来源: 互联网  时间: 2015年05月05日 

A cloud of brown dust filledwith rock doves rose over Kathmandu, the Nepali capital, when theearthquake struck on April 25th. The ground shook so violently as theIndian tectonic plate lurched three metres (10 feet) northward thatpeople struggled to stand. The earthquake rattled windows in Delhi, the Indiancapital, 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) away.

Older parts of Kathmandu arenow rubble. A 62-metre tower put up in the 19th century, Dharahara, collapsed.More buildings fell in Durbar square, a UNESCO world-heritage site that ishome to temples that are hundreds of years old. Both sites had been thickwith locals as well as foreign visitors. Many were trapped and died. Atleast one newish hotel also folded, killing dozens. But for the most part,the city's concrete-and-glass structures stayed up, despitenotoriously poor enforcement of building codes. Some credit is due topublic campaigns by non-governmental groups and the UN. They have trainedbuilders to strengthen the joints of concrete beams. Hundredsof schools in Kathmandu have been retrofitted in recent years. Thanks to that, experts' worst fears of a big earthquakeflattening three-fifths of the capital and killing 100,000 were notfulfilled.

Thanks, too, to luck: themain earthquake (there were aftershocks) came at noon on a Saturday, when schoolsand offices were closed and many people were up and aboutoutside. Even so, the suffering is horrendous. By mid-week over 5,000were confirmed dead. The prime minister, Sushil Koirala, predictsthat the toll could reach 10,000. Most victims are in the Kathmanduvalley, which has seen rapid and haphazard urban growth over the pastcouple of decades, partly because a civil war that ended in 2006 pushedvillagers towards the capital. The valley's buildings are especiallyvulnerable since they rest on sediment layers that are prone toliquefaction. Rebuilding the stricken areas could cost $10 billion—a hugebill for one of Asia's poorest countries.

Three days after the quake, theroads from Kathmandu were thronged with people taking food and tents tonearby villages. In Kavrepalanchok district, an hour's drive from thecapital, villagers camped in fields under plastic sheets.They complained of the stench from human corpses and dead livestock.They badly needed water, food and medicine. Two parents digging inthe rubble for the body of their 16-month-old daughter saidlocal police would not help.

Next door in Sindhupalchokdistrict, every mud-and-stone house was cracked, and many hadcollapsed outright. The government guesses that 530,000 houses are damagedin all, and over 70,000 destroyed. Almost no one has insurance. The UNsays 8m people in a population of nearly 30m are affected in someway. The epicentre was 80km north-west of the capital, in a steep andmountainous area. Landslides reportedly swept entire villages offhillside. Aerial footage shows houses that have collapsed into circlesof dust. Unseasonal rain and cold, and continuing aftershocks, includingone with a magnitude of 6.9, have left survivors exposed.

On Mount Everest, east ofKathmandu, tremors set off an avalanche that crushed at least 18climbers and Sherpas. It has been a bad time for Nepali tourism. InOctober freak snowstorms killed 43 on a lower-altitude trail. And a year agoan avalanche on Everest killed 16. Nothing puts off themost determined climbers, but a tourism industry that is central to thelivelihoods of many looks troubled.

In India the quake killed over70 people, but concern was directed largely at the neighbour. In a radioaddress heard in both countries, India's prime minister, Narendra Modivowed to "wipe the tears of every Nepali", adding that Nepal's painwas also India's. Millions of Nepali migrants live and work in India,sending remittances home. These will now be badly needed.

Mr Modi wants to be seenleading and appears to be guiding the relief effort better thanNepal's own leaders. Within hours of the first jolts, the Indian armybegan delivering aid. There is a geopolitical dimension to the help. AModi adviser talks of an Indian strategy of becoming "moreconfident abroad". That starts with winning influence in the region. MrModi has twice visited Nepal since he came to office a year ago, after agap of 17 years during which no Indian prime minister deigned to go. Hepromotes Indian investment in Nepali hydropower. And Nepal is a mainbeneficiary of India's trebling of aid over the past three years, to94 billion rupees ($1.5 billion). China presumably features in Mr Modi'scalculations. It influence has often appeared to be in the ascendant inNepal, which India traditionally considers to be its own back yard.

Several countries and UNagencies quickly promised financial and other help. So many donors rushedsearch-and-rescue teams, field hospitals, blankets, tents and medicalequipment that the main airport in Kathmandu grew overwhelmed. Within aday of the earthquake China delivered a military rescue team, 13 tonnes ofaid and promised over $3m in immediate help. It also played down talk ofrivalry, as a foreign ministry official later spoke of a wish to"coordinate positively with India in our assistance efforts".Pakistan sent tents and a military hospital, and Israel provided 95 tonnesof medical and other assistance.

As for Nepal's own government,it faces huge challenges. Rescue and immediate relief operations are nowmaking way for more sustained help for survivors. Distributing materialsfor proper shelter and ensuring good sanitation are urgent priorities beforethe monsoon rains arrive in a couple of months. The sowing seasonalso starts soon, so distributing seeds and farm supplies ispressing.

Jamie McGoldrick, who leads theUN in Nepal, worries that it is the most rural and remote areas, thosewhere the poorest,lowest-caste Nepalis live, that are at risk of neglect.Though the needs of the country side's poor are greatest, the lion's shareof foreign attention and aid goes to Kathmandu, home to the politicalelite, the bulk of foreign workers and much of the country's richcultural heritage. Mr McGoldrick also warns about weak governing capacity.He already sees bureaucratic rivalries as well as sloth asimpediments to the country's relief efforts. Others point out thatpoliticians have long been interested mainly in their own well-being,fruitlessly debating a new constitution for the past sevenyears while paying little attention to governing.

Effective local councils wouldsurely be most useful administration to have in place now. Yet Nepalhas had no local elections since 1999. Instead civil servants run things.Many are notorious for being unaccountable, corrupt and prejudicedtowards the lowest castes. Donors face a quandary, wondering how muchto trust questionable partners while rushing to help. Nepal has never beenan easy place in which to make aid useful. In this grievous emergency, itwill be harder yet.