*All quotes from Paul Farmer’s “Haiti After the Earthquake”

Yesterday, I arrived in Kathmandu. I saw sunrise over Mt. Everest in my plane window, and the Himalayas are so tall that I thought we might hit them as we flew in! One of the most gorgeous sights ever. I’m staying with a classmate of mine, Upasana, and her family, maid and her children, on their ground floor. Because of the aftershocks, they don’t feel safe enough to use their other two floors. I was fed an amazing home cooked breakfast and dinner, chai, and mangoes. The monsoon has shrouded the surrounding Himalayas in mystical clouds that make their heights deceitful (how far up could they go? My mind is unable to imagine it sometimes, just fuzzy with awe at the enormity). As I walked around Kathmandu with Upasana, I felt strangely at home – though it is probably a poor comparison, the aura of Kathmandu seems so similar to that of an Indian city, except much calmer, safer, and laid back. No one stared at me. No one pushed or jostled me. People give each other space, but the familiar South Asian sense of community and hospitality still surrounds me.

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Monsoon in the Himalayan foothills, 26-06-2015

We walked around Durbar square, to temples where classmates last summer had taken happy pictures, now half reduced to rubble, the pathways in front of the temples are dotted with red and green zone signs. We also walked past the famous Dharahara tower, which collapsed in the earthquake with 180 bodies found in the rubble.

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Red zone temple, 26-06-2015

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Green zone temple, 26-06-2015

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Dharahara tower remains, 26-06-2015 and before (Wikipedia)


Along the highways that we drove, on golf courses and other plots of public and private land, stood colonies of blue, yellow, orange and gray-tarped tents and “tigloos” – large tin sheets bent over the ground to form a half-cylindrical shelter – an igloo of sorts that is no doubt quite loud to live in during the monsoon season. IDP camps.

We visited one of these IDP camps in Bode, Bhaktapur, run jointly by a Chinese poverty alleviation group, a youth organization from the Nepali community where the IDPs have been displaced (from Sindhupalchowk, a region near the border with Tibet), and four other organizations. The camp was impressively clean, and children are already enrolled in the daycare center within the camp or in surrounding schools; but adults, especially the older members of the community, sat gloomy and dejected. Adolescents and younger women and men from each tent waited patiently in line at the front of the camp, plastic containers and buckets in hand to fill water which comes twice a day and carry it back.

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Fetching water, Bode IDP camp, 26-06-2015

Children ran around, playing or going to one of the outhouses in the back (11 for 1089 residents – a favorable ratio, I am told).

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Outhouses, Bode IDP camp, 26-06-2015

Women cooked on stoves outside their tents or in the community tigloo kitchen.

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Community “tigloo” kitchen, Bode IDP camp. 26-06-2015

Though the tents are large, they are not propped up – not ready or monsoon flooding and muck that is to come – and many have something like 10 people to a tent. Residents are wary about security – though no huge incidents have occurred as of yet, the residents feel poorly protected. More the anything, one of the youth group managers pointed out that the camp has no one to run its health center, to collect waste, provide electricity and proper sanitation – and these issues will become more exacerbated as the monsoon intensifies. The government, as of yet, has not stepped in to provide any of these functions in the Bode camp.

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The camp will stay open until September, after which there is vast uncertainty about what the residents will do – the monsoon will cause flooding and landslides in their home villages, thwarting reconstruction efforts, and it is doubtful that anything (hospitals, schools, homes) will be rebuilt well enough to support the return of an entire community. In the camp, there is an air of idleness and uncertainty, boredom and tension, as people wait, and wait to stop waiting.


Talking to Upasana, who has been visiting various IDP camps and remote areas with self-organized groups and NGOs around Nepal to help with relief efforts over the last month, and reading about responses to the Haiti earthquake of 2010, a few points stand out to me:


1. Relief + reconstruction

“We could tend to the injured, but what about the homeless? We could treat the sick, but what about burying the dead? We could insert intravenous lines, but what about slaking, with clean water, the thirst of millions?”
In Kathmandu, there is a lack of coordination – multiple organizations performing different functions within the same camp, some with redundancies, and many with uncertain funding streams. There is huge variation between the quality of IDP camp management, that has a lot to do with what organizations are managing them, and what resources they have managed to independently scrounge up; and perhaps with the degree of homogeneity of the communities within them as well. Some have training programs set up, others do not. Some have structures for governance and management set up (women’s organizations, teams to manage various daily functions), others do not. There is also a lack of coordination in the sense that relief efforts are not complemented with reconstruction efforts back in home communities – the same way that care in medicine is often not complemented with prevention – the ever-present conundrum that exists in so many fields of development and healthcare. Monsoon and a historically weak government bureaucratic structure exacerbates, or often is at the root of, these issues. However, many managers are open to suggestions, and some have started visiting other camps – though many (including the one we spoke to in Bode) are simply overwhelmed with the tasks of managing their own camps without much government aid.

2. NGOs and government
“We return to the challenge of reconstruction after the temblor of 2010. In the years before it, we saw that Haiti had become a veritable “Republic of NGOs,” home to a proliferation of goodwill that did little or nothing to strengthen the public sector. Thus did clinics sprout up without much aid to the health system; thus did schools arise by the hundreds even as the Ministry of Education faltered; thus did water projects appear even as water security (like food security) was enfeebled. […] It’s hard to imagine public health without a public sector, and the same could be said for public education and public works.”
 There is a lack of regulation – the government has not organized enough to step in and impose regulations on many of these camps, which are privately run. Well-meaning private organizations are doing a lot – and often, something is better than nothing – but in the long-run, reinforcement of public structures is needed to rebuild (and in fact, has long been needed).

3. Context
“The relevant knowledge needed to be historically deep (because the damaged caused by the quake and the responses to it were rooted in Haitian history) and geographically broad (because Haiti had for centuries been caught up in a transnatonal economic and political web, a condition very much on display before and after the quake).”
China and India have been sending a lot of help to Nepal. And multi- and bi-laterals have raised quite a lot of money – almost on target – for the next stages of Nepal’s reconstruction. But it remains to be seen how these will be used by the currently existing government structures.
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