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Tuesday, April 28

Cold-blooded Earthquake Politics: Nepal's regime rejects help from Taiwan's excellent search and rescue team (UPDATED 4X)

UPDATE 4 - 4:25 AM EDT 4/29
This CNN report is from yesterday but it lays out the major factors making aid distribution hard in the country. Also has a chart showing which foreign countries have aid workers in Nepal. Interestingly the chart shows that Taiwan has 20 workers in the country. Yet the chart doesn't include India, which of course has workers in the country. So I dunno. 
UPDATE 3  - 7:30 PM EDT (see end of post for first two)
Nepal's Prime Minister, Sushil Koirala, was out of the country when the earthquake struck and from this 4/25 NDTV report, India's PM Modi couldn't make contact with him on the day of the quake, so Modi offered condolences to the country's President, Ram Baran Yadav. It was unclear to me from subsequent reports when Koirala returned to Nepal, but it looked as if Yadav, at least in early hours of the crisis, was in the hotseat when it came to decisions about which foreign search and rescue teams to admit to the country. 

The issue may or may not be water under the bridge at this point.  There is a big 'fog of war' element about the entire crisis, which is understandable, of course, given conditions in the country.  But from this Reuters report today, updated at 7:00 PM EDT, and from a few statements sprinkled in other reports today, it almost seems as if there's confusion or a disagreement behind the scenes about the issue of the foreign S and R teams. Reuters writes:
Prime Minister Sushil Koirala told Reuters the death toll could reach 10,000, as information on damage from far-flung villages and towns has yet to come in.
 "The government is doing all it can for rescue and relief on a war footing," Koirala said. "It is a challenge and a very difficult hour for Nepal."
Then --
Nepal told aid agencies it did not need more foreign rescue teams to help search for survivors, because its government and military could cope, the national head of the United Nations Development Programme told Reuters.
"Nepal told" is diplospeak, which I myself had to fall back on in the original post because it wasn't clear who was in charge at the time.  

Other passages in the Reuters report discuss the amount of time that's passed since the quake, with one foreign aid worker noting that by day 5 the chance of finding buried survivors is zero. More or less true, although many people buried in rubble have survived longer if they're lodged in an air pocket and have access to water. But with ongoing severe aftershocks, mudslides burying at least one village, etc., there still seems a need for S and R teams. 

More to the point, search teams aren't only needed for those buried alive.  An earlier Reuters report (see first update, below) discusses Nepalis, angry at no help in sight (and still in shock from the quake), digging with their bare hands through rubble to find bodies of relatives.  Many bodies are still missing, and if Koirala's estimate of the dead is near the mark there will be a need in the coming days for as many foreign search teams as the country's international airport can accept.     

As I mentioned in the original post, I also think it would have been a very good move to bring in the Taiwanese S and R team at the early stage because their network of Buddhist contacts in Nepal would have been a force multiplier. 

But it's too late now for the early stage, and at this point parsing the meaning of official utterances is a waste of time and almost cruel in the context of the crisis. Almost. 

Now to the original post:

Have a heart, President Yadav

The excuse Nepal's government gave was that it was prioritizing assistance it accepted according to a country's nearness to Nepal, ostensibly to avoid a chaotic situation on the ground. The excuse doesn't hold water because the regime accepted a search and rescue team from Japan, which is 1,500 kilometers farther from Nepal than Taiwan.

Australia's Sky News report on the incident mentions that Nepal doesn't recognize Taiwan, "considered by China as part of its territory awaiting to be reunited since their split in 1949 at the end of a civil war."

That too doesn't hold water -- not in this kind of situation and especially in this particular situation.   The Taiwanese have something the Chinese don't have in Nepal:  an extensive network of Buddhist contacts.  And many Taiwanese Buddhists are well heeled.

That makes a big difference in getting fast help to many Nepali victims of the earthquake -- especially those outside Kathmandu proper.  That's because the G2G way of disbursing funds, even with disaster aid, is ponderous.

That I suspect that is why Beijing would want to discourage Taiwan from providing on-the-ground earthquake assistance in Nepal -- and hang the fate of the earthquake survivors.

The Australian report also mentions that Taiwan's foreign minister has downplayed speculation in Taiwan that the Nepali regime's decision is political.  It's understandable that Taipei doesn't want to start a skirmish with Beijing over this, and one that would give a lot of trouble to Nepal's President Ram Baran Yadav at the time he least needs it.

Okay. but that doesn't prevent others from speaking out. Under ordinary conditions I prefer to wait for people to have the chance to mourn their dead before starting a firefight. But in this case, making a big noise right now might prompt President Yadav to get his own priorities in order.  He needs to realize that the whole world is watching his every decision.

Granted, that's a first for him, but he needs to give a little less attention to what Beijing thinks, and a little more attention to what everyone else thinks -- and to the fact that the financial aid he's going to get from everyone else will dwarf China's aid.

And as Gordon Chang mentioned when he reported on the incident to John Batchelor's audience Monday night (podcast, 32 minute mark), this incident is going to fester and grow in the coming months, once the immediate crisis in Kathmandu settles down.  It's going to make Yadav look cold-blooded.

A little more can be gleaned on the incident from a Channel News Asia report, which picked up on a Reuters/CNA report on the incident. (See how many legs this story is already growing): (Nepal turns down Taiwan's offer of quake assistance (April  27):

TAIPEI: Nepal has turned down Taiwan’s offer to help in search and rescue efforts following a 7.8-magnitude earthquake, Taiwanese Vice Foreign Minister Andrew Kao confirmed on Monday (Apr 27).

Mr Kao said Taiwan will still send an advanced team to Nepal to assess the need for medical assistance, which the island will provide if needed.

Several government and charity groups in Taiwan have already joined forces to organise rescue missions to Nepal. Public fundraising campaigns are also underway for the Himalayan nation.

So far, the island has pledged about US$300,000 in aid.

Following an official message of condolence by President Ma Ying-jeou, a 20-member rescue team with tracking dogs is ready to fly to Kathmandu.

The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation has tapped on its global network to set up a relief centre in Nepal to distribute supplies and join in the rescue effort, while Taiwan’s Red Cross has started a fundraising drive to collect US$1 million for Nepal’s post-disaster reconstruction.

According to the foreign ministry, 167 Taiwanese are currently in Nepal. Among them, 26 are still missing. [Latest from AFP: reportedly 21 are now unaccounted for] However, there were no immediate reports of Taiwanese casualties. Officials said they would do their best to locate those still missing.

Following Saturday's earthquake that killed more than 3,200 people, thousands of residents remain huddled in tents and sought scarce food and medical supplies, as overwhelmed authorities struggle to care for the wounded and homeless.

With so many people sleeping in the open with no power or water and downpours forecast, fears of major food and water shortages are mounting.

- Reuters/CNA/xq/al


1:30 AM:  Speaking of ponderously slow disbursements from governments: Reuters April 28 12:40 AM EDT:  Angry Nepalis dig in rubble themselves as quake toll passes 4,000
Hundreds of Nepalis, angered and frustrated by the government's slow response, were digging through rubble themselves on Tuesday to find remains of their loved ones after a devastating earthquake three days ago killed more than 4,000 people. 
International aid has finally begun arriving in the Himalayan nation of 28 million people but disbursement is slow. ...]

7:45 AM:  My goodness; who knew how many close neighbors Nepal turned out to have?

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