The Earthquake And Internal Migration

This earthquake has been the biggest disaster the country has seen in its entire existence. The Nepal Army and the Maoists took five years to kill as many people as this earthquake killed in a swift minute. The civil war did not see these many damaged buildings, not even close.

There will be some internal migration as a result. And most of it will be not through the Nepal Government. People will vote with their feet. They will simply move. I never felt bad about Bhutani refugees setting up camp in Jhapa. As in, what are they doing here? Internal migrants in Nepal post earthquake will move, and will go where they might want to go. They might seek refuge many places, some of them might end up in the Terai districts, so be it. It is not like they have a choice. They will move as a last resort. Because abandoning home is not a choice people look forward to. They stay put, come high or hell water. But sometimes that is not an option.

I would prefer to separate earthquake related topics from the ongoing political debates in the country. Although I don't see why democracy needs to take a break. The back and forth of political discourse will help relief work. Federalism is a separate topic.

As for the larger question of internal migration, I want the Terai to become such an economic powerhouse that Nepalis anywhere in the country no longer feel the need to go to Malaysia or Qatar. If they go, it is as tourists, or much higher wage earners. It is within the concept of a modern nation state that citizens of a nation state can live and work anywhere in that country. That applies to Parvates, that applies to Teraiwasis. But when you drag your feet on federalism like Sushil is doing, when you knock four million Madhesis off the voters' list like Madhav Nepal did, then you get in the way of that modern state forming. As soon as you start playing with the northern boundaries of the Terai districts in the debate on federalism, you are sowing the seeds for ethnic riots in the country. Ethnic riots do not make a modern nation state.

As for the earthquake, erecting a tent city for about 50,000 in one place in some place like Chitwan might not be such a bad idea, but then this government is not exactly all about good ideas. A tent city, by definition is temporary in nature. People are expected to go back to their homes in a year or so. It would be a good idea to facilitate cottage industries, so people not only have a roof over the head, but also livelihood.

The tent city should have schools and health clinics. It should have TVs. Computers with internet access. It should have soccer and volleyball fields. Cricket, maybe. It should have regular cultural programs by visiting artists. Adults, and children, should go to school.

And if there is suitable land, heck, why not erect a permanent city for them? A city for 50,000. Build cheap earthquake proof homes. Make it a planned city. I mean, if you are starting from scratch. It might even be possible to find a corporate or country sponsor for the whole project.

Maybe the idea should be to erect multiple cities. Modi talks of "100 smart cities." And he was not responding to an earthquake. But let the earthquake be an excuse for Nepal to think along the lines of at least 10 new cities. They could be along the Kathmandu-Pokhara highway, along Arniko highway, in Chitwan, in several Terai districts.

Get 10 corporate/country sponsors and erect 10 new cities across Nepal. People get to swap their land in their wiped out villages for a house in the new city and a small loan for a new livelihood. The government takes their land and converts them into forests. Entire hillsides see new trees planted on them. These dwellers will probably have to give up farming and get into small cottage industries.

Or set up one big factory per city to mass employ a bunch of the people. Labor intensive industries might make sense. The corporate/country sponsors might help find markets and buyers.

When the old gets destroyed, weep. But after you are done weeping, see that new things are now possible. New, better things.

These are not slums, these are cities that you are trying to create.


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