Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Security Information for U.S. Citizens in Nepal

From: "US Department of State Warden Message"
Date: May 7, 2010 9:21:43 AM CDT
To: "US Department of State Warden Message"
Subject: Embassy Kathmandu Warden Message - May 7, 2010

The Unified CPN-Maoist Party has been carrying out nationwide strikes since Sunday, May 2, 2010. The U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu has been closed since May 3rd and will likely remain closed until the strikes are lifted. Large demonstrations and traffic disruptions continue to occur around Kathmandu and throughout the country. These strikes, or "bandhs" as they are referred to locally, have been successful in completely shutting down vehicular movement and businesses. As of May 7, 2010, the political situation remains deadlocked and we are unable to predict when the strike will conclude.

Supplies are running short in some places and travel has been disrupted throughout the country. Businesses and public transport have been severely affected. Essential supplies are dwindling and the strike has made it difficult or sometimes prevented supplies from being replenished. U.S. citizens are encouraged to stock adequate supplies of water, food, fuel, money and medication. Shops and markets are allowed to open for several hours each morning and evening. Some hotels are concerned about not being able to provide adequate services to tourists in Nepal. While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, there have been sporadic clashes between the Maoist demonstrators and counter-demonstrators and security forces. U.S. citizens are strongly urged to avoid mass gatherings and demonstrations and to avoid traveling by wheeled transportation, including buses, cars, and bicycles. U.S. citizens are advised to monitor the situation closely on local media outlets and to stay in your homes or hotels and not move throughout the area unless absolutely necessary.

Please remain cognizant and aware of your surroundings and what may transpire. We wish to remind U.S. citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens are therefore urged to avoid the areas of demonstrations if possible, and to exercise caution if within the vicinity of any demonstrations.

The Nepal Tourism Board is running tourist buses to and from the international airport, which remains open. It is difficult to travel within Nepal except by air and some domestic flights also have been disrupted.

For additional information, please refer to “A Safe Trip Abroad.” U.S. citizens living or traveling in Nepal are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. The Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu is located at Maharajgunj. The telephone number is 977-1-4007200, 4007201. The number for after-hours emergencies is 977-1-4007266, 4007269. The fax number is 977-1-4007281. The Consulate’s e-mail address is and its Internet web page is U.S. citizens should also consult the Department of State’s latest Country Specific Information for Nepal and the Worldwide Caution, both available at Up-to-date information on security can also be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the United States or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday (except U.S. federal holidays).

Thursday, May 6, 2010

“Unsustainable” is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Katmandu.

The main wait in Nepal, at present, is for an end to the nationwide general strike that began on Sunday. The Maoists, who led our Constituent Assembly until losing their coalition partners last year, have trucked tens of thousands of party cadres into Katmandu to enforce the strike. They are trying to stage what they call a “people’s movement” to form an all-party government — with the Maoists in control.

Katmandu has come to a halt as bands of Maoists brandishing sticks march through the streets ensuring that government offices and businesses stay shuttered. Schools are closed, households are running out of food, and even money is in short supply, since all the banks are closed. Tempers are flaring. It would not take much for people’s discontent with the strike to tip into civil unrest.

Even before the strike, the country had entered an advanced state of entropy. Unable to meet demand, the Nepal Electricity Authority rations power. Most neighborhoods get only about 12 hours of electricity, mostly after 10 p.m. People must seek out alternative sources of energy, or conduct much of their work outside of normal hours. Electric kettles, ovens, freezers — even lights — are a luxury that most forgo. People carry flashlights at night and read by candlelight.

The other utilities are similarly overstretched. Katmandu’s mains fill with water only once every six days, for about three hours — often at two in the morning. Homeowners must scramble to fill their tanks then, or else truck in water from expensive private companies. The telephone networks are always busy. Calls do not go through or are reduced to gibberish: “I can’t hear you. Can you hear me?” The city’s air is rank with dust and exhaust; its rivers are open sewers that pedestrians scurry by, noses covered.

There are too many vehicles for the few tortuous roads. In the place of public transport, fleets of private vans career from stop to stop with their hapless, nauseated passengers. The existing health care facilities do not meet the needs of the three million residents. There are few jobs. To add to the insecurity, an earthquake — a big one — is long overdue. “Unsustainable” is the word that springs to mind when one thinks of the future of Katmandu.

Bad as this is, it is not the worst of Nepal’s woes. Since long before the strike, we have been waiting to discover what kind of country this is to become. Nepal was promised a new constitution in 2006, when the decade-long Maoist insurgency ended with an agreement between the insurgents and the democratic political parties to make a new Nepal, a federal democratic republic that would replace the autocracies, monarchies and struggling democracies of the past.

This Assembly has, since then, set 11 thematic committees to work drafting legislation. Unfortunately, some of these committees have drafted parallel (and irreconcilable) laws, leaving key issues unresolved. Should the new Nepal be an Indian-style parliamentary democracy or a Chinese-style party dictatorship? Should the Supreme Court be independent, or subject to parliamentary review? What should be the boundaries of the federal states, and how should these states share power with each other and the center? Should executive power reside with the president or the prime minister?

All this — and more — is undecided. A final draft of the constitution is supposed to be submitted by May 28. The deadline will obviously be missed.

And so, instead of waiting for something as constructive and exalted as a constitution, the Nepalese are waiting for more mundane things like for the strike to end, for electricity and water to return.

--Manjushree Thapa is the author, most recently, of the novel “Seasons of Flight.”