Shaheen Chughtai, an official with the charity Oxfam, has written that Nepal’s “ability to cope with a major disaster”, like the 25 April earthquake, is “crippled by the lack of the kind of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted”.
“I first arrived in Kathmandu in 2007 to begin a new job with Oxfam. I remember looking at the thousands of flimsy shacks and hovels lining Kathmandu’s dusty slums and the sturdier but still precarious multi-tiered family homes, the cheaply-built apartment blocks and ornate temples that collectively give the city its colourful distinctive appearance. We all understood and feared what a big earthquake would surely do.
“Kathmandu was fundamentally flawed by more than just its violent geology. A million-plus people are crammed inside it. Half of Nepal’s 28 million population don’t have access to improved sanitation and live below the poverty line, around one-in-three of them in severe poverty.
“Nepal has long been desperate for a huge, sustained investment to strengthen its physical infrastructure in order to keep its people safer”.
Now rich governments are offering aid, though tiny amounts in proportion to their resources.
The use and distribution of that aid should be democratically controlled by the people of Nepal, to guard against it becoming a way for officials to enrich themselves and big powers to purchase influence in the country.