Two months on, big-hearted Nepal still at the relief stage post quake

New Delhi: Seventy four days after a massive earthquake left 14 of Nepal's 75 districts in a state of devastation, and its inhabitants with a feeling of despair and darkness, its government does not hesitate to admit that the nation is still in relief and rehabilitation mode, but working assiduously towards restoring a sense of normalcy.

In interactions with political leaders, the hotel and tourist lobbies of the Himalayan nation, what comes across is a sense of acceptance that humans can never battle the vagaries of nature, but can certainly carry on with a sense of renewed hope for a better and improved tomorrow.

Nepal's determined Home Minister Vamdev Gautam told ANI that, 'We are still at the relief stage. After this, we will plan out the rebuilding and reconstruction phase. Statistically, ten lakh buildings have been destroyed and approximately 50 lakh people have been left homeless, and are living in tented accommodation.

A Nepalese resident carries a child as she walks past damaged homes on the outskirts of Katmandu following the second major earthquake that hit Nepal on May 12, 2015. File pic/ AFP

After the monsoon, we will be doing it (rehabilitation) with more speed. We will overcome this tragedy. 'K.P. Oli, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML), said it was an important time in Nepal's history, and added that his nation was in a transitional phase.

Acknowledging the enthusiastic response of the international community to the tragedy that claimed over 8000 lives, he said that a recent meeting of global donors had delivered some good and positive outcomes, and believed that the average Nepali is inching closer to normalcy post the earthquake.

'The enormity of the calamity took time to understand, and once the extent of the damage dawned on us, 10,000 volunteers of my party stepped in across different affected districts, whether in the Terai or in the hilly areas to help. So far, 77,276 houses and 1,013 schools have been constructed. The debris of 22,000 structures has been cleared. We have put in 750,000 man working days, not hours into this effort.'

He was particularly critical about the negative portrayal of the tragedy by the media and other 'vested interests'. 'Some nations projected a very grim picture of Nepal. Some issued adverse travel advisories to their citizens not to visit Nepal. There was absolutely no reason to do this.

We feel there was a campaign by some non-government organizations and other agencies to block the release of funds to our government which was perceived and projected as corrupt. These agencies used this tragedy to their advantage.

I can emphatically say that only 15 percent of our tourism sector has been affected by this earthquake, the balance 85 percent is intact,' Oli said. The CPN-UML leader said that a whole lot of people and agencies are monitoring the relief and rehabilitation effort, and the record distribution of aid.

'This rumour of corruption is baseless and being projected by vested interests. Everything is being done in a transparent manner. We are seeking media support to pass out a message that Nepal's tourism sector is not fully damaged.

Tourists can come and see. Some buildings maybe destroyed, but flora and fauna is intact. Some old and heritage buildings have also suffered some damage, but the reconstruction process is on, and with time, will pick up speed,' Oli said.

Preliminary estimates suggest that there has been a loss of between USD 6.5 to 6.6 billion dollars, and that Nepal is initially expecting to receive approximately USD 10 billion. Oli said that this was a workable amount, but certainly not enough.

He said that donor agencies have committed to provide more funds as and when required. 'Planning must, however, be Nepali, as we are a sovereign nation and will act accordingly,' he added. Gautam said it could take Nepal approximately 15 years to recover fully from the tragedy.

Key representatives of the Nepal Tourism Board (NTB), the Reporters Club of Nepal, the Lumbini chapter of the Siddhartha Association of Travels and Tour Agents, the Federation of Nepali Journalists, the Nepal-India Friendship Association, the regional Hotel Association of Pokhara and the Hotel Association of Nepal said that the main objective behind inviting a media delegation from India and hosting them was to neutralize and end what they called 'negative media' perceptions about the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake.

All were unanimous in crediting the Indian Government for being the first to respond to the calamitous tragedy with alacrity, which subsequently prompted other nations to chip in as well. 'Nepal is a place of great heart. It is a place that also offers ultra-modern facilities. This is the biggest earthquake to hit Nepal after 1934 (81 years). We will accept that the economic and psychological damage was huge.

Some heritage sites have been damaged, some remote areas have also been impacted severely and are presently inaccessible, but most other parts of Nepal did not experience as much damage as is being made out. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that as a result of the earthquake, Nepal has became better known globally, said Ramesh Kumar Adhikari, the head of the NTB. Travelling from the centre of Nepal towards its south-east and back, similar views were echoed, suggesting that the Himalayan nation is steadily working its way back to normalcy.

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