Nepal’s bordering neighbors rushed in to provide relief to its victims just hours after Saturday’s disastrous earthquake struck the mountainous country, which killed over 4,000 people. Nepal, wedged between India and China, sits atop a the same tectonic plates responsible for building the Himalayan mountain range, and the people of the country, for hundreds of years, have seen earthquakes there as regularly occurring at intervals of an average of around every 75 years. As the last one struck around 81 years ago, people had already grown accustomed to the predictable fact that another one would soon be on its way. Saturday’s earthquake confirmed those predictions and fears, leaving behind a staggering amount of damage and loss of life to both residents and tourists, from the Dharahara Tower to Mount Everest. While buildings were completely wiped out, and people lost their homes, hospitals were overflowed with injured and dozens were cremated in Kathmandu’s landmark Hindu temple.
In addition to the loss of life and devastation of property, Nepal’s economy was dealt an enormous blow. Nepal is a country rich with ancient temples and wondrous treasures, which serve as huge tourist attractions. Much of that was destroyed, and whatever can be rebuilt and repaired will take a long time to happen, and in effect, the tourist industry will take some time to pick up. Nepal also recently suffered an insurgency of Maoist rebels for a number of years. In 2008, as a result of the Maoist insurgency, Nepal had abolished its monarchy and called for elections in order transition the country to a democracy with a constitution. However several differences, including regional and socio-economic caused its government to fall into disarray for five years between the insurgents and other groups. In February 2014, the interim government finally broke the deadlock with the election of Sushil Koirala of the Nepali Congress party, who received backing from members United Marxist and Leninist Party (UML).
With stability somewhat being restored, Nepal’s economy was just on the road to recovery, but now its economy has once again been hit hard causing a disruption of everyday life for people and businesses. However, despite the delays at the airport, where so many flights were cancelled, and the disruption of every day services, countries made whole-hearted efforts to provide much needed assistance to their neighbor. India led the effort by launching Operation Friendship, in which it contributed 13 aircraft and sent more than 500 rescue workers, as well as food, medical supplies, water, and equipment. Nepal and India have traditionally had a long term kinship as both are Hindu nations, and because of India’s size, it has often been somewhat of bigger brother to its smaller neighbor. In fact, approximately three million Nepalese work and reside in India.
However, due to Nepal’s communist ties, closer ties in the recent years have been formed with China, its neighbor to the north, a traditional rival to India, which in response to the earthquake rushed in to provide relief supplies to the victims, including blankets, generators, and tents, along with 62 workers, 170 soldiers and four planes. While China’s efforts are still relatively small in comparison to India’s, some economists and diplomats are seeing China as using this recent catastrophe as an opportunity to court the Nepalese government in order to bring it within its sphere of influence and compete with its Indian neighbor. With its vast resources, manufacturing and engineering capacity, and $4 trillion in reserves of foreign currency, China has been exerting its influence globally and building railway infrastructure through the southern and central parts of Asia as far as Pakistan, and Nepal is no exception. Also as China has occupied Tibet for over half a century, a relationship with its Nepal could help it keep the exiled Tibetan community living there in check.
Also weighing in on the aftermath of the earthquake, in addition to India’s rival to the east, is Pakistan, its rival to the west, which on Monday sent four of its C-130 planes. A former general of the Pakistani army, Talat Masood, who is now a defense analyst commented that because of Nepal’s strategic position, its friendship to each of the countries, India, Pakistan, and China, serves to be an important asset.
While the earthquake has seemingly come across as an opportunity for countries to showcase their power and ability to help their smaller neighbor, or exert influence upon it, these efforts have only helped to spur individuals and governments of other countries to add a helping hand. In fact the army of Nepal reported that more teams of medics and rescuers from roughly a dozen countries have poured in to provide relief. Almost immediately following the earthquake, Israel sent a delegation of 260 members of the IDF to set up a field hospital and provide search, medical, and rescue services for the victims. More teams are scheduled to arrive over the next few days from Japan, Russia, France, Singapore, and Switzerland. Whether the motive of each country is purely humanitarian or socio-political, officials of Nepal are grateful and thankful for all the help they have received so far, while acknowledging that much more will be needed over the coming months as it struggles to stem the amount of fatalities and return to normal life despite the carnage caused in the wake of its recent disaster.
By Bill Ades