Kathmandu Post


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Brink of collapse

NOV 08 - The devastating hurricane which was later categorised as a “super storm” left a trial of death and destruction along its path. The hurricane had, towards the end of last month, hit the Caribbean in Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba where over 72 people were reported killed by Sandy. Sandy then hit many parts of the East Coast of the United States, by which time the hurricane had been downgraded to “super storm” and yet this storm took as many as 112 lives in the US, with the largest number, 48, being recorded in New York. In monetary terms, Super Storm Sandy is said to have caused damage and destruction valued at more than US $50 billion. Natural calamities come, hit and leave tales of distress and disaster, and so did Sandy, the Super Storm. Millions of homes in the East coast of the US had to go without power and the scene was very much like that of Nepal when the Nepal Electricity Authority resorts to power cuts in different areas in order to balance the demand of the consumers and the inadequate electricity available for supply to consumers. The problem is only much worse in the US as the people are so used to amenities that once these amenities are taken away—by natural forces this time—the people just don’t know what to do.

There had been enough warnings of the impending disaster that Hurricane Sandy would bring and its path was more or less known. Many people had prepared for the worst and despite evacuation orders, some refused to leave their homes and move to what were considered to be safer places. Even in a country as advanced as the US, the response to devastation did not live up to the people’s expectations. The situation in Staten Island in New York was said to be so bad that even after a week after the disaster, people were without proper drinking water and electricity. This led one of the radio journalists for a FM radio station to describe the situation in Staten Island as that prevalent in any developing country. Though not very critical of the authorities in their response to the crisis brought about by the wrath of nature, the journalist told of the immense difficulties that the rescuers faced as they tried to reach help to the needy. There was no power to pump water to the top of buildings and the streets were like swollen rivers. In all this, what set many of us from the third world thinking was that when nature, in all her fury, lashes out, people everywhere—first world or third— are at the mercy of the elements.

There is however a difference in the way cities and settlements are planned in rich and poor countries. One cannot help but wonder what would happen if such a calamity—God forbid—should strike the Kathmandu Valley. Quite apart from the old city structures of the three cities in the valley, local administrations of the three cities allow—many allege for a price—the construction of massive structures and houses without properly conducting studies on the feasibility, suitability, and without even considering the effect such a structure will have on the landscape of the once-unique cities. And no doubt the authorities in the past were unaware of the needs of the future—adequate passage for firefighting machines and equipment, the heavy unruly flow of traffic etc.  

But what about the present authorities? Many think the present breed of city and government authorities are less sensitive to the needs of the times than those of the repressive Rana era. Today, the government or its agencies, such as the Nepal Airlines or the Provident Fund, build structures that would not have been possible if laws, rules and regulations were abided by. Even worse off is the manner in which permits for building tall (and mostly ugly) structures are given to individuals without any considerations to such essentials like water supply, electricity, approach roads, and adequate parking facilities. Because there is no yardstick for safety standards, when natural disasters, like fires and earthquake occur, there are more casualties than there would have been if proper guidelines and standards (for individuals and well as government and its agencies) are meticulously implemented.

Everyone points to the crowded centres of the capital city and say how difficult it would be for rescue workers to carry out their duties because of the narrow roads and lanes. But if one cares to look around, new buildings in the city that are far away from the city centre are built and located in just as congested a manner. They say the three cities of the Valley are waiting for a catastrophe to happen when least expected. The radio journalist for a FM station may not have been far from the truth when he said that the situation in Staten Island was like that of any Third World country.


Posted on: 2012-11-09 08:57

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