Earthquake and government: Lack of sincerity

The devastating earthquake, which hit several hill districts of Nepal on April 25, and its aftershocks, have caused damage worth Rs 666 billion to physical infrastructure and assets, apart from the loss of precious lives of 8,786 people and injury to 22,303 persons. As a matter of fact, the quake has really exposed the unpreparedness of the state machinery, the lack of foresightedness of the political leadership and the height of corruption in government officials.

It seems that not only the incumbent government but all previous governments, especially formed after the people’s movement of 1990, were waiting for another similar major earthquake of 8 Richter scale to hit Nepal, that had stricken it in January 1934, to shake the country, when the 7.6 Richter scale earthquake did on April 25 last.

The policy of the government to deliver the relief material through one door system shows the difficulty of the victims experiencing hardships in this hot season who are living half-fed, half-clothed and half-sheltered

It badly affected eleven districts from Gorkha to Ramechap to end the inertia of the government by forcing it to engage itself in rescuing victims, providing relief materials and start planning to reconstruct the collapsed buildings and the rehabilitation of hundreds of people, who have been displaced by landslides and feel insecure due to the land cracks developed in those areas.

The arrival of the monsoon in the east, may add woes to the people and challenges to the government, as it has to act on a war footing.

During the period of eight decades (between two earthquakes) hardly any government appeared paying any attention to minimize the devastating effects of a major earthquake. Ironically, the country, which was made prone to frequent earthquakes millions of years ago due to the constant collusions of two tectonic plates-Eurasian and Indian, by nature, was left to its fate by the subsequent governments.

Interestingly, the seismological data of the last decade showing the recurrence of 15 to 22 quakes with above 4 Richter scale striking the country every year failed to mobilize the government to take preparatory measures like procuring concrete cutting equipment to save the lives of those trapped under the collapsed concrete structures and to have some stocks of the materials needed immediately after any quake strikes.

There could have been at least hundreds of tents, tarpaulin sheets in the go downs so that we could have met the immediate needs with our own stocks, instead of awaiting arrivals of such materials from neighboring countries. Moreover, we require these materials every year during the rainy seasons for those who are rendered homeless by the floods and landslides every year.

A large number of government and school buildings that collapsed due to the quake testifies the rampant corruption in building construction. For example, at Chautara, the district headquarters of the worst affected district of Sindhupalchock, the office of the Chief District Office has developed cracks making it inhabitable. It was, interestingly, constructed just two and half years ago. It should be probed properly whether the cracks have developed due to the massive shake of the earthquake or due to the use of sub-standard materials in construction by the contractor. This can be made a case study and, if the contractor is found responsible, he should be taken to task for the irregularity.

Moreover, lack of supervision of the construction has also to be taken into account and suitable action may be taken for the failure in duty of the supervising authority. Unless dishonest persons are punished, we may have to meet the same fate when another quake comes in the future. The government decision regarding the cash payment to the victims seems to be confusing as the amount of Rs 15,000 was not sufficient.

It has taken many days for the victims to get it. In the beginning, the amount was meant for purchasing the zinc sheets, then it was reported that the government would make sheets available to the victims. The delay caused in the supply of the material is deplorable as plight of the victims who are suffering the hardships cannot be experienced by the people sitting in houses under ceiling fans. Moreover, the issuance of identity cards too has affected the delivery of the cash granted by the government.

The cash could have been given to the victims with proper identification by the neighbors and his thump impression could have been secured to verify his real identity, even at a later date. Instead, the government held the delivery of the cash making the victims suffer not for days but for weeks together.

Similarly, the policy of the government to deliver the relief material through one door system shows the difficulty of the victims experiencing hardships in this hot season who are living half-fed, half-clothed and half-sheltered. It has caused unusual delay in the delivery of the materials on the one hand and has deprived donors of the certainty of reaching the materials to the needy ones.

Significantly, the materials delivered at the district headquarters were not taken up to the villages promptly and even could not be delivered due to lack of human resources at district level. There are cases where one village development secretary has to look after three villages. He thus failed to distribute the relief materials. The lack of secretaries could have been met with deputation of personnel from other districts. On the contrary, the Chief District Officers have been shifted. All these prove that we are not sincere to our duties.