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Anger in Nepal as global powers compete over aid

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Issue 2452
Infrastructure in Nepal has been devastated by the earthquake
Infrastructure in Nepal has been devastated by the earthquake (Pic: Krish Dulal)

Nepal is gripped by growing anger more than a week after the earthquake that has so far claimed more than 6,600 lives.

Thousands of homeless people are sleeping under tents and tarpaulins in the towns and cities, most denied basic sanitation, food and water. They may well be among the lucky ones.

With monsoon rains expected within a few days many thousands more don’t even have a piece of plastic of over their heads. The Nepali government says it needs 400,000 tents immediately. So far it has only been able to provide just 29,000.

The danger of a disease epidemic stalks the capital, Kathmandu. But the situation in rural areas is far worse. Many remote villages flattened by the quake have no road access and some have not received any aid.

Even the small number of helicopters flying in supplies can find it difficult to reach areas that have been deliberately isolated by decades of government policy.

In the years of Maoist guerrilla resistance to the monarchist dictatorship the countryside was seen as the source of resistance. It was deliberately starved of investment, such as roads.

Foreign governments are keen to be seen in action and say that remote areas are their priority. But often their aid reflects strategic rather than humanitarian ambitions.

Nepal lies between China and India, two countries that have frequently engaged in border skirmishes and even a war.


The Indian government wasted no time despatching 13 military transport aircraft carrying 300 personnel, along with military helicopters. China responded with a large search and rescue team, 170 soldiers and promises of millions of dollars in aid.

The US wants in on the act. Its military forces helped maintain Nepal’s dictatorship until 2006 when popular rebellion forced its collapse. Now president Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy sees China as the main military threat to US world dominance. That means Nepal is vital territory to the US.

Some 500 US troops are set to go to Nepal and join the heavy aircraft that arrived this week. US special forces were already on the ground prior to the quake conducting “special training exercises”.

All the foreign powers fear that resentment against the government and its failures could spill over into rebellion. And that instability could spark wider conflicts.

Sushil Koirala, the 75 year old prime minister, was out of the country when the quake hit. 

On his return last week he was chased through Kathmandu by an angry mob demanding more action from his paralysed government.

The fury of the poor could grow as the rains begin to fall.


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