America’s Role in Combatting Nepal’s Slow Recovery

Written by Erik Rubinyi

The Federal Democratic Republic of Nepal, a small nation sandwiched between two global superpowers India and China, was founded in 2008, a result of a ten year civil war between Maoist rebels and the monarchy. The resulting government ran the state without a formal constitution until, one year ago this month, two successive 7.8 and 7.3 magnitude earthquakes killed upwards of 9,000 people prompting a concerted effort to draft a constitution. In this effort, Nepali leaders faced many challenges, such as how to bind together a country of over 100 languages to form a single federal government.

The new constitution faced immediate backlash as the planned provinces split some ethnic groups, particularly the Madhesi, who live along the Nepal-India border. There were also concerns about the rights of citizenship for married women who marry foreigners. Finally, Hindu groups contested their new nation’s status as a secular state. These deep contentions boiled over upon the passage of the new constitution, resulting in arrests and violence including the killing of eight policemen and more than 40 protesters.[1] [2]

Shortly after the start of the protests, Madhesi activists with unofficial support from India created an economic blockade along the border preventing a significant portion of trade between India and Nepal. The blockade had a devastating effect on Nepal’s economy—around 60% of Nepal’s medicine is imported from India, along with large amounts of fuel and food. The economic blockade was unofficially supported by India who, in effort to persuade Nepal to modify its constitution, expressed its willingness to help lift the blockade if certain concessions were met. After more than four months of the blockade, these demands were partially met and borders between the countries reopened, but the damage was done. [3]

The economic blockade had several catastrophic effects on redevelopment after the earthquake, harming the economy, public health, and the environment. The blockade stymied the flow of critical medicine and fuel from India, causing massive disruptions to the rebuilding processes and major deforestation as citizens were forced to rely on firewood for cooking. Further, the inadequate supply of building materials delayed reconstruction efforts resulting in a two percent (US$7 billion) decline in gross domestic product. [4]

After the earthquake, the United States promised nearly US$130 million in aid through USAID to support Nepali infrastructure, clean water initiatives, and education.  Now that the blockade has finally been lifted, the rebuilding process can at last begin. However, the peace is unstable as recent concerns over a renewed embargo have arisen, sparking gas panics. [5] [6]

It should be the policy of the United States to support Nepal’s government in this critical transition time while working with India to stop another blockade from happening. In order to rebuild the government infrastructure and the homes that were destroyed in the earthquake, the people of Nepal need access to basic medicine, food, and fuel. If another blockade broke out, it would be devastating to the relief efforts going on and reverse any progress that has been made. The United States should also work with China to help Nepal gain access to critical Chinese markets, thus decreasing their dependence on India and increasing Nepal’s gross domestic product.

The next decade is essential for assuring Nepal’s quick recovery. The United States should continue to lend their support to Nepal’s government in order to secure their long-term growth and status as a sovereign nation. These steps to ensure Nepal’s security would provide a foundation for future growth and prosperity.

[1] Charles Haviland, “Why is Nepal’s New Constitution Controversial,” BBC News, September 19, 2015. < BBC>

[2] “UN: Nepal Blockade Puts Millions of Children at Risk,” BBC News, November 30, 2015. < BBC>

[3] “Mr Oli’s Winter Challenge,” The Economist, October 24, 2015. < The Economist>

[4] Acharya, Phuyal, and Dhakal, “Nepal Blockade: Six Ways it Affects the Country,” December 12, 2015. < BBC>

[5] “Nepal Earthquake Recovery Fact Sheet.” < USAID>

[6] Rajesh Khanal, “Embargo Fears Set Off Gasoline Panic Buying,” The Kathmandu Post, March 29, 2016. < Kathmandu Post>

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