Disaster nationPerhaps the recent flood disaster will awaken the ruling class and push them in the right direction
Nepal has been a victim of both natural and man-made disasters, but it’s the men of the political class who have further exacerbated the situation. An earthquake killed thousands in the hills only two years ago, and now monsoon-induced floods have created havoc in much of the Tarai. Prior to the 2015 earthquake, seismologists and concerned journalists had predicted that Nepal would face a big earthquake similar in magnitude to the one that occurred in 1934, but the politicians and the state (bureaucracy, security forces) slept on this prediction because an earthquake’s strike couldn’t be foretold with precision. And when the earthquake struck, politicians of the three big parties signed a 16-point agreement, drafted a constitution behind closed doors, and passed it by fiat and whip through the Constituent Assembly, bringing on additional problems. The actions of the politicians resulted in a man-made disaster, and we are still facing the prolonged consequences. Sorely underprepared for the seismographically predetermined event, politicians took advantage of the confusion caused by the earthquake and used it to pass a shoddy constitution. And they have so far refused to remedy their mistakes and make suitable amendments.
But the monsoon-made disaster of this week that has affected no less than 26 densely populated districts is not like the earthquake. It doesn’t come unpredictably every 80 years or so. Monsoon’s blessings and curse visits the plains every year from July to September. Every year, its absence brings drought and its abundance brings floods. It is seldom that a year witnesses just the right amount of monsoon rains to make everyone happy.
In the years when we had drought, we peasants of the Rajbanshi village in Morang didn’t sit idle. The village shaman banded us together and took us around villages, begging for water from the gods. In the heat of August, we would set out in the morning and beg for alms all around the village, ending our journey at the Dohmana biweekly market (haat) where we bought offerings of sweets and incense sticks with the alms collected and took everything to the nearby river, which would be all but dried up. We would then pray to the heavens, begging for water. Whether or not our efforts induced the heavens to bless us with rains, I don’t recall, but we did have the satisfaction of having something to occupy us if the monsoon passed us by. Many years later the villagers banded together and dug a canal from the river to irrigate our lands—an initiative that would not make us as vulnerable to monsoon’s vagaries.
When the monsoon arrived in full force, the area between the village bazaar and our village would be flooded, with thousands of gallons of water flowing from the forest and marsh in the north towards the south. Every year, such floods would leave behind schools of fish in flood-made ponds and creeks where children and adults alike fished for a couple of months.
Although water never entered our village, we heard tales of the Bakra river in the east eating up people’s cultivable land, sweeping away houses and livestock. Of course, those were the Panchayat days, and people took such vagaries of nature as something they had to deal with themselves because the state was only a rent extracting agency.
But now, with a republican government elected by the people, we have a state that purportedly exists to serve us. And now, the monsoon distress, either flood or drought, can be predicted with increasing accuracy. So why this inertia? Let’s say that the political class is hopeless; it doesn’t know how to handle either democracy or republicanism. But consider the rest of the state, especially the salaried class. How can their inaction, lack of creativity and forethought, mediocrity, and complacency be justified or explained?
Getting too comfortable
Perhaps it is their smug, easy patriotism that is the culprit. Easy patriotism forecloses creative thinking and confines minds to slogans and readily available catch phrases. Or is it their ethnic certainty over the state that has destroyed their creativity? If your ethnicity, language and religion have an assured place in the state, why bother with creative solutions?
The flood struck the country when Dr Govinda KC was on a fast-unto-death to remove corruption in medical education and to protest against the government recklessly granting licenses to the medical mafia. Dr KC’s repeated fasts suggest that the movers and shakers of the country have been moving and shaking the country in the wrong direction. And the lack of preparedness for the annual floods has exposed how fake the Nepali ruling class is.
If the earthquake gave the political class an opportunity to push through a shoddy constitution, what opportunities will this flood present? Will the disaster, coupled with Dr KC’s fast, be a wake-up call to amend the constitution for the better so the country can move forward with peace and good governance? Or, will it once again give the ruling class an opportunity to create some more man-made disasters?
Do what they may, politicians can’t escape the simmering wrath of frustrated people. Sooner rather than later, a new sun will rise, and with it new hope. It’s only a matter of how long it will take. Let’s hope that a sense of self-preservation will rouse the ruling class and motivate them to head in the right direction.