Share this story...
Latest News

Behind Nepal’s Shangri-la image, poverty and misery

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Even amid the misery, with entire neighborhoods sleeping on sidewalks for fear of a massive earthquake’s aftershocks, even with no running water, no electricity, and anger and frustration boiling over — even with all this, you can still find hints of the picture-postcard image of Nepal many foreigners hold in their imaginations.

There, perhaps, is Shangri-la, off in the Himalayan foothills that loom up above the tiled roofs and arched gates of the colonial-era buildings that made it through Saturday’s earthquake. There’s the squeak of the rickshaw, the gentle calls of “Namaste,” the blissed-out backpacker stumbling down tree-lined boulevards.

It was almost always more mirage than truth, and never more so than after the country’s worst disaster in decades.

People here have long seen their struggles with crushing poverty, corruption and infrastructure failures, and with a political fecklessness almost Shakespearean in scale, overshadowed by the beauty of the land and its firm place in the collective popular romantic imagination.

As Nepalese now dig out from a quake that has killed 5,500 and counting, there’s widespread pessimism that these ugly truths will become any clearer to an outside world smitten with an image that doesn’t match the reality. There is even less faith that a government that many feel has consistently failed its people will rise to the occasion.

“I am not confident. Not at all,” Sanjay K.C., a 37 year old businessman who has been sleeping outside in a tent since his home was destroyed, said Wednesday. “For more than 10 years they cannot even make a bloody constitution. How will they rebuild our country? They knew a big one was coming for years. Just think if they’d done what a normal government would have done and made arrangements?”

Nepal is blessed with resilient people and some of the most stunning vistas on the planet. But even on the best days, electricity routinely dies in the heart of the capital, Kathmandu, where the hum of thousands of generators is a normal soundtrack of life. There have been centuries of instability, oppression and bloodshed, and, in recent decades, a massacre of the royal family by the crown prince and a Maoist insurgency that killed thousands.

And now comes a disaster many have long seen coming.

Nepal sits near the colliding tectonic plates of India and Eurasia that mark the boundary of the Himalayans, and is ranked as the 11th-most earthquake-prone country in the world, according to Allen Clark, a disaster policy specialist at the East-West Center and former geologist at the U.S. Geological Survey.

The government tried to prepare for a quake, but political and economic turmoil over the last decade hurt the attempts to improve the national power, communications and social services infrastructure, and to organize the helicopters, train the workers and build the structures essential to being ready and responding effectively, he said.

“As a result, they are now almost totally dependent on outside assistance,” Clark said, and the current response has been “piecemeal.”

Government ministers have acknowledged

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.