Samiksha Rai is a former nfpSynergy Research Assistant with an MBA from Johnson and Wales University in the US. She now runs a small credit chasing agency in Nepal whose clients include nfpSynergy. This is her blog about what life was like in Nepal in 2015.
The natural earthquake
April 25th, 2015 just another Saturday, one would think. 11:56 am we were helping organize a lunch party at my cousin’s house. It was a family affair and only the elderly had arrived. We were just serving coffee and tea when I heard a loud rattle and then a big thud. I was under the impression that the cooking gas cylinder burst. Then the Earth started shaking, it felt like you were surfing on the ground like you would in the Ocean. I couldn’t maintain balance and I could see the elderly fall one by one, even those sitting on chairs. It lasted for what felt like eternity. We could see the boundary wall crack open to reveal the cornfields at the back and then close up again. Open and close as though, you would a door. I didn’t know what was happening until someone yelled “Earthquake”. It was the most frightening 60 seconds of my life.
The earthquake measured a 7.8 in magnitude. About 9000 people died and thousands of others injured. It could have been worse but because it was a Saturday afternoon, schools were closed and people were mostly outdoors and hence the damage was not as extensive.
We had been camping out in the open ever since the first earthquake. It wasn’t safe to stay indoors. We continued to do so in tents for a whole month. We woke up every night with sirens blaring, warning us of another aftershock. I don’t remember going into deep sleep for two months. We were always on alert, ready to run. Electric lines had been suspended for days because of fallen Electric Poles. The second big earthquake hit us on the 12th of May. This time it was scarier as we knew what damage it could do. Buildings that were badly shaken up from the first earthquake came crumbling down. It wasn’t safe to walk on the streets for fear of debris falling on your head.
This was Kathmandu, where houses are built more solid; some villages were wiped out completely. People were buried alive. Communications were destroyed and roads became inaccessible. People in the villages had no food to eat and no shelter. They slept in the open fields with no cover, everything they owned was buried under the mud. Right before an Earthquake animals start making noises and birds fly away. The Earth makes a roaring noise when it strikes, you can hear it before you feel it.
The political earthquake
Nepal had adopted an interim Constitution since we overthrew our Monarchy in 2007. We have ever since tried to make a Constitution and seven years later finally managed to adopt one this September. This constitution has its fair share of shortcomings but I was more than happy that we were able to finally get one. Others from the South however, were not so happy and decided to protest against it.
India seemed very unhappy with the constitution and while every other country was congratulating us, India decided to block our borders blaming it on the unrest within the Nepalese side. They are now using this blockade to further their agenda that would favor New Delhi’s political motives within Nepal. Our unofficial blockade started in September. Nepal being a land locked country relies mainly on India for its imports and uses Indian ports to get foreign shipments. The earthquake blocked our land routes to China, which meant we had to turn to the Indian borders for all supplies. Closing the borders meant choking our supplies.
As though the natural earthquake wasn’t enough, our political earthquake in the form of the blockade fell upon us right when we were putting our selves back together. I could have never imagined this scenario in today’s day and age. We have no access to fuel. Unless you want to stand in line for three nights and two days to get 10 liters of fuel, once every month or buy it in the black market for three times the price. We haven’t used cooking gas to cook food in two months now. We use firewood and since we live in the city we need to buy it. You could buy a kilo for nine rupees but must now pay forty rupees for the same. Schools have extended their holidays and hospitals are low on supplies.
Food is rationed in stores and is priced as high as 100% of their original price. Winter is at its peak and any relief work for the Earthquake victims in distant villages are now on hold. The Government only has enough supplies to feed the people for another month or so. Winter means more load shedding. We now have 9-12 hours of power-cuts. We need diesel to run generators and electricity to re-charge inverter batteries, neither of which is available. Somedays, we just sit in candlelight waiting for food to be cooked on firewood. In short we are moving back to the stone ages.
The earth is still shaking below us and we are now moving into the fourth month of the blockade. Supplies are running low and we still haven’t found a solution to our problems (see a BBC article here). Some restaurants that are still operating are serving the ‘MODI-fied’ menu. All our conversations revolve around the blockade, which has made life very monotonous.
There are rights and wrongs to the new constitution but the blockade makes our economy far worse, makes recovery from the earthquake harder, hasten the destruction of our forests for firewood, and even makes basic healthcare go backwards.
It is ironic that while so many nations and NGOs offered us help when our earthquake struck in April, they are silent now. A multi-agency briefing include Oxfam titled ‘The Nepal Earthquake 6 months: What needs to happen now?’ doesn’t even mention the blockade despite being published a month after it began.
The cost to our economy of the natural earthquake is estimated to be $7 billion dollars. Yet the cost from the political earthquake is thought likely to be even greater if it continues for too much longer. I wish Mr. Modi would look at his own country’s problems and stop bullying our tiny and vulnerable country when it is already on its knees.