Nepal is coping with the consequences of a disastrous earthquake. During the next months the government will be under a lot of pressure to respond quickly to the needs of the population.
Public procurement units across the country will also feel this pressure. They will be deciding over the purchase of goods and services with taxpayer money. On the one hand, the purchases are urgently needed. On the other, there is a risk that taxpayer money can be wasted if decisions are taken too hastily.
One instrument that can be helpful in this kind of situation is a framework agreement. This should be part of any country’s Disaster Risk Management plan. Its aim is to have a procurement system ready that responds quickly to an emergency. But this quick response should not increase risks beyond what policymakers have defined as acceptable. Special procurement procedures for emergencies should be part of disaster management systems and should especially include tailored framework agreements.
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University (BSMMU) is a leading post-graduate medical institution and the only medical university in Bangladesh. It plays a unique role in enhancing the quality of medical education and research. BSMMU is one of the largest beneficiaries of the Academic Innovation Fund (AIF) under the Higher Education Quality Enhancement Project (HEQEP) which has brought about significant improvements in the quality of medical education and research.
Launching the first-ever virtual classroom for medical education in Bangladesh
Teaching quality in medical education and training is increasingly a thorny issue in Bangladesh. Teachers in medical colleges are inadequate both in quantity and quality. Currently there are only around 120 pharmacology teachers across 86 medical colleges in Bangladesh.
To address the challenge, the AIF supported the Department of Pharmacology of BSMMU to establish the first-ever virtual classroom system for medical college students in Bangladesh. The system has a great potential of changing the landscape of medical education and training in Bangladesh.
The “Virtual Teaching-Learning Program on Pharmacology” sub-project was launched to pilot innovative use of information technology in medical education by establishing a virtual classroom environment. Under the pilot, medical college institutions across Bangladesh are connected to the virtual classroom. It allows senior medical professors in Dhaka and even international experts from abroad to deliver their lectures to students in medical colleges in different regions. Students can attend real-time online classes, download teaching materials, and assess their competence in self-administered test.
“So far 36 topics are available to the students for free. An online question bank has been uploaded containing about 4,000 questions. We also established a synchronous teaching system that is so far connected with 32 medical colleges. Professors in Dhaka now remotely teach classes to students outside of Dhaka, and sometimes international guest lecturers also give lectures via the synchronous system. It is an exceptional experience for students in remote areas to listen and ask questions to renowned medical professionals. The bandwidth of internet connectivity is the only challenge. BSMMU is connected to high-speed Bangladesh Research and Education Network (BdREN), whereas colleges in remote areas have only narrow-band connectivity and cannot receive our synchronous broadcasting. It is now essential for the colleges to get broad-band internet connectivity.” says Professor Mir Misbahuddin, the sub-project manager at Department of Pharmacology, BSMMU.
Establishing a world-class genetic research environment
The “Modernization of Genetic Research Facilities and Patient Care Services” sub-project by the Faculty of Basic Medical Sciences is another success at the BSMMU. The sub-project installed a Next Generation DNA Sequencer, the only one of its kind in the country, and established a modern fully equipped genetic research laboratory. The sub-project aims to promote research on human genetic diseases in Bangladesh, which have never been addressed due to the lack of proper facilities, and invites international experts in genetics and molecular biology to train medical researchers in Bangladesh.
“With this Next Generation Sequencer, we can now analyze the DNA sequence of Bangladeshi citizens and explore the genetic data of most prevalent genetic diseases in Bangladesh.’ explains Laila Anjuman Banu, sub-project manager and professor of Genetics & Molecular Biology. “Currently, we are developing a database of patients suffering from breast cancer and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy in Bangladesh. The database is useful for researchers in Bangladesh for further researches on developing molecular diagnostics and designing targeted therapeutics in the near future. This is a cutting-edge arena for medical research worldwide. We have published two papers already using this new sequencer.” she added.
AIF sub-projects awarded to other departments such as Anatomy, Urology, and Palliative Care have been equally successful.
It is Day Ten since the earthquake struck Nepal and the scale of the devastation is only just becoming evident. The official death toll has now crossed 7,000, of which 5,000 have been confirmed in remote rural areas. As many as 15,000 people are injured, many critically. Aftershocks continue to rattle central Nepal and most people are still too jittery to come to terms with what has happened.
While Kathmandu is steadily fighting to get back to some sense of normalcy, the situation is very different outside the capital where all districts around Kathmandu and between Kathmandu and the tourist town of Pokhara have been very severely affected. Relief supplies - food, water, shelter and medical aid, are slowly starting to move into these areas. Let no one be mistaken, the Nepal earthquake while having impacted parts of Kathmandu quite severely is also a rural disaster of huge proportions.
The World Bank South Asia Disaster Risk Management team and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
arrived in Kathmandu on Thursday to start planning for the post-disaster damage and needs assessment, discuss with the government a planning process for transitioning into early and mid-term recovery and help support the Nepal World Bank office coordinate with other development partners.
We visited the older neighborhoods of Bhaktapur, Basantpur and Patan in the Kathmandu Valley. A majority of the collapsed houses in these areas were old brick and mud structures that had become weak with age. These were densely built neighborhoods with narrow streets and removing debris from the area is extremely challenging. We also visited an area called Gongabu, a relatively new developed suburb with tall framed-structure buildings. We found a lot of collapsed buildings and many 5-6 storey buildings completely tilted which will have to be demolished. These type of suburbs are going to pose a big challenge in Kathmandu.
From Gorkha, epicenter of the earthquake
Over the past few evenings we have been meeting journalists returning from the field. A journalist who had returned from Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquake, described an area that had been very severely impacted. The roads were not passable and he had to walk over 5 kilometers to access villages. Every cluster of hamlets he visited, he found almost all the houses to have collapsed. Families had lost all their stock of grain, which is usually stored inside the house, and were trying to dig through the rubble to salvage whatever they could. This story repeats in most other rural districts which have seen major devastation.
On Saturday I drove to Sindhupalchok, in the mid-hills of Nepal, to the northeast of Kathmandu. The narrow road climbed up and down the shoulders of the hills, along clear streams, through green forests and among fallow terraced fields with neat piles of cow dung waiting to be spread.
In the shade of a pipal tree, one girl sits picking lice out of the hair of another younger girl, her sister perhaps. The road is good, streetside shops are selling breakfast, or groceries, or other supplies, and along many parts of the road the scene from a distance is bucolic: calm, peaceful, normal.
But get closer, and it is quickly obvious that there is little that is normal in Sindhupalchok today. The farther we leave behind the richer neighborhoods of the Kathmandu valley, the deeper we reach into the rural areas, the greater the destruction of April’s earthquakes.
A few kilometers after we cross the Dolalghat River, we come across a hillside hamlet, Pauwathok, where only a few buildings remain standing. Plot after plot along the winding paths contains a ruddy, dusty pile of stone, brick, roof tiles and lumber, the rafters stained black from the indoor kitchen fires.
The women gather near the local temple or a visiting water bowser, or rummage through the rubble of their houses to retrieve what can be reused. An old lady laments the death of one daughter and worries about the fate of another, brought to the hospital in Dhulikhel, 30 km away.
It has been one week since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal, its epicenter 75 km northwest of Kathmandu, and the toll is only beginning to be counted.
As the number of dead rose, to more than 6,000 today, early reports of the destruction inevitably focused on search-and-rescue efforts in the easily-accessible Kathmandu valley, the deadly avalanche at Everest’s base camp, and the collapse of many of the historic Hindu temples in the palace squares of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur.
Stunned by the original quake and the long line of aftershocks—some as large as 6.5 or 6.8 in magnitude—most Nepalis in the first days focused on their immediate needs: connecting with their families, mourning the dead, getting medical treatment for the injured, setting up camp outside of their homes, and laying aside key supplies for the coming days and weeks.
Overnight the Kathmandu valley was interspersed with IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camps, as people pitched tents and built tarpaulin lean-tos in their yards, in public parks, on traffic roundabouts, on sidewalks and plazas, and even on the streets--too frightened to return to their homes as the aftershocks continue to rumble through. For a week they have hunkered down on a bit of grass or pavement, under tarps and blankets, in cold rainy nights made darker by the loss of electricity. For many, it was misery.
By now, all of you must have heard of the massive earthquake and numerous aftershocks that have shaken Nepal over the last few days. As I am writing this, there is another tremor, 36 hours after the initial quake.
I am lucky that my family is safe. We have been fortunate. The majority of the people in Kathmandu are camped out in makeshift tents set up at various open spaces across the city — schools, army barracks and open fields. Some of these are coordinated by the rescue workers while others are set up by local residents. In some places, cremations happen only 5 meters away from where people sleep. The rain makes it very difficult in an already emotionally scarring time. This is just in Kathmandu.
Rural areas, where 80% of Nepalis live, are devastated. Entire villages have disappeared, buried under landslides triggered by the multiple quakes. Where they haven't, village houses, made mainly of mud and wood, have been reduced to dust, leaving people exposed to the elements. This is happening in some of the most difficult-to-reach hilly and mountainous terrain.
The number of casualties rises by the hour. Although my family and I are safe, many of my friends have lost relatives. Many people we know no longer have their houses. Our staff’s granddaughter needs to have her leg amputated. My "Didi" who took care of me as a child and is a second mother to me - lost her cousin who was crushed when their house collapsed. She really does not even know how to begin to mourn, knowing she still has to keep herself and many other safe.
The heritage we have lost is equally unimaginable. Centuries-old temples and palace squares are down in dust. Imagine the Due Torri in Bologna or the Washington Monument in Washington D.C. crumbling into rubble. The loss has been demoralizing.
The international community has reacted swiftly and relief efforts are in full swing. Hercules and IL-76 military aircrafts have been flying around the clock bringing in supplies, relief materials and workers. Kathmandu, a valley, has only two major highways connecting it to the rest of the world by land - one with China and one with India. Reports of damage to those highways has limited what can be brought into the city by land.
However, this is the just the beginning. The greatest challenges are yet to come. The monsoon season is just a month away. The wet monsoon months are synonymous with outbreaks of various diseases including dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. With many people's homes destroyed, crowded camps will continue to provide refuge in the coming months. Such densely packed and crowded places with poor hygiene conditions will be ripe breeding grounds for diseases, especially in Kathmandu, where clean water is a scarcity even under normal circumstances.
Here’s my plea to everyone reading this.
The first response has been absolutely fantastic and lifted our spirits, but the support will need to be sustained over time. Relief will not only be limited to rebuilding but also preventing disease outbreaks, which will be more prevalent during the monsoon months.
We will need clean water, medication, waterproof clothes, and infrastructure support to build hygienic camps for people who have lost their homes.
Dealing with potential outbreaks will be more challenging with this devastation. Please support organizations involved in Nepal’s relief effort and also help build awareness around the impending health and sanitation issues.
It has been a very scary last few days. It has been the first time that I’ve had to confront my own mortality: sitting, waiting in the eerily quiet night knowing there will be another shock. But also overcoming this anxiety to help my family and everyone at home, and then, once they are safe, the rest of the country.
Ahmad Sarmast may owe his life to a fumble with his cellphone. He bent down in his seat to pick up his mobile just as a suicide bomber detonated his charge behind him at a music and theatre performance at the Institut Français d’Afghanistan in Kabul.
The founder and director of the Afghanistan National Institute of Music survived the December blast that killed one and injured more than 10. Dr. Sarmast suffered perforated ear drums and shrapnel in the back of his head. But the experience has not deterred him from his ambition of reviving and rebuilding Afghan musical traditions through establishing and leading the country's first dedicated music school.
“Music represents the right to self-expression of all the Afghan people,” he told me during a tour of the modest building in a suburb of Kabul where ANIM is housed.
The institute’s young musicians, many of them former street vendors or orphans, have toured the world to showcase Afghan music and present a more positive face of the war-torn country. An ensemble played at the World Bank in 2013 and went on to perform amid great acclaim at the Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall in New York.
Home to Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka, South Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world and yet one of the least integrated. Intra-regional trade accounts for only 5% of South Asia’s GDP, compared to 25% of East Asia’s. Meanwhile, with a population of 1.6 billion, South Asia hosts one of the largest untapped talent pools.
To encourage young researchers in the region who aspire to use their research to inform policy making, the World Bank Group calls for research proposals on South Asia regional integration. Proposals will be carefully reviewed and the most suitable proposals (no more than five overall) will be awarded with a grant based on criteria listed below. An experienced researcher from the World Bank’s research department or an external academic will mentor and guide the young researcher in the implementation of the research.