On our last post about Katey’s trip to Nepal, we wanted to focus on the difficulties currently effecting this small country. As a small, landlocked country tucked between two world super powers, Nepal is dependent on the goodwill of their neighbors for trade. They are also struggling in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake which struck in April 2015, as well as the more than 400 aftershocks which still shake the area. The last one measured 5.3 magnitude and happened during Katey’s stay in Kathmandu. The earthquake not only destroyed many of the centuries old temples, monuments, and homes, but it killed more than 9,000 people. It also damaged important infrastructure including most of the roads into China, parts of the airport, and many government offices.
The earthquake did inspire the government, which was formed in 2008, to finally push through a new constitution which was supposed to be completed in 2012. However, not everyone was happy with the resulting document. While it guarantees unheard of protections for LGTBQ people (as an example, when entering the country you mark your gender by choosing from Male, Female, and Other), it upset a large minority of people due to its concentration of power within the Kathmandu valley, and through its freedom of religion (the majority of people are Hindu, with a sizable minority of Buddhists as well as the little pockets of Christianity, Jainism, and Islam).
The group most upset by this change in power structure are the ethnic Bihari in the plains near India. They feel as though they are losing the power they have through a lack of representation in the making of the new constitution. They particularly disagree with the freedom of religion and wish to maintain Nepal as a Hindu nation. The constitution was ratified in September 2015. After the ratification, riots occurred in the Bihari strongholds in the South and they blockaded one of the three border crossings with India in protest.
India, currently under the leadership of the fundamental Hindu party, BJP, has “unofficially” blockaded the remaining two border crossings in support of the Bihari minority (Indian descents from the Bihar region of North India). The blockade is understood to be directed by the government, but there is no official stance, nor any documentation for the blockade. A few trucks of supplies are let through on an ad hoc basis to confuse matters.
What this means is that hundreds of trucks of petrol, cooking fuel, food staples, medicine, and building supplies needed to rebuild Nepal are stuck at a border with no idea when or if they will be let through. It also means that, as the seasons switch over to winter, the people of Nepal have no fuel to transport people or materials through the country. They have little food and no gas on which to cook it. And many are living in half constructed homes as winter begins to descend into the valleys.
While Katey was in Kathmandu, she found that there was no traffic as there were no cars on the road. Up to 80% of restaurants were closed ahead of the end of the season. There were a few tourists around, but not the bustle which was expected at the end of the trekking season. People were waiting in queues more than 1/2 a kilometer long on the rumor that a cooking fuel truck had made it through the blockade. People are cooking what little food they have on their electric heaters, or over open wood fires in kitchens which are unequipped for the ventilation requirements. And people continue to die as the medical supplies needed to save their lives have run dry.
In the meantime, the BJP recently lost the regional election in Bihar to the more moderate Congress Party in a landslide. China sends a few trucks through the treacherous road while it’s still passable and the occasional air shipment of medical supplies. India plays that they don’t know what’s going on and blames the officials at the border or bad documentation or whatever other excuse they have at the time. And the rest of the world ignores the continuing humanitarian crisis.