Poverty, terrain will make rebuilding of Nepal...
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Apr 27, 2015  |  Vote 0    0

Poverty, terrain will make rebuilding of Nepal more difficult

Reconstruction effort will be complex in a country lacking good transportation network, heavy machinery and enough money

OurWindsor.Ca

Rebuilding Nepal will be expensive and complicated — and this Himalayan country may never be the same again, experts say.

“It (the earthquake) has pushed the country back decades just in terms of infrastructural damage,” said Sanjay Nepal, a professor of geography at the University of Waterloo, referring to extensive damage the quake caused to buildings, bridges and hydroelectric projects.

The scope of the disaster is beyond the capacity of Nepal and its government, he said in an interview.

“It will be hard, very hard, to recover,” said Nepal.

Saturday’s 7.8-magnitude earthquake, its epicentre outside the capital city of Kathmandu, was the worst to hit this South Asian nation in more than 80 years. At last count, more than 4,000 people had died, and several thousand were injured.

The quake also triggered an avalanche on Mt. Everest, killing 18 people.

The number of dead is expected to climb again once rescue teams reach remote mountainous areas, where initial reports suggest swaths of villages have been flattened.

Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world where more than 30 per cent of the people live on less than $14 (U.S.) per month, was just beginning to recover from a decade-long civil war between Maoists and the government, which ended in 2006. But it was still beset with problems — poverty, corruption and a weak, ineffective government.

Nepal is ranked 126th of 175 countries on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index.

Now, the total economic loss from the earthquake could be anywhere between $1 billion to $10 billion, according to early estimates by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The devastation is widespread, said Nadine Grant, director of international programs for Plan Canada.

“It will be a complex reconstruction effort,” she said, adding that one big challenge will likely be the difficult Himalayan terrain.

Grant, who has spent time in Nepal in the past years, said that small, isolated villages scattered along mountain ranges already had poor access to basic things like clean drinking water and decent roads.

The lack of modern construction equipment is also a concern, she said.

The saving grace, said Grant, is that there is “now opportunity to build services that are better than before.”

The Saturday earthquake not only killed thousands and damaged infrastructure, it also dealt a huge blow to tourism: the 25 to 27 districts hit by the earthquake — to the east and the west of Kathmandu — are popular for tourism-related activities.

The earthquake also wreaked havoc on several UNESCO World Heritage Sites — Kathmandu has seven, the most of any city in the world.

Several temples have either partially or completely collapsed.

“It’s really bad out here,” Gautam Karki, who works for Thomas Cook in Kathmandu, said on Monday.

The earthquake, he said, will reduce the number of tourists wanting to come to Nepal in the next few years.

“I don’t know why anyone will want to come until the situation is better,” he said. “And I don’t know how these temples will be rebuilt again. . . . It won’t be the same again.”

It could take tourism a long time to reignite, he said.

Last April’s avalanche on Mt. Everest, Nepal’s signature tourist attraction, had already impacted tourism, said Karki.

But Katharine Rankin, a professor of geography at the University of Toronto who has researched rural road construction in Nepal, says tourists always come back to Nepal.

“They do, really.”

On rebuilding, she said that Nepal-based development organizations have “capacity and wisdom. . . . The people, too, have enormous capacity to build. It will take time and it will be hard but it will get rebuilt.”

But she doesn’t know what it will look like in the end.

“There will be a lot of questions about what will get rebuilt . . . (and) what won’t,” Rankin said.

Meanwhile, Nepal, the University of Waterloo professor, pointed out that while immediate foreign aid will reach affected people, the long-term impact on people’s lives will be a different story.

“My sister’s sister-in-law just built a big house in Kathmandu . . . investing a lot of money,” he said. The house, which collapsed in the earthquake, was not insured, like most homes in South Asia.

“She has no idea what she will do . . . how she will rebuild it.”

Toronto Star

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