It is hard not to despair. The sick in Nepal are now waiting in their cars, on the roads, in parking lots, waiting for even a basic level of care. Inside, medical facilities are filled beyond maximum capacity. Medical professionals stretched beyond limit. Infections are soaring. The death toll is mounting. Bodies have piled up in riverbanks awaiting cremation. Grief and loss are everywhere.
As the crisis cuts deeper and the despair broadens, where do we look for hope? Our traditional sources of hope—political, economic, religious, cultural—have failed to provide meaningful reassurance against the despair that engulfs us at a ferocious speed. Where are our sources of hope?
In an interview with CNN earlier this week, Prime Minister KP Oli made an appeal for international assistance. He offered no account of what his government was doing, reading instead through the list of customary statistics—infections, positivity rate, recoveries, fatalities. When the anchor asked if large political, religious, and cultural gatherings had been a mistake, the prime minister responded vaguely, pointing instead to political instability. He did not explain that he was as much a part of the political instability.
Political instability has distracted Nepal from the fight against the disease. Like vultures hovering menacingly over a man gasping for his last breath, Nepal’s political leadership has spent more time squabbling and maneuvering than directing a meaningful response to the crisis.
Political instability has always been deeply entrenched in our system of governance. Political leadership has rarely been a source of hope. So, it wasn’t entirely surprising that they failed yet again. But the most telling was how everything around it collapsed. No other government institution rose to force political decision-makers to focus on the crisis: not the civil service, judiciary, president, army, provincial governments, or local governments. It is like our constitution offered no safeguards: not a single institution could get the government to focus on the crisis.
A system that is so entirely beholden to the political leadership, lacking the will or capacity to respond even in an unprecedented emergency, can offer no source of hope. Nepal’s constitution is dead.
Earlier this week, several media reports published details about how demands for commissions had delayed Nepal’s purchase of vaccines. Nepal’s effort to vaccinate its people is now in disarray. The story on commissions implicates leading business houses and personalities.
Many of the media reports appeared more interested in implicating than in telling the story. The demands for commissions appeared strikingly callous, almost inhumane. Our first impulse should have been to say it couldn’t possibly be true. Surely, even the greediest of traders would flinch at such inhumanity. Instead, the stories ripped through our conscience and were immediately absorbed as reality. There was no reason to doubt it, for it resonated deeply with our long-held perception about lack of ethics and hunger for profits within Nepali businesses. Businesses offer no source of hope.
In these troubled times, perhaps religion and culture could have been our sources of hope. Instead, religious and cultural leaders pushed ahead in the opposite direction. They allowed, and often encouraged, large crowds to congregate and mass celebrations to continue. Many religious and social groups have now banded together to offer medical aid to those in need, but they do so largely on the strength and generosity of the volunteers that run those aid camps and not on the institutional strength of the religious groups or cultural societies.
As traditional political, economic, religious, and cultural sources of hope fail, we are now discovering strength in the many individual stories of courage, compassion, and perseverance. They are becoming our sources of hope.
Medical caregivers and other service providers relentlessly on the frontlines every day, often understaffed and under-resourced. Many volunteer groups across the country that have banded together with whatever resources they can muster, assisting even strangers in need. Within our homes, individuals who are juggling the loss of livelihoods, caring for loved ones, sharing with neighbors, or simply fighting to stay alive. The countless untold individual stories of compassion, courage, and perseverance—these are our new sources of hope.
The message of hope as we rise from this despair is that we must let go of the false symbols of hope that had us trapped and return to the core of our individual compassion, courage and perseverance that has allowed us to overcome.