The major earthquake on April 25, 2015 has inspired the country to work towards rebuilding it in unity. This inspiration is particularly essential to transform damages from the earthquake into strengths. The biggest positive from this experience has been the growing national unity. What Puspa Kamal Dahal said in context to the resolution passed by the Constituent Assembly touched me.
“We have to rise above our individual party interests for national interests. This will give rise to a feeling of rebuilding the nation as well as the constitution.”
This is an indication of the fact that the sun has fallen on the narrow minds of our politicians. They have realized that just talking about change, will not help our country move forward. Earthquakes occur in developed countries as well as underdeveloped countries such as ours. The only difference is that the damages tend to be minimized in developed countries, where various technologies have emerged ensuring house safety from earthquakes. While defeat during the Second World War posed a serious crisis to Japan, alongside other natural crises, they were able to overcome it and minimize destruction. It is because of the feeling of unity that they have been able to come this far in the world.
The same feeling is therefore also needed in Nepal. There is cultural difference in our country. We need to bring unity and avoid differentiation of caste, religion, language and culture. If each group only thinks about themselves, the country will not be made. While conserving our ethnic and cultural importance, Nepalese need to create the feeling of building the nation. Unfortunately, this feeling has only come up after the damage done by the earthquake.
Many homes have broken down, and there are many staying out in open fields and sleeping under tents. Community kitchens have been organized. There is a sense of unity, no one is big or small, and everyone is eating together. This is because there would be no happiness or sense of peace otherwise. It is therefore time to consider what can be done next.
Unlike in the 1990 earthquake, we are not separated from the international community; relief is steadily pouring in from every part of the world. The political weakness within the country however is a major reason behind mismanagement of relief funds. Meanwhile travelling within rural Nepal is difficult due to inadequate transport infrastructure. However, despite all the chaos and limitations, the Nepal Armed forces and locals have come together to provide relief. This showcases the patriotism towards our country.
When the 1990 earthquake hit the country, the infrastructure not at all up to the mark. The narrow streets from Ason to Indra Chowk, and the houses along the route are the same even today. Following the 1990 earthquake, the then rulers began to structure infrastructure with wide roads and strong houses. A road was made through Tundikhel to the Prime Minister’s statue, while a tributary of the road went to Ranmukteshwar, and another went to Indra Chowk. There was no indication that Kathmandu was a city until the earthquake took place. The Gorkhapatra organization and Nepal Bank offices were at that time used as horse stables. After the earthquake the stables were shifted to Balaju, and work started on shaping a national plan. The current earthquake is therefore an opportunity for the country to make changes and start working on developing and implementing a new national plan.
At the time of the first earthquake, the Tundikhel grounds which was then one of Asia’s biggest parade fields acted as refuge for the population. During that time there were no such things as tents, whatever was available in the houses were used to make shelters. Such important and usable open spaces are now occupied by government offices. The open spaces around Tundikhel were also occupied the same way.
Open spaces have now been taken up by major infrastructural projects. For instance, Chobar now has a cement factory, whereas Godavari now has a whole marble industry set up. A culturally rich city such as Patan has been turned into an industrial area, and the same goes for Balaju and Bhaktapur. Similarly roads are also being developed without any coordination, or consideration for sewage disposal. Made today, destroyed tomorrow. If there was any planning done, then the beauty and the openness of our country could be preserved. This mega earthquake has therefore given us a chance to make better plans for the country. If we do not learn from this, then the future will be worse.
King Mahendra did not have a good concept of land benefits. While he could have planned land formation in the city in such a way that it would benefit the people of the country, he did not do so. The land he gave to his daughters in Kamaladi was the most fertile soil in the city, where enough fruits and vegetables could have grown for a majority of the population. Ratna Park was made in the name of his wife, and while every city needs parks, this could have been made somewhere else, and not in the middle of the city. In other countries, army headquarters are on the outskirts of the capital because of security reasons. Here, it is in the middle of the city, with the Tundikhel grounds captured by the army. Similarly Rangashala could have also been a few miles away. Rangashala could have been as beautiful as Rani Pokhari because there was a lake with lotuses, however it was destroyed. That is why plans are essential for sustainable development, particularly since we need to think about preserving our heritage for the coming generation.
In terms of cultural heritage, Nepal has an abundance of it. UNESCO has included seven location within Kathmandu in their World Heritage List; Pashupati, Boudha, Swayambhu, Changu Narayan, Patan, Kathmandu and Bhaktapur Durbar Square. When UNESCO announced these sites as a part of its World Heritage List, they became the property of the whole world. While it is important to follow UNESCO’s guidelines while building houses and apartments in the surrounding areas, the tall buildings around these heritage sites have not followed UNESCO’s guidelines. Much attention has not been given to building codes in these areas with the municipalities passing house plans and distributing sand/cement without much attention. With permissions for building a three storied building, five storied buildings are being made. If this goes on, UNESCO might take us out of the World Heritage List. If that happens, the funds coming in for conservation of these sites will also stop. Due to the guidelines not being followed, UNESCO had put these sits under the ‘endanger zone’ for three years, however after much pleading the country succeeded in getting these heritages back on the list. If there is any carelessness, these heritage sites will be lost.
A famous tourist once said, ‘You can get the same pleasure in going to Bhaktapur Durbar square, the 55 windowed palace and the golden gate as you get in roaming around half the world’. It is the local lifestyle, architecture and cultural heritage that tourists enjoy the most, if that art is lost, the tourism sector will be heavily impacted.
The mega earthquake took more than 8000 lives, alongside destroying thousands of homes. The people whose houses and buildings have seen much damage have now started to question if anything can be done to improve it. Our country therefore needs a leader who is capable of changing this despair into hope. To do this, there needs to be a cultural revolution. The generation which has had a conservative line of thoughts needs to change. How long has it been since we have said that there is no casteism? But it is still seen in our behavior. The mega earthquake has lessened this casteism, and amidst all the damage somewhat revolutionized the people of the country. These feelings would not have come in ordinary conditions.
There is now talk regarding the need for a national government, as everyone realizes that the absence of a strong government and a statesman has led the country its current state. While it looks like a lot of work is being done, there are no great results. If we are to learn from the destruction from the earthquake, we need to move forward by being politically motivated. If we can do that we will be leaving a firm base for the coming generations. Otherwise the coming generation will have to bear worse damages than those faced currently.
While everyone is self-seeking, our leaders need to realize that self-seeking in a nation shadows the greater good. The same intensity should also be channeled towards making the constitution. Under a strong leadership, commitment should be made to build a new Nepal. Japan and Singapore were made into what they are by the politicians’ vision. It is now time to repair what the earthquake took away from us, but we can only do this by working together as a country.
Here at NEF we are trying to build a repository on lessons from the Nepal Earthquake. This piece has been written by Mr. Satya Mohan Joshi a Nepali writer and scholar, famous for his research on the history and culture of Nepal
The views expressed in this article does not reflect Nepal Economic Forum’s official view, but offers an insight into factors that must be taken into consideration following the 25th April 2015 Nepal Earthquake.