Nepal, Anthropology, and Earthquakes
April 30, 2015 5:30 PM   Subscribe

"Many of the places and peoples most severely hit were the poorest, those in villages close to the epicenter where homes are made from mud and wood. Homes that collapsed in the earthquake. Homes in regions where there are no vehicular roads, where already weak communication infrastructure is now not operative, where rescue and relief operations are struggling to reach. Some of these villages are known to anthropology students around the world. For better or worse, Nepal has a deep ethnographic literature, much of it centered on the sort of mountain villages so devastated by the earthquake... Some of these villages are gone.

Calls to our research partners in hill and mountain districts across the country revealed that villagers are reeling from injuries, death and the destruction of already precarious livelihoods on a massive scale. One villager told us that although his family and many others were unharmed, his home of mud and stone, like the entire village, was a pile of rubble. For many of the rural poor, a two-story home is a most prized asset. While their plight may not make the international headlines, rural Nepalis across the country will need long-term support to rebuild their lives.
We knew it was coming. But now that it is here, the world, for those of us who know and love Nepal, has shifted. Having escaped being crushed by a water tank, a friend in Kathmandu says, “My heart keeps shaking.” A text message comes in from another friend from rural Nepal, far from the epicenter but still impacted: “My house is not able to live.”
It might be tempting to think that delays over writing Nepal’s long-awaited constitution don’t matter, that life can go on as normal without political resolution (and many Nepalis, bored with the games of political musical chairs in Kathmandu, had begun to think just that). But the earthquake shows just how vital it is to have political institutions that work, both at the centre and, even more importantly, at the local level.
It is hard to apply a critical lens to disaster relief; it can so easily appear cruel, misplaced and selfish. Yet, we have the obligation to consider both the possibilities and limits of medical humanitarianism, or any humanitarian effort, as the international community wrestles with how best to help Nepal.
Anthropological lessons from Haiti: "I am worried about Haiti's future. In the immediate moment we need help, rescue missions of all kinds. I am concerned about weeks from now when we are no longer front-page news."
From Global Voices, citizen media from Nepal:
I live in the UK, but I was born in Thaprek VDC in Nuwakot district, about 100 km north-west of Kathmandu. Nuwakot district is very close to the earthquake's epicentre. Saturday's massive earthquake annihilated my entire village, including my home. Nature has rendered me homeless.
Your house has just collapsed. People are screaming on the street. You cannot reach your brother who is in another part of town as all the phones are down. But you can still post things on Facebook and inform your friends in China or in New York about your whereabouts. This is Kathmandu since April 25, within hours of the worst earthquake to have hit the country in 80 years.
While Nepal is still struggling to grasp the quake's impact, people on the ground are now pushing a new narrative of “getting back to normal,” trying to broaden the media's focus beyond stories of loss.
posted by ChuraChura (5 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
I have only read the first link, but found it moving and thought provoking. Ethnographic research requires making deep connections in a place, while simultaneously maintaining (or trying to maintain) a critical distance. A disaster like this must force researchers to confront that distance. They are also going to be much better informed (both historically and currently) than many of the journalists reporting on the latest big story, and I hope that leads to better narratives and explanations of the aftermath and recovery.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:53 PM on April 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Reposting from last thread.
How you can help using your computer and helping map the area. This is the same open source program thay was of such great use for mapping the W. Africa Ebola outbreak.
posted by adamvasco at 6:06 PM on April 30, 2015 [2 favorites]

This is a great selection of links. My earliest exposure to Nepali culture was actually through a childhood friend who had lived in one of these tiny villages while her mother conducted her dissertation research. My friend spent several years combined of her childhood in this village and felt very close to it.

She posted on Tuesday that all of the village's buildings are gone. I don't know yet how the people are faring.

I keep thinking similarly of the villages I walked through while doing the Annapurna Circuit in 2001 (another troubled time). Those villages, because of the trekking economy, were more developed than lots of other places, but still.

Nepal does have a pretty unique relationship with visitors from the developed world. It's the kind of place people visit and fall in love with. I just wrote a whole thing about the complicated politics involved but deleted it because, well, it's complicated. But there are a lot of us who ache for Nepal and very deeply want to see Nepal pull through this.
posted by lunasol at 6:28 PM on April 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is great, and thought-provoking. Thanks.
posted by migrantology at 11:48 AM on May 1, 2015

Excellent, thank you.
posted by madamjujujive at 12:54 PM on May 2, 2015

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