Calamities in the Tiny Nation of Many Mountains

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When Nepal became a full-fledged republic after shunning its Monarchy, a new hope was kindled across this tiny nation at the foothill of the mighty Himalayas. With new constitution and fresh democratic election, Sushil Koirala became Prime Minister in February last year. He had an uphill task ahead with virtually no-good communication and social infrastructure outside the capital city, Kathmandu. People had elected him travelling for hours and even days on foot or riding animals.

But then starting from April last year, when tens of Sherpas were killed in an avalanche on the Mount Everest, calamities have become a constant companion of Nepal. Landslides and flood in August killed hundreds. Snowstorm in Annapurna region in October resulted in the death of several trekkers. And now, a series of high magnitude earthquakes, maximum being 7.8, has led to deaths in thousands. This has devastated many historic buildings in and around Kathmandu including the second Dharahara, also known as Bhimsen Tower, built in 1832. It is to be noted that an earthquake of similar magnitude in 1934 had destroyed the first tower, still taller, built eight years earlier to the second one.

The lack of communication and healthcare infrastructures, and the inaccessible mountainous terrain have rendered the relief and rescue operations very difficult. While different countries have come forward to their aid, India has been very proactive in providing help with finance, materials and manpower. In fact, people of both the countries share common geography, culture and history. It would be prudent to note that fifty thousand fearsome Gurkhas of Nepal still serve in Indian Army.

In the recent decades, the Chinese government has made a number of overtures to lure away this close neighbour of India. This was more apparent after Maoists factions came into the power corridor of Nepal in 2008. However, continued diplomatic efforts from India and the hydropower project worth one billion US dollars on the river Arun signed with India last year showed hope of a renewed bilateral relationship.

Earthquakes are not new in Nepal. In fact, the region is greatly susceptible to high magnitude earthquakes as it lies at the junction between Indian, and Eurasian, tectonic plates. Several such massive disasters have been recorded in history that saw significant destruction of people and their heritage in the region. As some early scientific reports suggest, the current event pushed the Indian plate further north and below the Eurasian plate. This will certainly be a topic of active study even as our current understanding of continual yet slow movements of tectonic plates over thousands of years is traditionally held with available geological evidences.

Such seismic activities do cast doubt about the safety aspects of different proposed hydropower projects, particularly the impact of any disaster in the neighbouring low lying areas of South Nepal and North India. Thus it is important that a thorough study of risks should be done prior to the implementation of such projects. On the other hand, these projects, with a number of rivers rushing down the Mahabharat Range, will give much-needed revenue to Nepal through the huge Indian market and much-needed power to the fast growing Indian Industry – a win-win situation. In a way, it may be critical to the economic revival in the region after such a catastrophe though one may argue that tourism can prove to be an alternative if requisite infrastructure along with appropriate disaster management framework is implemented.

It’s a commendable job on the part of different governments, social activists, and online social networks in the time of need. It will be great if the world come together to rebuild the ravaged Hindu and Buddhist temples and towers to their original architecture and glory after life returns to normal in the region.

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