Policy Alert: Nepal Earthquakes Spark Responses from Rising Powers

Policy Alert: Nepal Earthquakes Spark Responses from Rising Powers

nepalA massive earthquake in Nepal on April 25 has claimed thousands of lives and left many survivors camped in the streets for fear of aftershocks. International humanitarian aid has poured into the country as the victim toll continues to rise. In this Policy Alert, we examine commentary from India, China, Russia, Japan, and South Korea on the humanitarian disaster in Nepal.

INDIA

The Indian government responded to the earthquake by sending 300 disaster-response personnel and a mobile hospital. Newspapers in India praised the country’s swift response, while noting the lack of regional cooperation.

  • The Pioneer hailed India’s response to the disaster as “the most laudable achievement of the Modi Government,” which demonstrated the country’s “ability to respond to tragedies abroad on a scale that very few countries except the United States, Russia and China, can match.”
  • The newspaper added that the disaster presents “a chance to reconstruct a new Kathmandu, able and willing to withstand future shocks, as well as a new Nepal which federally connects the centre and the periphery to ensure a more balanced and equitable development. It is also India’s chance to reincarnate the special relationship with Nepal.”
  • Soutik Biswas, Delhi correspondent for the BBC, posited that the swift response from India and China to the Nepal disaster shows how the two countries “vie for influence” in Nepal and the region as a whole. “India, clearly, wants to minimize Chinese influence in the neighborhood. No wonder then that the pace and scale with which Mr. Modi reacted to the tragedy was rather unprecedented.”
  • India scores on aid diplomacy, China lags…Now, China, which overtook India as Nepal’s largest foreign investor in 2014, is busy trying to catch up with New Delhi’s humanitarian diplomacy,” declared  The Times of India.
  • It is a matter of time before politics intrudes on the management of the aftermath,” warned C. Raja Mohan, a distinguished fellow at the Observer Research Foundation. The Indian government “must avoid any real or seeming violation of Nepal’s sovereignty… [and]…insulate its relief effort from India’s domestic politics… [since] Nepal has long been a tempting theatre for various Indian groups to play their own political games.”
  • The Hindu criticized the Nepal government’s “incapacity” to implement swift rescue and relief efforts, blaming on its inability to complete the Constitution-writing project started in 2008 due to its factional politics. “Nepal’s political class ought to use this juncture as a spur to finalize a Constitution. This should allow its citizenry to be better prepared for any more such tragedies in the seismically fragile zone they inhabit.”
  • Mahendra P. Lama, an economics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, critiqued the lack of response from the SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Regional Food Bank, a regional disaster relief framework agreed in 2006. He contended that India, the largest contributor (63%) to the food bank, should “unilaterally invoke the provisions of this agreement and start supporting Nepal earthquake victims.”
  • Gopalkrishna Gandhi, a former high commissioner to Sri Lanka and ambassador to Iceland, also emphasized the role of the SAARC in disaster relief. “[W]e must follow up the splendidly reflexive first-aid response to Nepal’s trauma by inaugurating an abiding SAARC earthquake management regime. The very fragility of the Himalayas can give the SAARC a defining stability.”

Indian media also debated India’s own preparedness for earthquakes.

  • “India is not really ready for the big earthquake,” warned science writer Prakash Chandra. Due to the incompetence of the National Disaster Management Authority, the country “still doesn’t have a robust disaster management and mitigation plan for earthquakes.”
  • The Hindustan Times argued that “Indian authorities have been too lax for far too long,” pointing out the lack of quake-proof building codes and safety drills in the country.
  • “The tragedy [in Nepal] must serve as a reminder that India and its neighbors are living on borrowed time,” emphasized The Business Standard. “Haphazard urban planning, poor quality construction and a lack of standards and regulation cannot last forever.”
  • Swaminathan Aiyar, a consulting editor for The Economic Times, argued that India and Nepal must learn from Japan’s reconstruction efforts after the 1995 Kobe earthquake and “build structures that can withstand nature’s ravages,” since “[c]reating and implementing quake-proof building codes…is the only way quake damage can be minimized.”

CHINA

According to the Chinese embassy in Nepal, China has sent more than 300 rescuers and medical staff to Nepal and over 30 flights carrying relief supplies. Chinese media praised Chinese relief teams, who were among the first to reach quake-hit areas in Nepal.

  • As of last Friday, China has earmarked two rounds of humanitarian aid worth 60 million yuan (9.7 million USD) for Nepal. “The Chinese government and the Chinese people are standing with Nepal and its people at this time of great difficulty,” said  Wu Chuntai, Chinese ambassador to Nepal.
  • “A senior Nepal politician told me that the Chinese rescue team is outstanding among all international rescue teams because they performed professionally and efficiently. More important, they handle everything, like their accommodation and food needs, all by themselves,” added Ambassador Wu.
  • Zhou Yongsheng, an international relations professor at China Foreign Affairs University, said he was impressed by China’s coordinated evacuation of Chinese citizens and its quick response when sending help.
  • Yu Jun, an international relations expert at the Chinese Academy of Governance, argued that the “undeniable fact is that China is more engaged in international disaster-relief work,” as a result of China’s growing global role.
  • The state run Xinhua reported that all buildings funded and constructed by China in the capital of Kathmandu remain nearly undamaged from the earthquake. Moreover, Kathmandu Stadium, which China helped Nepal repair and maintain, has also withstood major damage.
  • Taiwan’s initial offer to send search and rescue teams to Nepal after the earthquake wasdeclined by the Nepalese government, according to Taiwan’s Foreign Ministry. Observers have speculated that China’s significant presence in Nepal has factored into the government’s decision to turn away Taiwan’s help.

RUSSIA

Russia’s emergencies ministry sent a team of 90 rescuers and rescue equipment following Nepal’s earthquake.

  • Rossotrudnichestvo, Russia’s foreign aid agency, is providing assistance to citizens of the Russia-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Nepal. The agency’s head, Lyubov Glebova, said many of those at the camp are “dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake” by clearing debris and helping victims. Russian authorities in Nepal are working with the Nepalese government to locate all “fellow countrymen who need evacuation.”
  • Glebova added that “Russia’s representatives in Kathmandu did not differentiate a citizen of what country a person speaking Russian was. “If he applies for help, he will get it,” she said.
  • More than 40 Russians, including two diplomats, are unaccounted for in Nepal following the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, reported The Moscow Times Wednesday. “I’m sure they are alive and well, it’s simply that communications are down there and it’s difficult to contact anyone,” state news agency TASS cited Emergency Situations Minister Vladimir Puchkov as saying.

JAPAN

Japanese newspapers noted the lack of anti-earthquake measures in Nepal, urging the Japanese government to offer help based on its experience with earthquakes.

  • The Asahi Shimbun lamented the lack of disaster preparedness in Nepal: “‘Earthquakes don’t kill people. Dangerous buildings kill people‘… Disaster preparedness measures were slow to be implemented, perhaps because people were so caught up in their own lives than on possible future catastrophes.”
  • The Yomiuri Shimbun agreed, saying “The country lags behind greatly in its measures against earthquakes. Having no major industries other than tourism, the country’s fiscal foundations are fragile, leaving the Nepalese government unable to pay much attention to disaster prevention efforts…Taking account of the characteristics of areas with soft ground in and around Katmandu, it is important to move ahead with measures to reduce disaster risk, such as making buildings more quake-resistant.”
  • Noting the fact that researchers from Japanese universities and the Japan International Cooperation Agency are currently working to assist Nepal, the newspaper argued, “Japan has overcome a number of natural disasters. Its knowledge gained through these disastersshould be utilized for Nepal.”

SOUTH KOREA

Newspapers in South Korea criticized the lack of disaster preparedness in Nepal, while urging the Korean government to review its disaster measures.

  • The Korea Herald noted that “it is the buildings that kill people in an earthquake, not the earthquake itself. The high death toll in Nepal is largely attributed to the high population density and unsafe buildings.”
  • “In fact, the latest disaster was just waiting to happen,” added the newspaper. “Seismologists have known that earthquakes in Nepal occur in roughly 75-year cycles. For that matter, a week before Saturday’s earthquake, 50 earthquake specialists had convened in Kathmandu for a seminar on preparation for the ‘big one.’ Although scientists warned of the need to prepare for such earthquakes, Nepal, struck by poverty and lack of an efficient government, did not have the resources to prepare itself.”
  • “The Nepali quake should be a wake-up call to Korea,” emphasized The Korea Times. “Of course, Korea has remained unscathed from earthquakes so far, but it’s true [that] the frequency of quakes has increased since the 1980s…Korea is no longer safe from the threat of earthquakes. All this explains why Korea should do its utmost to hammer out viable anti-quake measures, including making it obligatory for builders to adopt earthquake-resistant designs.”
  • In response to the government’s dispatch of 40 search and rescue workers to Nepal, the newspaper argued that “[o]ur officials need to be more attentive in sending rescuers, keeping in mind that our improvised teams contributed little to rescue operations and made much ado about nothing when a devastating earthquake struck Haiti in 2010.”
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