best-placed organization and the best way forward to deal with such aftermaths. Without pausing a second, the first-order salute goes to the heroes of our national army and police force who, for the search and rescue operation, worked days-and-nights sacrificing their own life. The instant responses from our neighboring states, and the helps and solidarity poured from across the world bears on us an insight to prepare ourselves to respond in the event of future mega-disasters, both inside and outside the state boundary. This calls for our national army to align and focus more on joint-search-rescue drills with the state-security forces of our neighboring countries. For, at the time of such disasters, we will need their help, and their people will need ours.
Similarly, the country needs a standing centralized body capable of efficiently handling and coordinating in such emergency situations. The body should be capable of estimating the nature and degree of assistance needed at each specific location to cope with specific disaster situation, and capable of coordinating and negotiating the requirements with non-state organizations and agencies operating inside and outside the country. Such arrangement would help pinpoint the precise requirements in the mind of perspective donors, help reduce duplication, redundancy, and wastage of resources, and would serve the core purpose at the quickest possible time.
Despite its mighty act, this black disaster has failed to fail us, for we may have fallen down but not yet out. Arguably, the most beautiful sight out of the rubble is the light radiating out of the survivors’ face. Their refusal to be defeated. Their spirit to be alive. Their determination to stitch the broken hearts, to re-work on the shattered dreams, and to move forward. Their energy to reconstitute and rebuild their homes, schools, and the country.
But in fueling that rebuilding task, they would need helping hands. The state has acknowledged and 127 nations’ solidarity has testified that. To assist in the rebuilding process, several donors have already raised their hands, while others are in the process. But there is an apparent confusion or uneasiness between the state and the donor agencies on the channel and mechanism to streamline the assistance. The government must show statesmanship by working seriously to find ways that are consistent with the national interest, and are transparent and accountable, yet flexible enough for sides to be part of the process.
This is a great chance for everyone to participate in the nation-rebuilding process. A change for leaders from all walks of life: individuals, students, professionals, business houses, and non-profit organizations; medical leaders like Dr. Govinda KC and Dr. Bhagawan Koirala, professional writers like Professor Abhi Subedi. Yet the country’s politicians are best positioned to tap the opportunity, for people have given them the duty and power to lead the nation. So, it is the golden opportunity for the politicians to bury their differences and to work unitedly, and secure their place in the glorious history of the nation building. Yet they have another choice. They may opt for abusing and misusing the situation and focus on fulfilling their vested interests. But they must not forget that people too will have their choice.