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Nepal earthquake: struggle and recovery plans


Mineta Suzuki - Minh Tran
Column by Mineta Suzuki

In my column, I will run profiles on students and faculty, to throw some global perspectives into the campus community, even inside the “Grinnell bubble.” This week, I sat down with Prabir Pradhan ’18, an international student from Nepal, to discuss the effects of earthquakes from five months ago, loss of cultural heritages and sheep brains.

Where are you from?
I’m from Nepal, from the capital city Kathmandu.
What do you miss most about home?
Food. Sometimes it feels like the food here has no flavor. The staple food is rice and daal, which are like lentils. There are exotic things like goat lungs and sheep brains, too.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Mind reading.

Entire villages flattened, heritage erased and thousands of people killed or made homeless — it’s been a near-five chaotic months since the massive earthquake hit Nepal. Since I am also from a geographically cursed country, Japan, which is still struggling to recover from its disaster four years ago, I was curious to know what Pradhan sees in the aftermath and reconstruction of his country.
“The thing was, the earthquake happened right before the monsoon season and during the monsoon season, basically most of the country becomes inaccessible,” Pradhan said.
In Nepal, it’s difficult to deliver aid to remote villages that don’t have paved roads or are surrounded by mountains, especially when the soil is prone to landslides for months.
“This earthquake wasn’t like a one-time thing … there is at least one aftershock a day, even until now,” Pradhan said, concerned with the lack of continuous media reports after the immediate shock.
As he went back home this summer, he actually felt the tremors himself many times. For a number of survivors, the earthquake not only broke bones but also left mental scars in the form of PTSD.
“There were villages where there are no houses standing, not even one house,” Pradhan said, describing a harrowing view during his visit.
Difficulty in recovering is compounded by the political instability in Nepal.
“There is a lot of skepticism within the people about how much help the government can really do,” Pradhan explained. While offering rich cultural diversity, Nepal’s great range of ethnic groups has been an obstacle to the construction of the states and even the constitution. “Especially in the villages, villagers might just trust international aid organizations more,” Pradhan said.
However, the government is not outright ignoring the survivors. “One of the things that the government gave out was tin roofs, like sheets of metal,” Pradhan said. These are for people to put on wooden frames to make temporary shelters.
Now that the muddy monsoon season is coming to an end, the government is focusing on building more permanent residences and the citizens are remaining hopeful. “[It was] predicted that theft and crime would increase a lot in Nepal but people are generally surprised that it did not rise to the level … that they expected,” Pradhan said.
When Japan panicked at the earthquake and tsunami in 2011, people were forced to recognize the risk of operating nuclear plants and grew much more eco-conscious. I asked Pradhan what he thinks has changed or will change in Nepal due to the disaster.
“[The earthquake] has had a major impact on tourism,” he said. As most of the media in the US emphasized, several world heritage sites have been destroyed whereas many historical spots used to be packed with tourists, now there aren’t even ticket sales. “This time, it was really sad that even the booth that sells tickets … was closed,” Pradhan lamented. The loss of revenue from the tourism industry damages the local economy. However, Pradhan additionally expressed his concern about the lack of historical awareness in the younger generation, specifically concerning the Kasthamandap temple.
“[It was located] where the Silk Road and traders from India … met, that was a really symbolic building from the era … but there hasn’t been a lot of mourning over the loss of that building, just because [younger] people don’t know the history behind it. So … a part of the culture is gone,” he said.
What can we do to help from outside Nepal? “The most important thing, I think, for the long-term sustainability, is for people to not be afraid of Nepal,” Pradhan said.

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