Article: When the ground below Nepal gave away

Leadership Development

When the ground below Nepal gave away

Weak hierarchy and the lack of a crisis response system proved to be Nepal’s undoing as earthquakes wrecked havoc
When the ground below Nepal gave away

Local communities and councils were never trained or faced with such a crisis before and that hampered rescue and relief operations


A very violent 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook Nepal on May 25th, killing at least 8,000 people. This catastrophe was followed by another 7.3 magnitude tremor on May 12th, leaving large-scale carnage in its wake. But the country's unstable and ineffective government—not its geography—remains its biggest liability.

For a country with an annual GDP of approximately $20 billion, the economic cost of these earthquakes is estimated to be anywhere between $1 billion and $10 billion. Adding to the economic and infrastructural losses is the country’s organizational infrastructure that is ill-equipped to even utilize the aid that is pouring in. It is not a hidden fact that the Nepalese bureaucratic meddling and insisting on following the established standards of customs and procedures of the relief aid is adding tremendously to the woes of the survivors. 

So what is this situation all about? Is it the paralyzed political process with functional and divisional miscommunication in Nepal’s administration or is it the absence of a disaster management plan? Actually, it is both. If one looks at Nepal as a multi-layered organization, they can assess the gargantuan impact that a weak hierarchy and the lack of a good crisis management system has during such times of emergency. 

Weak hierarchy: Nepal is missing strong decision making at the national level and presence of the middle management at the local level. There have been no elections at the district, village or municipal levels for nearly 20 years. Local communities and councils were never trained or faced with such a crisis before and were not organized enough to deal with the difficult task of coordinating emergency assistance. 

Disaster management: Worldwide, countries have upgraded their disaster management practices from time to time as they learn from calamities. Had Nepal done its due diligence, it may have provided early warnings about problems that have arisen during rescue and relief efforts. Damage to Nepal’s only airport significantly delayed the arrival of international aid. However, planes filled with blankets, food and medicine were idling on the tarmac as not enough terminals were available. To make matters worse, a shortage of paved roads in the country means that assistance cannot reach remote regions where it is needed the most.

Sluggish response: When Nepal’s worst earthquake in 80 years hit around noon on April 25, Nepal’s Prime Minister Sushil Koirala was reportedly flying to Bangkok for personal medical treatment. He only learned of the devastating earthquake at home more than 40 minutes after it hit when reading a Twitter post by Indian PM, Narendra Modi. Starting off with a very weak face, the Nepalese government was almost invisible in the quake’s immediate aftermath as well. Nepalese officials acknowledged the scale of the disaster overwhelmed them, missing out on the first few crucial hours of aid and relief. As aftershocks further rocked the country, there was hardly any food or water for the survivors leading to scuffles with the police. 

Although financial aid is pouring in from all over the world, Nepal does not possess the technical proficiency to utilize the aid. Seeing the deficit in knowledge, countries are now lining up to donate technical expertise via disaster response teams as well. The United Nations, in addition to releasing $15 million from its central emergency-response fund is coordinating international efforts to maximize their effectiveness. China has sent a 62-member search-and-rescue team to help the recovery effort. Israel has sent 260 rescue experts in addition to a 200-person strong medical team, while Japan has sent another 70 people as part of a disaster relief team. Even India has been heavily involved in the aid operations to Nepal, sending 1,000 National Disaster Response Force personnel, three army field hospitals, and an engineering task force. 

This weak organizational infrastructure and the lack of a crisis response system has not only allowed the loss of almost half the country’s GDP in one natural calamity, but also left the 29 million strong population of Nepal with an uncertain future. However, the question is whether this aid will rebuild Nepal or will it have to ameliorate its own conditions by addressing the administrative and executive stagnancy.

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Topics: Leadership Development, #Current

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