I lived in Nepal for nearly four years and continue to visit for months each year. I’ve been here in eastern Nepal through the earthquakes and the initial response. This part of the country has not been devastated but people have been extremely scared and very saddened by what has happened elsewhere. We have mostly had an internet connection and have been able to follow the coverage from Australia and around the world. And I must say, it has concerned me. I almost felt physically ill when I read about Hugh Sheridan and a film crew flying over for the celebrity reunion. And I am concerned about the message people are getting. Australians could be forgiven for thinking that Nepalis are sitting hopelessly, waiting for international aid to save them under a government that is corrupt and obstructive. This is not true.
At one level Nepal was not prepared for the earthquake, but at another level, Nepalis are very well prepared. As another Australian in Nepal, Steve, wrote to me:
The Nepali people are resourceful people… They normally live with a poor electricity supply… They live with an overwhelmed mobile phone system and intermittent internet – they are used to gas shortages, bus strikes, monsoon rains, bad roads, noisy streets and hard beds. They don’t ‘tolerate’ these things, they simply live like this. Before there was any earthquake to make things bad – they already lived like this. They live like this and rarely complain, rarely get angry. The water supply dries up regularly, the drains block regularly, the monsoon stretches everyone in every direction. But this is all normal for them. Sharing a bed is not rare. Sleeping on the floor is common. Making do, when things don’t work out is normal daily living. There is nowhere in the world that I have been that is better prepared for an earthquake than Nepal.
Let me tell you what has been really happening in eastern Nepal.
Very poor people are being very generous. Where I work, women overcoming poverty and violence are donating everything they can. Their cooperative is donating thousands of rupees. Instead of getting frustrated about international donations of food and supplies getting stuck at the airport due to Customs processing, people are doing it themselves. Within days, my Nepali bhai Binod and friends had collected money, contacted locals on the ground, found out what was required, bought it and delivered it. 250 tents went to Gorkha. Food parcels and blankets to Kavre. Tomorrow, he and friends are travelling on a truck loaded with family food parcels. Not impractical things but 25kg bags of rice, sugar, salt, oil, chura (beaten rice) and biscuits. Their food parcels are what the locals want and know how to use. Not tuna fish and mayonnaise. The trucks and relief vehicles will go to the track heads, as far as they can. They are being met by locals, often part of JCI or Rotary groups, who then take them, on foot if necessary, to where they need to go. Targeted locations. People know they were sent and know they are coming. The people in unaffected areas buy the stuff and the people in affected areas tell them what they want. Then they deliver.
These stories are happening all over Nepal.
Any of us who have lived here know that Nepalis are extremely resourceful people. The scale of this disaster is huge and shattering. But the problems are not unknown here and the country has been through this before. They are not solely dependent on foreign governments and international aid organisations to bail them out. They don’t need unorganised volunteers and foreign media taking up seats on helicopters and using precious time and resources. They don’t need rescue and aid efforts that are driven by what outsiders want to supply rather than what they need. These things are delivered best by using existing networks and the considerable local knowledge of local people. I have seen how Nepalis can mobilise and work things out in a crisis – and that is what many Nepalis are doing right now.