As the dust settles over Nepal, the landlocked country is saddled with questions related to disaster management and state structure, to be answered by its polity and those in charge of governance. As reports point out, >Nepal’s earthquake tragedy — with the loss of 7,000 lives (and counting), physical and psychological injuries to many more, and extensive damage to property — has been exacerbated by the fact that rescue, relief and rehabilitation efforts are concentrated in the Kathmandu valley. Areas closer to the epicentre are mostly inaccessible: the roads are broken, and landslips have ravaged an already difficult terrain. Yet it is in these very areas that the damage has been the most severe. The Nepal government has virtually thrown its hands up, showing up its incapacity to address the severity of the problem, as aid flow from agencies, and countries including India and China, has filled the breach to a limited extent. This incapacity is, to a great extent, the Nepal polity’s own making, unable as it has been to complete the Constitution-writing project started in 2008. Meanwhile, poor governance has rendered Nepal a difficult place to live in. Out-migration has been on the rise, even as many Nepalis have flocked to the capital city despite its congestion. Most of the economic activity is concentrated in and around the valley. So are the donor agencies and the bulk of the political leadership in charge of aid distribution.
The issues that have held up the successful completion of the Constitution-writing process are closely related to the present inability of the Nepal government to respond quickly and effectively to the natural disaster. If Nepal had been a truly federal republic with greater decentralisation of power at the local levels, and had a diversified economic base that is not limited to the valley, would there not have been better roads and more responsive administrative systems in place in some of the most-affected places beyond the valley? If these federal units had been structured in such a manner as to give local communities greater power and responsibility, would they not have been more prepared to handle disaster? Would not a strong executive unhindered by differences between the presidency and the parliamentary leadership have helped more streamlined decision-making? The answers to these questions are in the affirmative. This then suggests that the promise of the successive Jan-Andolans that led to the formation of the Constituent Assembly in the first place has to be realised by a responsible and forward-thinking polity. Nepal’s political class ought to use this juncture as a spur to finalise a Constitution. This should allow its citizenry to be better prepared for any more such tragedies in the seismically fragile zone they inhabit.