This piece was written by Nana Bemma Doreen Nti, Faculty Coordinator at the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research in the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC). She is a participant in the 16th New Issues in Security Course (NISC).
The two earthquakes that struck Nepal on 25 April and 12 May 2015 resulted in over 8000 deaths and 100,000s more in need of some kind of humanitarian assistance. There has been international and local support to the government, citizens and other residents of Nepal. Furthermore, in the midst of this tragedy, a number of insights can be gleaned that could guide future responses to similar catastrophes and contribute to the entire post-2015 development agenda (1) towards sustainable development. This essay highlights a few of these lessons for consideration in discourses on development, human rights and security.
First, less developed states could contemplate increasing South-South cooperation as the attention of traditional donors is being pulled in diverse ways with increasing internal and external crises. This cooperation is especially needed regionally and amongst close neighbours. Nepal’s earthquakes occurred at a time when traditional donors were grappling with Ukraine, the Islamic State, Afghanistan and migrants in the Mediterranean amongst several others. While they have sent support either directly or through agencies to Nepal, there is a growing possibility that global supply of humanitarian and development assistance by traditional sources could decrease as demand increases. Media reports identified India as the first to provide emergency assistance to Nepal. China followed and then there were interventions by other states such as Japan, as well as humanitarian actors. Therefore, regional partners could invest more into building financial, material and human resources on standby for inter-regional and South-South humanitarian and development assistance. Fragile and collapsed states provide breeding grounds for global threats such as terrorism, transnational organised crimes and armed conflicts. The spill-over effects are first felt by neighbouring countries. Accordingly, these countries have a greater stake in ensuring the stability of each other.
Regional partners could invest more into building financial, material and human resources on standby for inter-regional and South-South humanitarian and development assistance.
Second, regional and South-South cooperation could go further into the development and sharing of new ‘smart’ information and communication technologies to make them widely accessible both in terms of cost and availability. Furthermore, these states could consider declaring education and participation in the cyber world as human rights as these technologies can save lives and promote inclusivity and citizen participation. In the immediate aftermath of Nepal’s first earthquake, the significance of innovative technology was projected through its influence on old methods of working. ‘Smart’ phones, social media and Google were used to film the quake and its effects, search for survivors, and provide information on survivors, casualties and needed logistics. The World Development Index puts the number of mobile cellular subscriptions in Nepal at 77 per 100 people and the number of internet users at 13 per 100 people in 2013. Thus, it would be interesting to evaluate how advanced the phones are in ‘smart’ technology and the extent of knowledge and application of this technology especially by vulnerable persons and persons in living in remote and difficult terrains. The examples shown of usage of such technologies, during and after the earthquake, were mainly of foreigners and persons living in the capital city. The possible digital divide may have therefore been due to cost. Innovation and research do come with a high price tag; nonetheless, countries such as China have been developing cheaper brands with similar technology. Other southern states could join the fray to decrease the gap in communication and enhance interconnectivity within and between citizens of neighbouring states and beyond.
Third, the emergencies demonstrated the importance of early warning systems, prioritisation, targeted development, and enhancement of local and regional research and capacities. Media reports pointed out that scientists had forecasted an earthquake in Nepal about a month before the first one this year. Nevertheless, the earthquake appeared to have taken many actors by surprise. Whilst the actual date for the first earthquake was not determined, the fact remains that Nepal is situated on the tectonic plates that formed the Himalayas and the country has experienced earthquakes in recorded history. Whereas providing universal requirements for development is commendable, the peculiarities that make each state vulnerable to different threats would need to be assessed in drawing up priorities within development plans. These peculiarities such as habitation near or around tectonic plates may not appear to be prima facie urgent challenges but for countries such as Nepal, ‘smart’ city technology should be high on development priority lists. This innovation would preserve centuries old homes and social spaces, which not only provide shelter, community and spiritual spaces but contribute to a sense of heritage and identity as well. Additionally, similar states could consider investing further into building local and regional capacities in research and development in diverse fields. The scientists who predicted the earthquake appeared to be only foreigners. Although global partnership is necessary, such countries and regions need permanent research labs and human resource to detect possible threats and advise their governments and regional blocs accordingly.
Finally, and what is possibly the most important lessons from the natural disasters in Nepal, is the significance and centrality of human life and the critical need to widen the concept of ‘partnership for development’. The main focus of an increasingly eclectic mix of local and international humanitarian actors was and still is the preservation of as many lives as possible. This has required a multi-sectorial and multi-dimensional approach with varied knowledge and skills working together at a fast pace. One factor affects the other. For instance, the collapse of homes—infrastructure safety—affected not only the physical well-being of persons who were inside, but the safety of displaced survivors, their health, the supply of their basic needs, their livelihoods, their environment, their community and their history to name a few. The reconstruction and preservation of affected parts of Nepal and of other less developed states would need the same approach with scientists and technological innovators added to the list of ‘development partners’. They are not only required for the monitoring of trends and early warning but for future thinking on protecting, empowering and securing lives. Consequently, the aftermath of the earthquakes has illustrated the need to expand the conceptualisation of ‘partnership for development’ to enhance human security.