1-7 January 2016 #789

Year on year

2015 could have been worse, here’s hoping 2016 is kinder to Nepal

Having survived a year like the one that just ended, 2016 has to turn out  better for Nepal. The country was punished first by God, then by our own incompetent leaders, and now by India. We are glad to bid goodbye to 12 painful months, and would like to think that Nepal's woes have bottomed out. There is now nowhere to go but up.

Despite everything that went wrong, however, and as incongruous as it may sound during this period of national crisis and hardship, it must be said: things could have been worse.

It starts with the Turkish Airbus that veered off the runway at Kathmandu Airport on 3 March. If the nose wheel hadn’t collapsed and brought the plane to a halt in the soggy grass, it could have been a major catastrophe. As it turned out, Nepal got away with having its international airport closed for four days leaving nearly 100,000 people stranded during the peak tourist season.

Seven weeks later, we were struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake, and powerful aftershocks that rocked central Nepal for months. Nearly 9,000 people were killed, three million people affected, more than 700,000 buildings were destroyed and Kathmandu’s historic towns damaged.

Yet, as we wrote in this space in May, we got off relatively lightly. The doomsday scenario of a mega-quake in Kathmandu had predicted at least 100,000 fatalities, with unimaginable damage to buildings and infrastructure. The fact that the main quake measured less than 8 magnitude and struck during the daytime on Saturday, the shock waves were of a low frequency which saved most ferro-cement structures, and the shaking lasted less than a minute, saved countless lives. Telephones and electricity were working right away, the highways were not cut off and Kathmandu airport was not damaged. The earthquake was a warning to get our act together before the real Big Ones, which are yet to come.

The earthquake forced guilty politicians to push for regime change, but for that it was first necessary to rush through a new constitution. That was the last element of the peace process, and although it had flaws it was passed by a democratically elected assembly. In their hurry, the Big 3 parties forgot that the Tarai isn’t just a vote bank, but is also populated by Madhesis, Tharus and others. Tarai leaders who had lost the 2013 elections after being thoroughly discredited for their greed and incompetence latched on to this lapse (and fanned the flames) to launch an agitation, which India backed with a blockade of the border.

India’s siege of Nepal has now lasted nearly five months. There could have been a silver lining in all this, and the hardships could have perhaps even be justified, if the blockade had spurred efforts towards self-reliance and trade diversification, and a strategic shift away from dependence on Indian petroleum. We hear assurances from the government, but we don’t yet see a long-term national commitment to those goals.

Meanwhile, the attrition is taking its toll on 28 million Nepalis and the two million homeless earthquake survivors whose misery is multiplied manyfold. Dialysis patients have to cut visits because kidney centres are running out of fuel, hospitals are out of essential drugs, children in tents are dying of cold. This humanitarian disaster is now becoming a crime against humanity. Yet, the world couldn’t be bothered.

Lately, there have been signs that the Oli-led coalition in Kathmandu and the establishment in New Delhi have realised that this isn’t helping anyone, and are looking for an exit. However, the population in the plains has now been so radicalised by the Madhesi Front and brutal state crackdowns that the leaders are no longer in total control of the streets.

Our hope for 2016 is that in the upcoming weeks the two amendments to the constitution will get the nod from parliament, and the proposal to defer provincial delineation for three months will be agreed upon. That will set the stage for confidence rebuilding efforts both between New Delhi and Kathmandu as well as between hills and plains within Nepal.

The egotistical politicians in India and Nepal have recklessly held hostage Nepal’s 28 million long-suffering people. They must end this suffering, and owe us at least this much.

Read also:

Nothing left to say Editorial 

Worst year ever Bidushi Dhungel

Years of living dangerously Anurag Acharya

The endless transition, Rubeena Mahato

Happy New Earful, Ass

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