Getting Nepal back on its feet

THE singular focus of the many who have raced to Nepal in its hour of great need ought to spur others to lend a hand too. Although there's doubt if more survivors can be found nine days after the quake, there is also much to be done for the injured, the tens of thousands with nothing but makeshift shelters, and the three million depending on food aid. Such is the scale of the hardship that the United Nations is appealing for US$415 million (S$552 million) from the international community. Contributions are far short of the target - for example, its giant neighbour, China, has offered US$9.8 million so far.

What is heartening is the global effort involving disaster assistance teams, medical crew and rescue personnel from India, China, the United States, Britain, France, Japan, South Korea, Canada, Pakistan, Israel, Singapore and elsewhere. Such help is a godsend, given the nation's lack of preparation for "a calamity of enormous proportions", as admitted by a government spokesman. The Himalayan nation had experienced quakes before and researchers had anticipated a major one in exactly the location that was hit recently. As Nepalis chafe at the slow pace of recovery, the government will have to work closely with aid agencies and donor countries to bring much-needed relief to its impoverished people.

Once the worst has been dealt with, greater attention ought to be paid to strengthening governance at both national and local levels, and to developing key institutions to oversee critical functions, including disaster preparedness and the prudent use of development funds. "Nepal's history of development assistance has been plagued by conferences and report-oriented, short-term strategies with a lot of junkets," as Kathmandu Post commentator Sujeev Shakya noted.

Sadly, Nepal's disaster-prone infrastructure is symptomatic of the larger ills plaguing the nation - corruption, official apathy, and a failure to insist on systematic approaches to development. In the absence of proper land-use regulation and building code enforcement, Kathmandu and other places were left vulnerable to seismic hazards.

Nepalis will no doubt draw on their resoluteness, exemplified by their famed Gurkhas and sherpas, to overcome the latest crisis. They have endured years of unrest and poverty, and they cope with prolonged separation from family members working abroad whose remittances amount to almost a third of the gross domestic product. Though the quake has claimed homes and heritage sites, it has not broken their resilient spirit, as observers have noted. With the support of its friends abroad, Nepal can substantively deal with past difficulties and rise above present challenges.