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Summer Postcards 2015

Waning Terror

By Pradeep Niroula

KATHMANDU, Nepal—I found Kathmandu very different than what I had left about a year ago. The earthquake seems to have shaken a lot of things.

Along with substantial physical destruction, the earthquake has left a severe impression among the survivors. Talks about the earthquake dominate general conversation, newspaper articles, and television talk-shows. A month after the disaster, the atmosphere still echoes the terror and fear caused by the disaster.

The people have lived through two big quakes and more than two hundred after-shocks. Vigilance has become a part of life. Many still live outdoors, afraid to enter their homes. A month of apprehension has made people very sensitive to anything out of ordinary. The sound of dog barking or a ripple in the water is enough to raise panic and anxiety.

Apprehension hasn’t stopped yet and a well-circulated rumor causes widespread panic. When I arrived home, I found myself listening to rumors that a big quake would strike at noon two days later. Apparently, some astrologer found something sinister with the stars. These unfounded rumors, conjured by some fame-thirsty pseudoscientists or covetous thieves, who break into houses when people leave them for safety, beguiled the public into terror for the first few weeks after the disaster.

Yet while minor shocks are still coming in, public life is starting to normalize.

The reopening of schools last week made national headlines. Children have been among the worst-affected in the disaster. Not only has their education been disrupted, they have been left with an immutable imprint of terror and fear. The resumption of education serves to herald the beginning of reconstruction.

This quake, despite causing a massive devastation, has nonetheless pushed the country towards preparedness.

The last major earthquake that hit this country was in 1934. Very few witnesses of that incident survive. Though the Himalayan fault, where Nepal is situated, is geologically prone to earthquakes, an incident-free 80 years had led the public to downplay the peril in which it was living.

An example of poor urban planning, the over-populated Kathmandu city was utterly underprepared to handle a crisis of this magnitude. Some of the most crowded areas have streets as narrow as ten feet — a fire engine or an ambulance would have a hard time rescuing people. The city lacks open spaces, and many houses, residential as well as commercial, were built against the building codes. Weak governmental oversight and public negligence had created an extremely vulnerable city.

Now that the general consciousness is shaken to its roots, things are beginning to change. For instance, schools, which had hitherto put disaster preparedness among their lowest priorities, have started holding quake-drills and are initiating plans to form an organizational framework for responding to such a crisis.

The dust is settling down and the terror is waning. Given the fresh public awakening, now is a good time to undo certain poor decisions.

Pradeep Niroula 18 is a Crimson editorial writer in Quincy House.

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Summer Postcards 2015