I vividly remember that moment of immense panic as I tried to call my parents.
It was 2:00am in Washington, DC, where I currently live, and a BBC alert on Nepal had just pinged and flashed across my iPhone screen. It read, “BREAKING NEWS: A powerful 7.8 earthquake has rocked central Nepal.”
On April 25, 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal. Soon after, on May 12, 2015, Nepal was hit with another one, this time measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale. The death toll was 8,500+, more than 600,000 homes were completely or partially destroyed, and almost eight million people were affected in Nepal. The country and its people were devastated, and continue to be.
Fast-forward to August 6, 2015, I was on a plane to Kathmandu, bitter-sweet about my trip ahead. I couldn’t wait to finally see my parents, friends, and extended family (after two-and-a-half years away), but also wanted to see for myself that they were truly okay, that my house, and my city was okay. No amount of assurances over the phone was enough for someone living so far away.
We are six months away from that tragic day in April. A lot has happened since the earthquakes; and a lot has not happened (yet).
Reconstruction by the Nepali government, for example, is still pending. It is now supposed to begin next month in November, but at this point I think Nepali citizens are too politically fatigued to believe that anything promised by the government will take place until we see it take place.
The reason I specify ‘reconstruction by the Nepali government’ is because I do not want to discount the remarkable rebuilding efforts of Nepalis have taken up in various scales – personal/communal level, village/city level and physical/digital level – many people are doing as much as they can. In the months following the tremors, the Nepali youth in-country were especially phenomenal. Also critical was the remarkable and expert disaster response, and other forms of support that Nepal received from the international community. The general apathy we see now is in such stark contrast from the fervent resiliency we saw in the immediate aftermath.
And now, with $4.4 billion of unspent pledged aid money, and mired in internal and external political strife further aggravated by the ongoing fuel crisis, Nepal is going into the cold winter season with most of the devastated areas still extremely vulnerable, and the devastated victims, still unsheltered and neglected by the government.
The government has seemingly prioritized politics over welfare of earthquake victims. The Chief Executive Officer of the National Reconstruction Authority (NEA), speaking to IRIN, hits the nail on the head when he says, “We see a clear lack of multi-tasking in our political leadership. They are busy in one agenda and cannot focus on another.”
My trip to Nepal in August was special because I there also to lead a pilot survey for Code for Nepal’s Rahat Payo initiative.
Rahat Payo translates to: “Did you get relief (aid)?” and is a multi-year project of Code for Nepal. It aims to fill the gaps that exists in the aid distribution, relief and recovery process in the aftermath of the earthquake.
We recruited eight Nepali volunteers to conduct the pilot between August and September 2015. After an initial training on Kobo, the platform
on which we developed our survey questionnaire, our surveyors traveled to at least 40 different sites within Nepal to conduct the survey and gather data using smart devices.
The pilot survey took place in Sindhupalchowk, Gorkha, Rasuwa, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. There were 767 total respondents, out of which 467 were male and 300 were female. The average age of respondents was 44 years old. Of the 767 total respondents, 642 (84%) said they received some form of relief. Most respondents who received relief (573 out of 642, or 89%) had to wait more than 8 days to get any form of help, according to the survey.