So, where are we now? It’s mid-November, more than 6 months have passed since the earthquake. The evenings are drawing in and the first snows have fallen at higher altitudes. Since I wrote in mid-October work has continued though things are unavoidably quiet. With the major festival season upon us (it’s currently Tihar and a few weeks ago was the biggest festival of the year Dashain, more on that in another post, I’m working backwards through time remember) working days, especially for the Government, are few and far between. With the fuel crisis (see below) impacting the availability of equipment for winterisation and the ability to deliver to hard to reach areas many families living in temporary shelters must really be feeling the change of season. Delays to the establishment of a National Reconstruction Authority are also contributing to delays in work taking place on the ground and increasing confusion. In my Twitter feed below you can find several articles regarding the impact of this delay on affected communities. However, progress is still being made, so here’s a quick sample of what I’ve been up to;
#1 Some major meetings which took place this month included attending a ‘ Recovery & Reconstruction’ review organised by the Department of Urban Development & Building Construction (DUDBC) Shelter Cluster with some fascinating foreign experts as speakers; General Nadeem (retired) Director of Pakistan Earthquake Recovery and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) and Dr. Kuntoro Mangkusubroto, former Director Aceh, Indonesia Rehabilitation & Reconstruction Agency. These gentlemen were working together with the World Bank to advise the Government of Nepal and non-government organisations about lessons learned from managing the recovery from previous large scale disasters in their countries. I also supported the Local Development Officer (LDO) from Sindhupalchok in preparation to present on our interim coordination mechanism model from the district to superiors, peers and the national Early Recovery Cluster members at the Ministry of Federal Affairs & Local Development (MoFALD). Last but not least I supported a Sindhupalchok District ‘cash coordination group’ lessons learned review workshop together with the main agencies using cash as a relief modality, Government officials and local representatives of the political parties;
#2 To explain the current situation in Nepal from a non-native native’s perspective better than I ever could, I would like to direct you to a great blog post by ‘Tintin in Nepal’ entitled “Resilience: Nepal’s Greatest Strength and Most Crippling Weakness“. Once you’ve read this very moving and accurate blog you can come back and read the rest of what I have to say… As mentioned there, it is hard to know what the real cause of the crisis is as information is patchy and contradictory. An unofficial blockade by India (the source of Nepal’s fuel) or the result of blockades in the Terai, or both? What is evident, is that it is absolutely political, linked to the recent promulgation of Nepal’s first constitution and by now, seriously crippling the country. Here is a recent shot from my neighbourhood. Both the line of motorbikes and the line of cars are queueing for fuel. At this stage, the lines stretched for several kilometres from every petrol station. As announcements come from the Government as to how much fuel is available (a small amount is still coming in from India and deals are also being investigated with China and Bangladesh), which pumps it will be sent to and who is entitled to receive a ration – for example whether or not private vehicles will be allowed to buy a few litres per week – people join the lines accordingly. Sometimes, family members take turns in queueing for days to receive their ration;
#3 It has to be noted that all of the queues I have seen have been extremely organised and civilised (I can only marvel at the restraint of the Nepali people!). Motorbikes in one line. Private cars in one line. Large commercial vehicles such as buses and lorries in another line;
#4 This was the most extreme queuing I have seen yet at 3 lanes deep. Still immaculately organised with separate lines for taxis and private vehicles. Sadly though, since taking these photos the streets are now even emptier of traffic and queues. No fuel has been entering for a few days so the Government has urged people not to queue until there are further announcements. Also affected by the crisis is the availability of LPG gas canisters, also imported from India, and the main source of fuel for cooking and heating in urban areas. Restaurants are closing and the Government is bringing in additional supplies of wood to meet demand. Not good at all. I’m happy to say though, that it’s worth noting my personal favourite transport method – the tempo (as mentioned in my earlier transport post here) is still going strong. In fact with additional advertising for it’s electric vehicles being independent of the current fuel crisis, I hope the promotion of alternative energy options can gain some serious ground;
#5 On the other hand, at the same time, the Nepali people manage to remind you and prove to you their resilience and beauty time and again. In early November, in and around the old, winding streets surrounding Patan Durbar Square, a group of talented and visionary (in my opinion) Nepalis staged ‘Photomandu’ a major photo exhibition. In fact, on the same day as I was wandering these streets marvelling at beautifully presented photos of Nepal, Benedict Cumberbatch was filming his latest film also in Patan Durbar Square, I spent the afternoon and evening enjoying an event from the annual Jazzmandu festival and the day before I’d been for dinner at the hotel where David Beckham was staying after playing football with children in Bhaktapur for UNICEF. It’s all happening in the Kathmandu valley these days, in spite of everything!
#6 The exhibition offered so many interesting images; the photos themselves and especially their juxtaposition with daily life carrying on around them;
#7 After the earthquake, the same group (who were also instrumental in the Himalayan Disaster Relief Volunteer Group whom I was lucky enough to find and volunteer with shortly after the earthquake) decided to try and do something about the one-sided, negative portrayal of the earthquake and it’s aftermath being shared through both mainstream and social media. With the hashtag #nepalphotoproject they brought together a wide range of independent people – earthquake survivors, aid workers, medical staff, artists and many more – to collaborate and share what they were seeing and show a more balanced view of what life was like on the ground. Check #nepalphotoproject out on Instagram and Facebook and see a different, brighter side to life carrying on in Nepal after the earthquake;