5/18/2015

Devastating Earthquake in Nepal: Feeling from Abroad



Shorter version of this article appeared in Casper Star Tribune yesterday.

It has been three weeks since Nepal was hit by a killer earthquake. The massive earthquake with a magnitude of 7.9 Richter scale occurred at 11:56 am (Friday night MT) on 25th of April, 2015 killing nearly 8500 (as of May 18) people and injuring more than twice as many. The epicenter of this quake was the Barpak village of Gorkha district, 80 km northwest of capital city Kathmandu and hypocenter was only 15 km deep. Hundreds of thousands of houses in Kathmandu and villages of surrounding districts were earthen unimaginably. The quake even shook the slopes of Mount Everest (the highest peak on earth) region triggering an avalanche that buried part of a base camp packed with national and foreign climbers preparing to make their summit attempts killing at least 18 people and injuring about 61. It even shrunk Mount Everest by one inch and raised Kathmandu by three feet as estimated by scientists using seismic interferometry. The quake has also impacted northern India, Tibet and Bangladesh. About 8 million people are affected by the disaster in Nepal.

(update: Another big quake hit Nepal on May 12 that has killed ~150)

How did I hear?
My phone and social media profiles started flooding with messages from families and friends asking my and my family’s safety, which I saw only after I woke up at around 5 am the same day in Laramie. I got so worried when I saw the pictures of the earthquake. Right after, I called my mom living ~200 km west of the epicenter. I also talked to my sisters. They were fine. My mom said that it was very hard shaking and for a long time. My dad was not at home since morning that day and tensions rose as repeated phone calls didn’t reach to him. He had gone to another town. Phone services were not reliable because of sudden rise in the call traffic and damage in the equipment. We were relieved when he came back home after few hours. I then started contacting my relatives and friends. The only thing that mattered the most at the beginning was to check my family was fine, be sad for those who passed away in the earthquake and pray for the people. For three to four nights everyone slept outdoors in an effort to stay safe from the aftershocks coming one after another. Nature didn’t do justice when rain and thunderstorms creating even more difficulty. More than 100 aftershocks of magnitude more than 4 made it the scariest. Getting right information from the ground using personal contacts, calls, emails and social media posts was very crucial. It was a very painful moment. Many of my friends were not able to know whether their family members were still alive for days. Even though my family and houses remain safe, houses of many of my friends got completely destroyed beyond repair, some friends lost their parents and siblings. My friends who also attended University of Wyoming and come from the village close to epicenter lost their houses completely. One of my friends who has been planning to complete his PhD in chemistry at the New Mexico State University in few months lost his father and uncle in his house at Sindupalchwok district, one of the hardest hit district, his mother was rescued live. My colleague lost her sister, sister-in-law and their child. There is still a lot of trauma going on for people.  Many of them are still outside, living in fields and tents. It is shocking and depressing to see how people have lost their lives, their houses, schools and mental peace. It has, at the same time, been difficult for the Nepali students at UW and their families in Laramie as they try to cope with the situation and work towards the end-of-semester.
Social media
The social media platform played very crucial role to get us updated and make connections to the loved ones in this difficult time. Communication to loved ones back home was not easy, especially during the early hours. The phone lines were so busy that it was hard to get through. Social media such as Facebook and twitter along with Skype and viber became vital to check on family and friends. Facebook’s “Safety Check” tool allowed anyone with a Facebook account to check how many friends are in an affected area, and see how many of them used the tool to confirm that they are safe. Google also launched a Person Finder tool in Nepali and English, which allowed people to search for and share information about missing persons. Web-based messaging tools like WhatsApp helped people circumvent crowded or disrupted phone lines. Even though I was far from home and not physically present there, I was able to closely follow every update from Wyoming.
In memory of the century old heritage sites
The Himalayan quake has damaged not only houses but also many monuments and temples listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Among them was the 9 story tower at the center of Kathmandu known as Dharahara. This tower was built in 1832. When I moved to Kathmandu in 1996 from countryside, it was this white tower standing above all the buildings. One could clearly see it. I had passed by this tower more than hundred times. We wished to climb this tower one day to have a 360 degree view of Kathmandu valley and surrounding mountains. In 2005, this tower was open to public. Then, I had climbed the narrow stairs of the tower with my mom while she was visiting me in Kathmandu. We went to the balcony at the 8th floor and watched Kathmandu for some time. This tower was not just a tower but had become a monument, an icon of Kathmandu and Nepal. Seeing it earthen brought tears into the eyes of millions. At first when I saw the photograph of the grounded tower, I could not believe it. I wished it was a bad dream. Unfortunately it was not. Also damaged were the century old temples in Basantapur, Patan, and Bhaktapur Durbar Squares, all listed in UNESCO heritage sites. I returned to Kathmandu after completing my PhD from the University of Wyoming last year and was staying close to the Patan Durbar Square area. Since then I have been to the heritage site several times and have taken hundreds of photographs. Now they are in photographs only. I know these places very well. The heritage and temples our ancestors built were the attraction for millions of visitors from across the globe are now limited to some photographs only.
Helpless
We knew that a big quake was coming but we were not sure when. The science is not able to make earthquake prediction yet unlike warnings for other natural disasters. There was very small effort to make houses quake resistant in Nepal. Most of houses in rural Nepal are made from bricks and stones joined by mud. These are the houses that were destroyed the most. Nepal is known for tall mountains. The great Himalaya range lies in the intersection of two giant tectonic plates of earth. Indian plate on south and Asian plate on the north side of Nepal. The Indian plate moves towards Asian plate and because of this movement, there is huge amount of energy stored inside the earth and when it releases this energy that part of the world is shaken almost every 80 years.
In a time of hardship, everyone wants to be with the loved ones to feel and share the pain. Unfortunately that was not possible for millions of Nepali living abroad. Being far from home and your loved ones when you could have helped had you been with them breaks our heart. Just seeing all damage on news and social media and not being able to help by only pray makes us feel helpless. Fortunately we Nepali are not alone at this moment. We are surrounded by supportive communities and friends around the world. University of Wyoming community and local Laramie community have been very supportive. Everyone has expressed concern and solidarity. I participated in a candlelight vigil prayer organized by Nepali community on Campus on Monday evening, 27th April for those affected by the quake. There is very little we can do but with the support from wonderful people around us, Nepali students attending the University of Wyoming, Laramie have collected some fund and relief materials, including medicines and school supplies to provide those to the victims when few of us fly to Nepal after the end of semester.
Now the life is slowly coming to normal. While we have lost peace of mind, we haven’t lost our hopes. We have to rebuild our heritage sites and houses. We rebuilt after the 1934 big quake by ourselves when our country was isolated and there was not much help from outside world. Good thing is this time we are not alone. We are fortunate to have helping hands around the world and we are well connected to them. Working together, we can for sure bounce back stronger. At this tragic pain also, smiles on Nepali faces has not been buried. People are helping each other, sharing food and shelter, which is a part of our culture. It has brought every Nepali together. Now, it’s time to build new Nepal. I will be going back to Nepal in two weeks and will see the devastation personally.

5/09/2015

धरहरा पुननिर्माण नगरौ-स्मारक बनाउ


हाम्रो तीन पुस्ताकै सबैभन्दा ठुलो प्राकृतिक प्रकोपले हजारौको ज्यान लियो, थप हजारौलाइ घाइते बनायो र लाखौलाइ घरबार बिहिन बनायो । नब्बे सालको भुइचालो मेरो बाजेले देख्नुभयो, बुवाले ४५ सालको भुइचालो अनुभब गर्नुभयो । बाजे पछि यति ठुलो प्रकृतिक ध्वंस हाम्रो पुस्ताले देख्नुपर्यो । हाम्रो पुस्ताले लगभग भुलिसकेको थियो ९० सालको भुइचालो, अरुले लेखेको पढ्ने बाहेक । ९० सालको भुइचालोले जस्तै ७२ सालको सुरुमै आएको पछिल्लो भुइचालोले पनि घरहरु मात्रै ध्वस्त पारेन, सयौ बर्षदेखी हाम्रो संस्कृति, परम्परा र इतिहासका प्रत्यक्ष्य साक्षी रहेका कैयौ सम्पदाहरु पनि भत्काइदियो ।
भत्केको धरहरा ,फोटो: UNDP Nepal फ्लिकर 

घरहरु त पक्कै पनि बनाउनु पर्छ सके सम्म छिटो, त्यसमा दुइमत कसैको नहोला । भलै कस्तो खालको र कहाँ बनाउने भन्नेमा बहस हुन जरुरि छ । के फेरी पनि पहिलेका जस्तै भत्किने घर बनाउने? आधारभुत सुबिधा जस्तै बाटो, पानी, बिजुली पुर्याउन कठिन डाडापाखा जहा मन लाग्यो त्यहाँ बनाउने? यसमा बहस हुन जरुरि छ । सरकारले बिज्ञहरुको सल्लाहमा अनिबार्य रुपमा भवन निर्माण नीति ल्याउन पर्छ गाउ र सहर दुवैको लागी र सो अनुसार भवन बनेको नबनेको अनुगमन गर्नु पर्छ कडाइका साथ । सर्बसाधरणलाइ भुकम्प प्रतिरोधक घर बनाउने तरिका थाहा छैन । त्यसैले सरकारले बाटो देखाउनु पर्छ । नया र पुनर्निर्माण हुने घरहरु अनिबार्य रुपमा भुकम्प प्रतिरोधक हुन पर्छ र डाडा पाखाका गाउहरुलाइ पाएक पर्ने ठाउमा सार्नु उपर्युक्त हुन्छ यसै मौकामा । 

बसन्तपुर, पाटन, भक्तपुर दरबार क्षेत्रका दर्जनौ पुराना युनेस्कोको लिस्टमा भएका संरचना ढले । त्यो संगै हाम्रो इतिहास पनि ढल्यो । तर हाम्रो मन ढल्नु हुदैन, आस्था र बिस्वास ढल्नु हुदैन । अब बिस्तारै यी सबै संरचना पुनर्निर्माण गर्नु पर्छ, हुने नै छन् । यसमा मेरो कुनै असहमति छैन । सके सम्म छिटो बनाउनु पर्छ, जस्ताको तस्तै बनाउनु पर्छ तर बलियो बनाउनु पर्छ ताकि फेरी आउने अर्को भुइचालोले भत्काउन नसकोस । तर संगै भत्केको नेपालका प्रथम प्रधानमन्त्री भीमसेन थापाले बनाएको लगभग ६२ मिटर अग्लो र नौ तले धरहरा वा भिमसेन स्तम्ब पुनर्निर्माण नगरौ, यसलाई भत्केकै अवस्थामा राखौ भन्ने प्रस्ताव राख्छु म । पक्कै पनि बनाउनै पर्छ भन्ने प्रस्ताब पनि आउछन, आउनुस छलफल गरौ बहस गरौ ।

धरहरासंग एक किसिमको मोह थियो, पहिलो पटक काठमान्डू आउदा देखि नै । काठ्मनडुको केन्द्रमा भएको धरहरा अग्लो हुनाले टाढा टाढाबाट देखिन्थ्यो, पछिल्लो समयमा अरु अग्ला घरले छेके पनि । सुरिलो र सेतो स्तम्बको टुप्पोमा चड्न पाए कस्तो होला भन्ने लग्थ्यो । हामि धेरै खिस्सा बनाउथेउ धरहराको बारेमा र मज्जा लिन्थेउ साथीहरु माझ । सयौ पटक यसकै छेउ बाट यता उता गरे हुला । जब सर्बसाधारणलाइ माथि जान दिने भयो त्यसको सुरुमै म मेरि आमासंगै धरहारा चढेर काठमान्डूलाइ हेरेको थिए । आठौ तलामा रहेको बार्दलीमा निस्केर काठमान्डूलाइ ३६० डिग्रीमा हेरे पछि हामि आमा छोरा धेरै समय माथि बसेनौ । माथि चढ्नको लागि घुमाउरो तरिकाले बनाएका सिढी चढ्न त्यति सजिलो थिएन, खासगरी बुढाबुढिलाइ । भित्र साघुरो ढुङ्ग्रो जस्तो । बाक्लो गाहोले घेरेको । मान्छेको प्राकृतिक गुण नै हुनुपर्छ जति अग्लो ठाउ पुग्यो, माथि पुग्यो त्यति मज्जा आउने । माथिबाट अरुलाई तल हेर्दा आनन्द आउने । त्यतिबेला सहरको माझमा त्यति अग्लो ठाउ चढेको पहिलो पटक थियो ।  माथि चढ्दै गर्दा स्वभाबिक रुपमा धेरैलाई मनमा आउने डर र खुशी हाम्रो मनमा पनि आएको थियो । कतै हामी नै चढ्दै गरेको समयमा यो स्ताम्ब ढल्यो भने? यहि बेलामा नै भुइचालो आयो भने? डरै डरमा चढियो र झरियो पनि ।

संसारमा सहरको चिनो हुने यस्ता टावर धेरै ठाउमा छन । तर हाम्रो धरहरा जस्तो पुरानो तरिकाले बनेका अरु छैनन् होला अब । न्युओर्कमै रहेको एम्पाएर स्टेट जस्तो अग्लो घर संयोगले आमासंगै चढ्ने मौका जुरेको थियो केहि समय पहिले । हाम्रो सुन्धाराको धरहरा ९० सालको भुइचालो पछि जुध्ध सम्सेरले पुनर्निर्माण गर्न भन्दा केहि वर्ष अगाडी बनेको यो भवन १०२ तलाको र ४४३ मिटर अग्लो छ । हजारौ मानिसले चड्छन प्रत्यक दिन । एम्पाएर स्टेट चडेर माथि पुग्दा बेस्सरी हावा लागेको थियो । मैले आमालाइ सोधे, धरहरा चढ्दा डर लाग्यो कि अमेरिकाको यो भवन भनेर । धरहरा चड्दा धेरै डर लागेको थियो रे आमालाई । हुनत न्युयोर्कको यो भवन ओरिपरी अरु पनि अग्ला अग्ला भवन भएको र देख्दा नै बलिया जस्ता लाग्ने निर्माणले अलि बिस्वास बढेको पनि हुनु पर्छ । मोटो गाह्रो भएको सुरिलो धरहरा स्तम्ब सिडि सिडि चढेर माथि जादा पल्टिञ्छ कि जस्तो लाग्थ्यो । हाम्रो गाउमा रहेको पुरानो काचो इटाले बनेको तिन तले घर पानी पर्दा पनि भत्किन्छ कि लागे जस्तो ।

हाम्रा पुर्खाले त्यतिबेला जस्तो प्रबिधी उपलब्ध थियो त्यहि अनुसार धरहरा बनाए । त्यसले भुइचालो थाम्न सकेन । अब फेरी सोहि ठाउमा सोहि स्तम्भ बनाउनै पर्छ भन्ने के छ? पुनर्निर्माण किन गर्ने? यत्तिकै संरक्षण गरेर राखे हुदैन? मलाइ अहिलेको धरहरा भएको ठाउमा फेरी धरहरा बनेको हर्न मन छैन । आफ्नो आफ्नो मन हो । आफ्नो आफ्नो तर्क हो । धरहरा अब नबनाएकै ठिक । यत्तिकै संरक्षण गरेर राख्दा उक्त क्षेत्र भएर आउने जानेलाइ सधै सम्झाइदिञ्छ, झस्काइदिन्छ कति ठुलो क्षेती भएको थियो ७२ सालको भुइचालोले भनेर । मान्छेहरुलाइ नया घर बनाउदा घोची रहञ्छ । भुइचालो थेग्न सक्ने संरचना बनाउनुपर्छ भनेर झक्झकाइ रहन्छ । हामी नेपालीको जे पनि चाडै बिर्सिदिञ्छौ । यो स्तम्ब नबनाई राख्यो भने कम्तिमा पनि यसले हामीलाई सम्झाई रहनछ, अलार्मले बिहान उठ्न सम्झाइदिए जस्तै । भुइचालो त ९० सालमा पनि गएको हो । धरहरा भत्केको हो तर धरहरा फेरी बन्यो अनि संगसंगै हाम्रो बाउ पुस्ताले बिर्सियो महाविपत्तिको बोध भएन ।

सम्झना रहोस सन २००१ को सेप्टेम्बर ११ गते आतंककारीको हमलामा परि अमेरिकाको न्युओर्कमा रहेका ट्विन टावर भनिने बिस्व ब्यापार केन्द्रका गगन चुम्बी भवनहरु ध्वस्त भएका थिए । अहिले सोहि टावरको जग भएको ठाउमा स्मारक भनाइएको छ । यसै गरि दोस्रो बिस्वयुद्दले ध्वस्त जापानको हिरोशिमा सहर बिनासको सम्झना स्वरुप त्यहा बाकि रहेको जेंबाकु डोमलाइ  हिरोशिमा शान्ति स्मारकको रुपमा जस्ताको त्यस्तै राखिएको छ । विस्व्भारी कुनै कारणले ध्वस्त भएका महवपुर्ण भवन वा अन्य संरचनाहरु जस्ताको त्यस्तै राखेर स्मारक र संग्रहालय बनाइएका उदहरणहरु प्रसस्तै  छन ।

जतिबेला धरहरा बनाइयो, त्यसको ओरिपरि धेरै खाली जग्गा थियो होला । घरहरु कम थिए होलान, अलि पर पर थिए होलान । तर अहिले हेर्नुस त कति धेरै संरचना छन् धरहरा को ओरिपरि, नजिकै नजिकै सम्म । अब यति अग्लो धरहरा बनाउने नै हो भने पनि यो ओरिपरिको घरहरुले गर्दा उपर्युक्त हुदैन । त्यसैले अहिले भत्केको धरहरालाई जे जस्तो छ यस्तै अवस्थामा राखौ ।  यसलाई हजारौ हाम्रा मृतकहरु र लाखौ भत्केका घरहरुको सम्झना आउने गरि स्मारक बनाउ । यो विपत्तिले मृत्यु भएकाहरुको सकेसम्म फोटो राखौ, सम्भब नभए नाम तामाको प्लेटमा कुदेर राखौ । ओरिपरि स्मृति उद्यान बनाउ । रुखहरु र फुलहरु रोपौ । यो कहाली लाग्दो समय  र बिपदको पुस्तौ पुस्ता सम्म सम्झना होस । सुन्धारा क्षेत्रलाई सम्मान प्रकट गरौ र पबित्र क्षेत्रको रुपमा बिकास गरौ । अहिले ढलेको भुइचालोले हामी नेपालीलाइ मात्रै नभएर संस्सर भरिका मान्छेलाई छोएको छ । संसारभरिका मान्छेहरु रोएका छन । स्मारक बनाएर अहिलेकै अवस्थामा राख्यो भने, ट्वीन टावर भत्केको ठाउमा दैनिक हजारौ पर्यटक हेर्न गए जस्तै सुन्धाराको क्षेत्र पनि पर्यटकिय आकर्षणको केन्द्र पक्कै हुन्छ ।

Dr. Giri is a scientist at Kathmandu Institute of Applied Sciences, Kathmandu

5/03/2015

राजनैतिक भुइचालो आउला त?

Photo:  ReSurge International in Flickr
सन् २००१ को सुरुमै भारतको गुजरातमा गएको ७.७ स्केलको भुइचालोले करिब २० हजार मानिसको मृत्यु भयो, लाखौ घाइते भए र करिब चार लाख घरहरु नस्ट भए । भुइचालोले ल्याएको महाविपत्तिको परिबेशमा अहिलेका भारतका प्रधानमन्त्रि गुजरात राज्यको मुख्यमन्त्री भएका रहेछन । त्यतिबेलाको महाविपत्ति सम्हाल्ने मौका पाएका मोदीले गुजरात, खासगरी कुच र भुजको  पुनर्निर्माण र पुनर्स्थापना गरि मुहारनै फेरिदिए । 

उता करिब ५ वर्ष अघि उत्तरी र दक्षिण अमेरिकाको बीचतिर रहेको देश हाइटिले पनि ७ स्केलको भुइचालोको ध्वोम्स सामना गर्न पर्यो । राझाधानी पोर्ट-ओ-प्रिन्स ध्वस्त भयो, करिब २ लाखमा बढिको ज्यान गयो । भुइचालो गएको ५ बर्ष सम्म पनि त्यहाका जनताहरु निकै दयनिय अवस्थामा बस्न परेको, बिदेशी मुलिकबाट आएको प्रसस्त सहयोगको सहि सदुपयोग नभएको खबरहरु अहिले पनि आइ रहेकै छन ।    

कहिले काही आउने यस्ता महाबिपत्तिले नया अवसर पनि दिञ्छन, यदि सहि नेतृत्व आउन सक्यो भने ।         

के नेपालको भर्खरको महाबिपत्तिले राजनीतिक महाभुइचालो ल्याउला त? 


एकहप्ता अघिको भुइचालो पछि खोज र उद्दार लगभग सकियो । अब ध्यान राहत, पुनर्स्थापना र पुनर्निर्माण तिर जादै छ । यो क्रममा राजनीतिका पार्टीका नेता, सरकार र मन्त्रीहरुको निकै आलोचना भएका छन्, उनीहरुले समयमै उचित सहयोग र नेतृत्व नगरेका कारण । सरकारले पिडितको आशा अनुरुप सहयोग गर्छ भन्ने त कसैलाई बिस्वास थियन होला तर पनि कस्को भर पर्ने त यस्तो आपत परेको बेला । किनभने हिजोको असक्षम सरकार भुइचालो जाने बित्तिकै रातारात सक्षम हुने कुरै भएन । 

कतिपय ठाउमा मन्त्रिले सर्बसाधारणको गालि खाएका देखियो । अन्य नेताहरु प्रतिको घृणा यति बढेको छ कि प्राय नेताहरु बाहिर निस्कन पनि समस्यामा रहेको जस्तो बुजिंछ ।  

यो भुइचालोले धेरै बस्तीहरु पुनर्निर्माण गर्ने नया अवसर दिएको छ।  

तर यो विपत्तिको ब्यवस्थापन गर्न र पुनर्निर्माण गर्न अहिलेकै नेत्रित्व सफल हुने कुनै आधार त देखिदैन । तर यसको गतिलो विकल्प पनि देखिएको छैन । सत्ता पक्ष त निशानामा पर्ने नै भयो । बिपक्षी पनि खासै अगाडी देखिएको छैन अहिले सम्म । पछि बिस्तारै परिस्थितिले कस्तो मोड लिन्छ, त्यो हेर्न केहि समय कुर्नै पर्ला । 

कुनै तेस्रो पक्ष अगाडि आउला? कि अहिलेकै पार्टीका दोस्रो तहका नेताहरुले उदाउने मौका पाउलान? तेस्रो पक्षको रुपमा बिबेकशील पार्टीले स्थानीय रुपमा निकै राम्रो काम गरेको देखियो तर त्यसको प्रभाब रास्ट्रिय राजनीतिमा तत्काल प्रभाब पार्न सक्ने खालको भने देखिएको छैन । खासगरी सोसल मेडिया प्रयोग गर्ने नया पुस्तासम्म पहुच पुर्याउन सकेको छ ।  अन्य पार्टीमा जस्तो पुरानो पुस्ताको नेतृत्वलाई बिस्थापित गर्नु पर्दैन बिबेकशिलमा किनभने युवाहरुले नेतृत्व गरेका छन । तरपनि दशकौ देखि चलिराखेका र राज्य संयम्त्रमा पकड राखेका बूढा पार्टी र नेतृत्वलाई बिस्थापित गर्न त्यति सजिलो पक्कै छैन ।