With the approaching donors’ conference slated for June 25, the government agencies are coming up with a mass of data about the effects of the major earthquake of April 25 and aftershocks. The World Bank has also made an assessment in a report that nearly one million people residing in the quake-affected areas will slip back into poverty. In such an event, the country’s poverty level can be expected to rise around three per cent, given the country’s population of thirty million. The victims have lost their assets and in most cases income-generating opportunities. The earthquake has exposed our vulnerabilities and, given our experience and capacity, our low ability to bounce back soon. It may also affect the Nepali goal of graduating from an underdeveloped status to a developing one by the year 2022. In short, this calamity, with the overhanging threat of floods and landslides, is certain to hit our growth prospects and the growth of the various important sectors of the economy and national life. This will in turn make it necessary to take a hard second look at our development policy, programmes and priorities.
Unless we can change this dependency mindset and act accordingly, we will be in the same situation years from now
Over the last decades, official Nepali poverty level has been steadily decreasing, with the remittance money having a significant role to play in this trend. During the Panchayat system when fulfilling the basic needs of all the Nepali people had been adopted as an official slogan, the percentage of Nepalis falling below the poverty line had been estimated to be in the range of forties. Now it is put at about 25 percent. While nearly just 10 percent of the people in the quake-affected areas are estimated to be living below the poverty line, the World Bank projection makes the scenario worrying. It is also important to know that a significant percentage of the Nepalis are living just above or below the poverty line. Thus, there are always high risks for those living just on the line falling below. And what absolute poverty means also varies from country to country depending on its economy and on the concept of those in authority as to what constitutes the basic needs of an individual or family. In this sense, in Nepal, the threshold of poverty is low enough for many people to beat the poverty trap in official eyes, though not practically.
With the fear of the earthquake not gone yet, and that of floods and landslides looming large, more people are likely to be affected by natural occurrences soon. What is actually called for is being prepared to move ahead resolutely despite such occurrences. Even in normal times, we have difficulties dealing with our various problems well, failing to utilize our own local resources, local manpower, and local competencies; in times of disaster, we become confused and lack direction, looking only to the foreign donors to bail us out. This is the dependency syndrome gone worse, perhaps even than during the bad old days of Panchayat. Foreign donors of all kinds do not seem to trust our official channels and insist rather on using the money through their own channels and often getting away with it. Unless we change this dependency mindset and act accordingly, we will be in the same situation years from now.
Monuments to reopen
The Kathmandu Valley boasts of having seven protected monument zones that are listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Property. They include the Kathmandu, Lalitpur and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares, the Pashupatinath, Boudha Stupas of Swayambhu and Boudhanath and Changunarayan. All of them were completely or partially destroyed in the April 25 quake and its major aftershocks. Following their damage the Department of Archeology had closed them from entering there for general public and tourists for safety reasons. With the life slowly returning to normalcy after one month of the temblor, the department has decided to reopen them for public and tourists from today. But they still need to be careful while visiting the world heritage sites.
These are the major tourist attractions as they represent centuries old religion, arts, culture and sculptures. But the department has asked the concerned to take extra care while entering these areas. Tourists are specially advised to visit these areas escorted by authorized tour guides and abide by security lines places all around. The purpose of reopening these sites is to generate funds for their reconstruction.