After suffering massive earthquakes in April and May, the Himalayan nation of Nepal was briefly in the global spotlight. After the initial rescue and recovery operations, the news cameras left; many short-term humanitarian relief agencies have also come and gone.
Adding to the burden of redevelopment of infrastructure and the rebuilding of lives following the earthquake our partners and other agencies within Nepal are now being faced with an added crisis which is getting little or no international attention or assistance, says Joel Hafvenstein, Mission Partner. The India-Nepal border crossings have been closed for more than two months, affecting far more people than were affected by the earthquake. This crisis stems from a political dispute that has spun out of control. Now all sides are finding it hard to back down or compromise. All over the country, Nepali people are struggling to buy anything that would normally be imported from India. The border closure is painfully proving how much landlocked Nepal depends on trade with its southern neighbour.
Malcolm & Cati Ramsay, Mission Partners serving with United Mission to Nepal, sent an account of the impact of the blockade.
Nepal has borders with two countries only: India and China. But the vast majority of imports come from India, as the borders with China pass through the Himalayas which are often blocked by landslides in the monsoon, or snow in winter.
The current blockade on the Indian border is crippling Nepal. The critical shortage of petrol, diesel, and aviation fuel occasionally available is rationed. So queues at every Kathmandu petrol station easily stretch for a mile or so, and people wait in them for several days and nights at a time. Gas cylinders for cooking ran out some weeks ago. The government is now officially selling firewood on the streets of Kathmandu so that people can cook. Medicines are in desperately short supply. Many hospitals are warning that they will run out of emergency medicines in a week or less.
For many Nepalis life now is gruelling. Schools and colleges are shut as there is no transport. Factories are idle as they cannot get the raw materials they need. Restaurants are closed as there is no cooking gas. Taxis are stationery as they cannot get petrol. Hotels are empty as tourism has shrunk to a trickle. The national economy has been seriously damaged by the two-month blockade. In short, ordinary Nepali life is being throttled.
The cause of the blockade appears to be that the people in the Terai (the low lying region along the southern flank of Nepal which borders on India) are blocking the borders to protest against the new Constitution which was promulgated on 20 September. They argue the new provinces created in the Constitution exclude them from proper representation. But everyone in Nepal believes that the blockade is also being unofficially supported by India. It seems this is because the people in the Terai are ethnically more Indian than Nepali, so India sees their interests as being crucial to continuing Indian influence over Nepal. Whatever the full truth, the end result is stale-mate. In the Terai itself tragically there have been almost 50 violent deaths. Ambulances and lorries carrying medicines have been torched by those enforcing the blockade.
The National Reconstruction Authority should be ingathering and disbursing the $4.1bn, (£ 2.7bn) funds pledged by foreign governments and donor agencies. However, a full seven months after the earthquake, this body still has not been even set up as the various political parties are squabbling between themselves as to who should be its Director.
The other intensely dispiriting aspect of the current crisis is that there are some people who are actually benefiting from the whole situation. One such group is those who run the black-market. Black-market petrol is being sold at three times the official price. Mission Partner Joel Githinji writes of how a 13 kg cylinder of gas that normally cost Rupees 1,500 (about £9) is now sold at Rupees 7000-8000 (£43-£50).
Another group which is benefiting are some opposition politicians. They see the crisis as a chance to unseat the current Prime Minister K. P. Oli(who was only appointed in September). So they are refusing to support any talks which are aimed at ending the crisis.
Our mission partners ask us to raise awareness of the current crisis and to pray that the current deadlock would be resolved soon. And until it is, pray that corruption and greed may be replaced by honesty and integrity, and that those who are most at risk may be given priority for what limited resources there are.