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One Year After the Quake, Nepal Struggles to Rebuild

by Matt Schiavenza
29 April 2016

Jo Scheuer, Kul Chandra Gautam, and Sanjeev Sherchan discussed Nepal's reconstruction at Asia Society on Thursday night. (Elsa Ruiz/Asia Society)

In the year since a magnitude 7.8 earthquake killed almost 9,000 people and greatly damaged the country's infrastructure, Nepal's recovery has largely stagnated on account of corruption, political infighting, and poverty — issues that have plagued the country for generations. 

"In effect, Nepal has had three earthquakes," said Kul Chandra Gautam, a Nepalese diplomat and former deputy executive director of UNICEF, during an appearance at Asia Society on Thursday. In addition to the geological event that devastated the country last April 25, Gautam also cited a Maoist insurgency and a crippling blockade along the country's Indian border last winter. These issues — combined with graft and a lack of transparency — has hampered efforts to rebuild in such a way that damage from Nepal's next earthquake will be minimized. According to Jo Scheuer, a disaster recovery expert with the UNDP, Nepal "is creating earthquake risk faster than they are retrofitting [buildings]"

A poor, mountainous country plagued with substandard infrastructure, Nepal is poorly positioned to recover quickly from an earthquake of such magnitude. The country's plight has also received comparatively little attention from the international community, one whose attention to disaster zones tends to wane after initial interest. But Gautam refused to blame external factors for Nepal's problems.

"It isn't a lack of money, a lack of expertise, a lack of international goodwill — all of these things are available," Gautam said. "But [the recovery] still doesn't happen."

"There's no such thing as a natural disaster," Scheuer added. "They happen because of development failures."

Nevertheless, both Gautam and Scheuer struck an optimistic note about Nepal. Gautam praised the country's young population, many of whom returned from overseas to assist in the country's recovery. In contrast to previous generations, he added, Nepalese youth are less susceptible to destabilizing political movements, increasing the odds that the country's political life will take on a more pragmatic streak. And, Scheuer pointed out, Nepal's stunning natural beauty will continue to entice foreign visitors.

"The best way to help Nepal? Visit."

The complete video from Thursday's event is above.