By Bharat Raj Poudel
They say misfortune never comes alone. No one knows this more than Nepal as it lives the unfortunate proverb right this moment. A 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit the mountainous republic last April killing nearly 9000 people and crippling tens of thousands others, straining whatever little healthcare resources the tiny nation had. That’s Misfortune Number One.
The devastation dealt by the April earthquake itself would have been enough to warrant the world’s total attention. But as if that was not enough, a diplomatic (political) wrangling between Nepal and India has pushed Nepalese people back to the past, quite literally. Just as they could not a hundred or so years ago, today Nepalese travellers cannot easily go from one place to another on motor vehicles as petrol is virtually non-existent. And they do not have the basic modern day amenity of cooking gas; even elites have been reduced to cooking on firewood out in the open. If that’s that then one can easily imagine what would an ordinary Nepalese citizen be going through. Misfortune Number Two.
The international community now have a name for this double whammy Nepal is facing. The country is witnessing a full-blown humanitarian crisis.
These tragic developments, Mother Nature’s destruction on April 25 and the total disruption of public life courtesy Indian blockade, amount to an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the Himalayan nation, media is beginning to say.
Add to this massive inconvenience the fact that few innocent lives have already been lost over the last few days as a direct result of the Indian blockade. People have received fatal burns as they improvise ways to procure and save petrol at home. One such tragic death of was that of 12 year old in mid-western Nepal who gave her life trying to save her father. The girl, her brother and their father became engulfed in a sudden burst of fire when they were handling petrol stored at home.
Amid calls for internationalising this humanitarian crisis, Nepal’s top-selling newspaper Kantipur reported today that the Government of Nepal has instructed the heads of its diplomatic missions worldwide to initiate ‘diplomatic lobbying’ against the blockade. The report further said that the foreign ministry sent emails to its missions to solicit their advice.
Speaking to southasia.com.au, Nepal’s foreign secretary Shanker Bairagi, however, said that the latest media reports are not correct. “We have not instructed our missions to internationalize the issue,” Bairagi said.
The UN’s tireless work to provide ‘food and shelter’ to 80,000 plus Nepalese people who are the most effected by the April and May earthquakes has suffered a serious setback. This becomes particularly alarming and concerning as the harsh Nepalese winter is around the corner, the UN has expressed in a recent press statement.
“When faced with tough challenges like the monsoon season, landslides and difficult terrain, we are proud of how we have been able to support the Government and people of Nepal and respond to the challenges overall,” Jamie McGoldrick said, “But present conditions are a concern“.
Mr McGoldrick believes the massive humanitarian task of taking care of those nearly hundred thousand vulnerable earthquake survivors ‘can be achieved’ but ‘but the lack of fuel is significantly affecting distribution of goods’. The Humanitarian Country Team of the UN is urging a quick resolution to the fuel shortage so that winter goods can be quickly delivered to the needy. He noted that there is only a ‘brief window of fair weather in which humanitarian actors can respond before the snow’.
In the mean time, Nepal has for the first time taken some resolute steps in accessing the fuel supply being offered by its southern neighbour. As this report goes online, a team of Nepal government’s representatives are touring China to make the final preparations for the importation of 1300 KLs of petrol from China.
Interestingly, the communist nation has offered to bring the supply right up to the border point from where at least 25 Nepalese tankers would ferry the much-needed fuel to Kathmandu on a daily basis, reports suggest. The only challenge is the road through which the two nations would engage in this petro-trade as it is partly damaged by the April earthquake.
It is noteworthy that China is offering the initial supply in grant which again is a boon to the cash-strapped nation.
Brisbane-based journalist Poudel is a PhD Candidate @ QUT.