Women walk past buildings destroyed in Bhaktapuin by the April 2015 earthquake in Nepal

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS - U.S. Department of State

Bishop: Conditions in Nepal Are ‘Frightening’

Closed border with India creating havoc in country already reeling from earthquakes

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The following is a press release sent last week by Bishop Paul Simick, Roman Catholic Apostolic Administrator for Nepal, to international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

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The situation of Nepal at the moment is pretty frightening as the closure of Nepal’s main borders crossing with India has continued for a third month now. There are shortages of essential commodities, including fuel and medicine, as well as emergency medical and surgical supplies and equipment. Nepal depends heavily for fuel and medicine on India. In Kathmandu, the capital city, one can see people queuing with their cars and motorbikes for hours and hours to get fuel rationed by the Nepal Oil Corporation. Many restaurants have brought their shutters down because of the shortage of cooking gas (LPG). In parts of the city the Government has started selling firewood to make up for the lack of cooking gas. City buses and long distance buses are packed, with people forced to ride on the roof. Taxi fares have increased three to four times the usual rate. This crises has also greatly disturbed schools and colleges. Schools in the Kathmandu valley have begun closing down, as the school authorities aren’t able to provide fuel for school buses. Many of these children were already studying at the temporary learning centers. More than 16,000 public and private schools were destroyed and thousands more were damaged due to the April 2015 earthquakes. Schools and colleges are in the southern plains have been closed for more than 100 days now.    

This problem began after the promulgation of the new Constitution of Nepal on September 20, 2015, as the Madhesi ethnic minority in the southern plains (tarai) expressed their dissatisfaction over what they consider to be their lack of political representation in the new Constitution. Since then the tensions and violence have spread all over the Nepal-India border areas. So far more than 50 people have lost their lives and thousands have been injured. The country is suffering another disaster after the twin earthquakes that killed more than 9,000 people.

The situation is going from bad to worse day by day with no sign of solutions to the problem. There is a blame game played by both Nepal and India. Nepali politicians blame India for an “unofficial blockade,” while New Delhi categorically denies and urges Nepal to amend its newly promulgated constitution in line with the demands of the Madhesi people.

The problem has affected Nepali people not only on the political level but also socially. The victims of the massive earthquake of April have been severely hit by the closures. The essential food and shelter materials have not reached those who are still in relief camps. Moreover, winter has arrived and people need warm clothes and blankets because most of the worst earthquake hit areas are in the extreme cold zones (districts) during the winter.

This closure has also severely affected earthquake relief and restoration work. Most of the reconstruction materials, like cement, zinc sheets and Iron rods are imported from India. The Catholic Church, through its social-service arm, Caritas Nepal, has been working in the worst hit areas ever since the earthquakes. Caritas Nepal along with the International Caritas Federation was ready for the rehabilitation and restoration work after the monsoon season, but sad to say we have not able to carry on the work as we had planned. We are not even able to go to those places to distribute warm clothes and blanketed because of the lack of mobility. Our rehabilitation programs have been halted because our delivery trucks are out of fuel. Many of our religious congregations and many INGOs and NGOs are struggling to continue their ongoing efforts of reconstruction in various earthquake-affected areas. It is heartbreaking to see that worst-affected people still living in tents and not getting what they have been promised.

Along with the reconstruction and rehabilitation work, the Catholic Church is also providing psychological help to children and adults. They have been traumatized. Even today there was a severe aftershock. People are scarred, children need healing. This psychological help is very important. This is what the church is trying to do—to give psychological and spiritual support. We are grateful for the great help we receive from many people and places. We do still need the help in whatever way it’s possible for our donors. We need your spiritual support. Please pray for Nepal and her people.

What surprises me is that after more than three months of this border closure and the deterioration of the national economy and people’s living conditions, the Nepali people have not launched any major protest against India or their own political leaders. People seem to have accepted the situation as their fate.  

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