Almost two hours after 11:44am on last Saturday, the Nepal government announced on the national broadcaster Nepal TV that all communication lines were down and officials were soon going to hold an emergency meeting to deal with the crisis.
By then, thousands and thousands had been buried under piles of brick and mortar. Those who survived reeled from shock, horrified by the sights of their lives being reduced to rubble.
At Sindhupalchowk, Indian news crews arrived much before any Nepalese rescue team could. The administration, it seemed, was busy in its meeting. Whatever foot soldiers the nation’s disaster task force had were kept waiting, with none to lead or coordinate rescue operations. The Prime Minister was out of Nepal and his ministers seemed clueless as precious moments went by.
For a country that has long expected a natural calamity such as this one, the lack of preparedness was staggering. But for the tens of thousands of Nepalis, who have been trying to dig out any sliver of the life they had prior to Saturday’s disaster that they can, it’s hardly surprising.
When Prime Minister Sushil Koirala -- who was in Indonesia when the temblors struck and could only return the next day -- admitted rescue operations were dismal, he was merely stating the obvious.
Over the past four days, nations like India have gone all out to send help our way. Men, machine and aid has poured in, but barely trickled down to those who need it.
Across the Kathmandu Valley, people dug with their bare hands to reach their loved ones. Essentials like water and food in many areas are a privilege of only those who have friends in high places. For the less fortunate, even basic amenities are being given out for a premium.
The failings of the Nepalese government are symptomatic of a greater lethargy. After decades of being caught between the monarchy and the Maoists, Nepal set itself on the path rewriting its Constitution. Transitional governments came to power, riding on the appeal of one political superstar after another but that one basic document of law remains far from taking shape.
Nepal has leaders, but no leadership and governance, it appears, is an alien concept.
If I may take the liberty to speak for my compatriots, I wish to ask our leaders this: Why has the zeal that you showed in politicking not present now that we need leaders? Where is our administration? Where are the task forces that are supposed to carry out basic functions such as disaster response? And what is it that you discuss in your meetings belatedly?
As told to Binayak Dasgupta
(Arsalan Akhtar is a Kathmandu-based entrepreneur and a former national cricketer)