Post-Earthquake, Nepal Suffers New Crisis
Last November, Massachusetts resident Anjana Gurung had finally saved enough money to return home to her native Nepal. It had been six years since she had seen her 68-year-old mother, who lives in Kathmandu and makes a living weaving carpets in spite of failing eyesight.
To celebrate her daughter’s return, Anjana’s mother stood in line for three days and three nights to buy a single cylinder of liquefied petroleum, widely used for cooking in Nepal. Family members traveled back and forth, ferrying food to nourish the woman while she waited. At night, Anjana’s mother chained the cylinder to a nearby fence or tree to hold her place in line.
After Nepal adopted a new constitution in September 2015, the Indian government, supported by ethnic Madheshis living in southern Nepal, protested by imposing an unofficial border blockade. The landlocked nation was quickly crippled by acute shortages of fuel, food, medicine, and vaccines. Prices skyrocketed to three or four times the amount of pre-blockade prices.
In November, UNICEF warned that more than 3 million children under the age of five were at risk of death or disease. The nation’s renewed reliance on firewood increased the incidence of illegal logging and deforestation. Many schools, hotels, and restaurants closed. Tourism, the nation’s largest industry, was decimated. Tragically, the blockade also paralyzed rebuilding efforts after the earthquakes of April and May 2015 killed about 9,000 people and damaged nearly 600,000 homes.
While in Nepal, Anjana paid a heartbreaking visit to her ancestral village in the Sindupalchok region, the hardest hit by Nepal’s earthquakes. With nearly all the houses reduced to rubble, Anjana’s friends and distant family members languished in temporary structures, waiting for relief efforts to resume.
“Some areas continue to be terrified by ongoing aftershocks,” says Anjana, who has since returned to the United States to continue her studies. “The mood is one of discouragement and increasing fear—fear at the possibility of another earthquake and fear for the future of our debilitated economy.”
Ram Prasad Darai, a native of Pipaltar, Nepal, also returned to his afflicted homeland last November. While on leave from his job in Doha, Qatar—through which he has supported his extended family for the past nine years—Ram Prasad visited Pipaltar, a subsistence-farming village with limited access to electrical power or running water.
The village’s only connection to goods and services is via an accident-prone public minibus that daily braves a precarious and winding dirt road. When the bus doesn’t come—and with the blockade, it was less predictable than usual—supplies and the sick must be carried 25 miles on foot.
“As terrible as the earthquakes were, the blockade brought even more hardship to my country,” says Ram Prasad. “Its damage to the economy and quality of life set my country back by decades. My heart hurts to see it.”
Editor’s Note: On February 5, Nepal’s four-month-long border blockade was finally lifted. Supplies have begun to flow back into the country, but it will take time for the nation to heal from the crisis’ debilitating effects.