In the larger scheme of things, the current political infighting over the prime minister's chair will all look very petty in comparison to the mega-earthquake that is sure to destroy much of Kathmandu one day.
As the special coverage in this issue shows: Nepal is woefully unprepared for the Big One. That is hardly surprising with a government that can't even handle day-to-day affairs in normal times. Estimates are that 100,000 will be killed outright, 200,000 seriously injured and 1.5 million rendered homeless in Kathmandu Valley alone if a magnitude 8 earthquake strikes. Epidemics and food shortages will further ravage the land. It would be wrong to call it a 'natural' disaster, as the death toll will be largely man made.
Today, the Nepali public feels its government is at best useless, and gets on with life. The preoccupation of politicians with power forces the rest of us to make our own arrangements to supply our homes with water and electricity, and fix local roads and drains. We rely on the private sector for most services even as we curse the inefficiency and corruption that stymie the public sector.
Tomorrow, when we are roiled by a geo-tectonic upheaval, government may be worse than useless. Mark Pelling and Kathleen Dill of King's College London suggest that "the socio-political and cultural dynamics put into motion at the time of catastrophic 'natural' disasters create the conditions for potential political change – often at the hands of a discontented civil society."
As with everything in life, disasters often hit the poorest the hardest, and in doing so expose the inequities that characterise a national polity. Misappropriation of resources meant for relief and rescue further highlight such faults. If our government cannot respond adequately when the time comes, and the signs are that it will fall far short, don't expect people to sit around contemplating their fate.
Of course, citizen action could take more positive form. Expect local community groups to spring into action, and institutions such as the Nepal Army and indeed the YCL (if still around) to take the opportunity to burnish their public image. And you can be sure politicians across the spectrum will line up to make the most of the occasion: careers have been made or ruined by how public figures have rallied to the need of the moment. Ask Rudy Guiliani.
Traditional Chinese thought holds that natural disasters are a precursor of dynastic change. Mao Zedong's successor Hua Guofeng took the lesson to heart. His visit to Tangshan in the aftermath of a 1976 quake that killed between 240,000 to 255,000 people did much to elevate his standing, and soon after Mao's death that year he was able to act against the Gang of Four and bring the Cultural Revolution to an end.
While we may not witness such dramatic political sea changes here, physical shocks may well have political aftershocks. Government would be well advised not just to invest in disaster preparedness, but also anticipate the socio-political aftermath.
Not if, but when, KUNDA DIXIT