(Re)Building the State

Border Infrastructure, Chinese Development, and the Politics of Aid in Post-Earthquake Nepal

Galen Murton

Publication Date: 2015

Report Overview

This report reviews four weeks of research on the politics of post-earthquake reconstruction, humanitarianism, and state building in Nepal. Although field research specifically examined the role and impacts of Chinese relief aid to Nepal, this report reviews and exposes the broader political constraints and reconstruction paralysis that currently threatens social and economic wellbeing across the country. While this project is an integral part of my larger dissertation and humanitarian work in Nepal, the scope of this report is limited to field research conducted from December 27, 2015 – January 18, 2016 and the general climate of post-earthquake reconstruction and recovery efforts. Funding for this project was a Quick Response Grant ($3000) from the Natural Hazards Center of the University of Colorado Boulder.

State of the Field

The Nepal earthquakes of April-May 2015 have significantly transformed Nepal-China relations and presented a new stage for Beijing to act as a global humanitarian player. In addition to causing nearly 9000 deaths and incalculable losses to infrastructure across both public and private spheres, the earthquakes triggered landslides and blocked roads throughout the Himalaya. In spring 2015, the People’s Republic of China launched a massive humanitarian aid operation to Nepal – its largest ever – in immediate response to this devastation. In order to alleviate an economic and mobility crisis that threatened to further exacerbate Nepal’s humanitarian emergency, the Chinese paramilitary Armed Police Force took responsibility for clearing landslides and opening roads between Nepal and China in the districts of Dolakha and Rasuwa. Further to the west in Mustang – a district strongly affected by the earthquakes but absent from official registers for international aid – help was also needed. At a meeting in mid-June, Chinese representatives solicited advice from local community leaders in Mustang as to how the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu could best support villages that, more than two months after the initial earthquakes, had yet to receive direct relief assistance. Chinese efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, restore infrastructure, and reopen transport corridors with Nepal symbolizes Beijing’s increasingly close relationship with Kathmandu and demonstrates how China’s new humanitarian actors aimed to fill a void left open by both the Government of Nepal and the international aid sector.

More than eight months after the initial earthquakes, the Government of Nepal has yet to spend even one dollar of international aid on reconstruction. Despite numerous international efforts to provide humanitarian assistance, political infighting and perennial nepotism have paralyzed reconstruction efforts (Shakya 20161). At the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction (ICNR) held in Kathmandu in June 2015 (INRC 20152), the Foreign Ministers of both China and Delhi pledged $480 million and $1 billion, respectively, significant contributions to the $4.6 billion pledged overall (Giri 20153); none of these donations have yet been put to use. Following the ICNR, the promulgation of a Nepali Constitution became a key condition for the allocation of this international aid. Motivated by this cash carrot, elites from the major political parties drafted and approved a controversial constitution in August 2015 that neglected, if not outright ignored, the very provisions for minority rights that had delayed the constitutional promulgation for nearly nine years. Not to be sold on this expeditious effort of political maneuvering, opposition parties representing gender activists (women and LGBT), indigenous and tribal groups or “scheduled castes” (janajatis), and leadership from large minority populations (Madhesis) began to agitate.

A significant outcome of post-constitution protests and blockades is a national fuel crisis and nearly complete paralysis of reconstruction efforts across Nepal. Protests in southern Nepal quickly turned violent, with over 50 dead, and by October 2015 resulted in blockades and trade embargoes at Nepal’s border crossings with India, where Madhesi populations are concentrated (Guardian 20164). Nepal historically imports 100% of its petroleum products from India, and with these borders closed, domestic demands for petroleum consumption soon escalated into a full-blown fuel crisis. While the Government of Nepal immediately blamed this crisis on the Indian political leadership in Delhi (Pandey 20155) – and Chinese interventions made a symbolic but largely nominal drop in the bucket delivery of 12 fuel tankers from Tibet to Kathmandu (Prasain 20156) – a robust and highly lucrative black market soon developed, sustained through collusion between Madhesi activists, the Nepali Police, and select members of the Kathmandu establishment. The day to day experience of this fuel crises is a 300% inflation in gasoline and diesel prices, a severe limitation of propane and kerosene cooking gas, and the virtual shut-down of all construction industry. As such, earthquake reconstruction, road repairs, hydropower development, and other infrastructure programs have come to a stand still (Shrestha 20167).

Concurrent with protests in southern Nepal, gas shortages across the country, and astonishing negligence from Kathmandu’s political leadership, government action towards earthquake reconstruction took shape solely in bureaucratic form. In December 2015, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) evolved into the Housing Reconstruction and Recovery Platform (HRRP). The Government of Nepal appointed Sushil Gyawali, a career bureaucrat with limited experience in housing, reconstruction, or development, as CEO of the NRA-HRRP (Sangroula 20158). Within days of his appointment, Gyawali held a public meeting for members of the international aid and earthquake reconstruction committee. At this meeting, I met and observed many members of the government and NGO aid sector, including country and project directors from USAID (USA), GIZ (Germany), GOAL (Ireland), and JICA (Japan) as well as UNICEF, Save the Children, CRS; interestingly, representatives from both India and China were conspicuously absent. Amidst platitudes about commitments to reconstruction and intentions to move deliberately and efficiently, on January 10, 2016 Gyawali announced that no post-earthquake reconstruction would officially commence, and no relief money would be directly distributed to earthquake victims, until April 25, 2016 – one year to the day from the initial earthquakes (Sangroula 20169).

Amidst the transition between the NRA and HRRP, both Nepal’s constituency and the international community learned, directly and disappointingly, that it would take the Government of Nepal at the very least a full twelve months to commence post-earthquake reconstruction of its country – and this only if things actually start happening in late-April. Instead of working in earnest towards national reconstruction, Gyawali identified the need to establish district and village level committees to conduct feasibility studies that would then inform planning meetings towards the designation of actual reconstruction programs (Sangroula 20169). Or, rather, the reconstruction of Nepal will wait for the standard cycles of bureaucracy, hierarchy, and money to run their course. An increasingly common conversation in Kathmandu now asks what one can expect to be left of the $4.4 billion in aid pledged at the ICNR and, perhaps, if Nepal’s political elites will in fact request and host yet another international donors conference (Himalayan Times 201610) in order to reach the relief aid total of $6.7 billion as estimated by the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (Giri 20153). Where and to whom these funds will actually go is a serious concern and dubious question.

Research Questions

This project investigated Chinese humanitarian aid and other post-earthquake interventions in Nepal and asked how borders, roads, commerce and humanitarianism shape state-making projects across Nepal. I generated data to answer this question by asking three operational sub-questions: 1. In what districts and to what extent has China provided post-earthquake humanitarian assistance to Nepal? 2. In what ways is China’s response to the earthquake emergency in Nepal distinctly different from that of other international actors? 3. How does Chinese foreign aid articulate with Nepali state-making projects through processes of infrastructure development and trans-border trade? Answers to these questions will produce knowledge on the emerging role of China in global disaster management and the ways in which Chinese aid to Nepal (and elsewhere) is distinct from other models of humanitarian aid and development.

There was a near complete suspension of effective earthquake reconstruction during my time in Nepal in December 2015-January 2016. Because of this grinding halt to recovery efforts, it was particularly difficult to answer some of these questions, especially #2, as neither Chinese foreign aid nor other foreign aid was being put to use by the Government of Nepal this winter. However, despite this virtual paralysis of reconstruction efforts, Beijing did in fact play a significant role in alleviating pressure – symbolically if not structurally – created by the fuel blockade with India. I will address the geopolitics of post-earthquake reconstruction and the broader climate of international intervention in Nepal in the Research Findings section below, particularly in the context of connections between Chinese aid, international trade, and (re)building infrastructure across the Nepali state.


Research was conducted in Kathmandu as well as Rasuwa and Nuwakot Districts with earthquake victims, government officials, NGO professionals, community leaders, and academic experts about the struggle to rebuild without direct support from – and actually in the face of obstruction posed by – the Government of Nepal. Methods included semi-structured interviews, participatory observation in reconstruction planning and operations, daily media analysis, and discourse analysis of popular social and government narratives about the challenges, obstacles, and critical needs for post-earthquake reconstruction. Travel to Rasuwa was made by motorcycle to enable ground-level assessments at multiple villages. Data was collected at the following locations with respective informants and for specific periods:

Research Sites, Informants, Sample Size and Characteristics

In Kathmandu, research includes:

  • Attendance and participation at the NRA and HRRP meetings. This includes observations and dialogue with representatives from the Nepali government, international donor, and national NGO communities, including USAID, JICA, Save the Children, etc. (n=5)
  • Email correspondence and review of weekly updates from the HRRP list-serve (timeline = 30 Dec 2015 – present)
  • Interviews and planning meetings with Kathmandu-based architects and engineers on strategies and practices for national reconstruction both with and without financial and logistical support from the Government of Nepal. This includes meetings with members of the Colorado professional chapter of Engineers Without Borders working in Nepal (n=5)
  • Attendance at weekly meetings of the Langtang Reconstruction and Management Committee and interviews with group leaders and NGO affiliates on the current status and future plans of village reconstruction in the Upper Langtang Valley (n=5)
  • Consultations and meetings with academic and development professionals in Kathmandu on the struggle to rebuild and problems generated and compounded by the national fuel crisis (n=10)
  • Semi-structured interviews with community leaders and the wider public from Mustang on village reconstruction and Chinese aid to the district (n=10)
  • Observation of reconstruction efforts and actors throughout Kathmandu across residential neighborhoods, UNESCO World Heritage Sites (Bhaktapur and Boudha), and central business districts (timeline = 20 days on-site and 3 weeks ongoing remote assessments)
  • Daily review of mainstream and alternative media reports on politics of Nepal earthquake reconstruction and aid (timeline = ongoing May 2015 – present)

In Rasuwa and Nuwakot, research includes:

  • Grounded observations of district-wide damage and reconstruction projects via motorcycle travel between Kathmandu and Nepal-China border at Rasuwaghadi (timeline = 4 days)

  • Focused, on-site village-level evaluation of earthquake damage, recovery, and reconstruction in severely affected areas previously visited in May and July 2015, including but not limited to: Rasuwaghadi, Timure, Old Syabru, Dhunche, Grang, Kalikisthan, Betrawati (timeline = 4 days)

  • Community meeting and focus group with representatives from every family of Old Syabru on plans for reconstruction without Government of Nepal support (n=10)
  • Interviews with members of the Timure and Syabru community on actions and strategies for reconstruction without Government of Nepal support and in the face of Chinese aid connected to road and hydropower development (n=3)
  • Interviews with traders and border officials at Kyirong-Rasuwa border on trans-border trade, aid, and earthquake relief between China and Nepal (n=3)
  • Interviews and planning meeting with educators and school directors in Kalikisthan, Nuwakot: Director of Bal Mandir School for Disabled Children and Green Garden Boarding School (n=3; timeline = 5 January 2016 – present)
  • Preliminary planning and ongoing participatory coordination for Old Syabru reconstruction between Sunil Lama Tamang and Rasuwa Relief (n=3; timeline = 5 January 2016 – present)
  • Planning and ongoing participatory coordination of traditional Tibetan medicine (sowa rigpa) medical clinics for villages of Upper Rasuwa (Syabru, Gatlang, Langtang) directed and operated by Lo Kunphen Medical School amchis with support from Rasuwa Relief and DROKPA (n=3; timeline = 15 January – present)

In Boulder, research includes:

  • Conversations and interviews with development professionals of USAID, Engineers Without Borders, University of Colorado (Center for Asian Studies, Geography, INSTAAR, IBS, etc.) and members of Nepali and Himalayan communities (n=5)

Total Sample Size: n = 65

Changes to Schedule

My research program differed from my research proposal in two significant ways. First, my research in Nepal was limited as a result of the severe fuel crisis. While I was able to conduct an extensive series of interviews in Kathmandu and Rasuwa, I was unable to reach Pokhara or Mustang. In lieu of on-location interviews with members of the Mustang community at these sites, I instead conducted interviews in the Kathmandu neighborhoods of Boudha and Swayambu, where many members of the Mustang community spend the winter months. Second, I was unable to secure funding for research at the Cornell University library and Nepal archives. As a result of this limitation, the current research project will not include archival research in Ithaca, NY on the historical legacy of Chinese foreign aid and infrastructure development in Nepal. Instead, I will continue to research the political dynamics of foreign aid, disaster capitalism, and post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal via library holding and media resources from Boulder, CO.

Research Findings and Interpretations

This research project asked how China has acted in post-earthquake Nepal and the ways in which borders, roads, commerce, and humanitarianism shape state-making projects across Nepal as related to Sino-Nepali relations. This broader question was engaged by asking the following sub questions and yielded the respective insights:

  1. In what districts and to what extent has China provided post-earthquake humanitarian assistance to Nepal?

In addition to field visits to earthquake affected districts along and in close proximity to the Nepal-China border (Rasuwa and Nuwakot), I examined the impact of Chinese earthquake aid to Mustang through semi-structured interviews as well as Chinese aid to Dolakha and Sindupalchok via media analysis. Textual and discourse analysis of popular and state-based Nepali and Chinese media sites, NGO literature, international relief maps, and reports by the UN, the Government of Nepal, and the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction (INCR) revealed that Chinese aid, infrastructural repair, and wider humanitarian support is strongly focused in the Nepal-China border areas. Key themes of analysis included emergency search and rescue operations, road openings, village reconstruction and electrification, cash and in-kind donations, and specific locations and durations of China’s relief efforts in Nepal. Chinese earthquake relief was performed at the following district levels:

Chinese presence and role in Rasuwa:

  • Road clearing between Syabru Besi and Rasuwaghadi
  • Excavation and clearing of landslide at Rasuwaghadi border post
  • Repair and reconstruction of Kyirong-Rasuwaghadi bridge
  • Emergency fuel deliveries from Tibet to Kathmandu through Rasuwa
  • Chinese hydropower projects suspended first due to earthquake and second due to fuel
  • Widespread reports of severe damage to Chinese villages and infrastructure on Tibet side
  • Limited physical presence of China in Rasuwa but financial and infrastructural support
  • Timure an increasingly borderlands boom town and corridor for Chinese imports
  • Major Chinese export-imports are Corrugated Iron (CGI) and Xinjiang apples
  • Widespread discussion and speculation in Syabru of Chinese investment and development for new road construction and expansion between Syabru and Betrawati
  • Increasing indication that Kyirong-Rasuwa road will become new, primary transport corridor between China and Nepal (due to continued closure of Friendship Highway)

Chinese presence and role in Dolakha-Sindupalchok:

  • Friendship Highway road clearing between Kodari and Barabise (Sindupalchok)
  • Excavation and clearing of landslides along Friendship Highway
  • Friendship bridge remains closed but repaired-buttressed with temporary army support
  • Trade and traffic remains offline between Khasa and Kathmandu along Friendship Highway – the primary transport corridor between China and Nepal
  • Widespread reports of severe damage to Chinese villages and infrastructure on Tibet side
  • Khasa population relocated to Shigatse, Tibet
  • Border closure and trade suspension presents severe impacts to local citizenship mobility, market dynamics, trade patterns, and broader political economies
  • Slow repair and continual closure further indicates that Kyirong-Rasuwa road will likely eclipse Friendship Highway as primary transport corridor between China and Nepal

Chinese presence and role in Mustang:

  • Earthquake relief from Chinese side
  • Renewal of 5-year food aid scheme
  • Village distribution of CGI, cement, portable solar units via Mustang VDCs
  • Aid materials dropped at Chorten Markog at Kora la border crossing
  • Aid provisions negotiated between Mustang leadership and Chinese and Tibetan leaders directly from Dangbochen, not via Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu
  • Government of Nepal (GoN) focus on roads as vectors for tourism in northern border areas and GoN Communist Party collaboration with China
  • Chinese aid augmented additional aid distribution in Mustang
  • GoN: political parties pledged Rs 70,000 to affected families through CDO
  • Sakya Relief Fund: US-based Mustang community distributed Rs 3000/house
  • Yulha Relief: New York-based NGO provided tents, Rs, and reconstruction support for most severely affected villages of Ghilling and Namgyal
  1. In what ways is China’s response to the earthquake emergency in Nepal distinctly different from other international actors?

I analyzed media, NGO, and government reports to better understand why the Nepal earthquakes inspired China to launch its largest-ever humanitarian aid operation. Beyond China’s increasing role as a global player in international humanitarian efforts, I have yet to draw a final conclusion on the motivation behind China’s unprecedented level of humanitarian commitment to Nepal. However, it is evident that Beijing’s interest and activity in Kathmandu comprises three key considerations: the development of energy resources and access to hydropower infrastructure; the expansion of transport corridors for increased export and trade to Nepal and India; and close observation of and control over Tibetan exile communities across Nepal. These dimensions of Chinese interests and engagements in Nepal are further complicated by Beijing’s challenge to Delhi’s historical hegemonic power in Kathmandu and ongoing paradigm shifts in influence and dependencies between Nepal, India, and China.

In Nepal, I studied Chinese relief efforts in the context of and in comparison to other nations’ humanitarian actions. I deepened this understanding through personal observations in both field-based earthquake affected areas and in the socio-political spaces of reconstruction planning meetings held by government bodies as well as international NGOs. I collected multiple reports on the empirical experiences of aid operators in Nepal, including but not limited to those affiliated with the UN Office for the Coordination oh Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA), US Agency for International Development (USAID), Department for International Development (DFID-UK), and GOAL International, all of with whom I had pre-existing working relationships.

The fact that Chinese representatives were consistently absent from the Kathmandu-based meetings of the international aid coordination committees (Cluster Meetings) as well as subsequent Government of Nepal reconstruction meetings (NRA and HRRP) is a key point of divergence for Chinese foreign aid and humanitarian practice. However, despite this absence in the chambers of Kathmandu, Chinese relief services deployed many of the most effective emergency relief units for both emergency earthquake response and more sustained infrastructural repair and road opening. It is this distinctiveness in form and practice of Chinese aid to Nepal that this project aimed to analyze. However, as a result of the virtual suspension of all relief and reconstruction efforts during my most recent research period in Nepal, I was unable to gather more immediate information on the policy and methods of Chinese relief aid in post-earthquake Nepal.

    • In what ways does Chinese foreign aid articulate with Nepali state-making projects through processes of infrastructure development and trans-border trade?*

I utilized media resources, archival documents, and China-Nepal border records as well as semi-structured interviews to gain sharper insight into the “specificities” (Lee 2009) of China’s post-earthquake role in Nepal’s Tibetan border districts of Mustang and Rasuwa as well as the historical and present absence of the Nepali state in these particular spaces. Preliminary analysis for this study employs three chronological frames (pre-earthquake, earthquake emergency, and post-earthquake) to contextualize where, when, and in what ways Chinese aid and relief operations have functioned to buttress and/or replace Nepali state services in borderland districts. Without examining the specificities of these particular time frames here, research findings demonstrate the importance of trans-border infrastructure for regional political economies in the context of China’s ongoing and expansive presence in Nepal and Kathmandu’s claims for and representations of state making in historically peripheral spaces.

In significant ways, the earthquake underscores the need for and motivates the development of additional transport corridors between China and Nepal and broader networks of road infrastructure in Nepal more generally (Shrestha 2015). This is particularly evident in Rasuwa and Mustang, the focal points of my research project. As discussed above, road expansion in Rasuwa and Nuwakot is a controversial topic and an issue that continues to divide local constituents (or “project affected people”) and more distant advocates and detractors in Kathmandu. The expansion of the current Rasuwa road into a Syabru-Galchi Highway entails broadening the road up 30 meters in width. The prospects for trade throughput and associated revenue generation is also offset by local concerns over access, pollution, crime, and environmental degradation. However, in spite of the polarizing effects of support and opposition, such road developments are fundamental to larger narratives of Nepali state-making through the development (bikas) of both infrastructure and people.

In Mustang, road and infrastructure developments are similarly controversial and yet discussions have accelerated in the wake of the Nepal 2015 earthquakes. In November 2015, the GoN commenced feasibility studies for the expansion and blacktopping of the Pokhara-Jomsom-Lo Monthang road. These studies include environmental impact assessments, evaluations of carrying capacity for the Annapurna Conservation Area Program (ACAP), and considerations of opening the Nepal-China border at the Kora la for foreign travelers (mainly international tourists and Indian pilgrims on the Kailas yatra). One informant stated what many others suggested, that “if (you) work hard, border will open and trade will grow.” Others, however, expressed that although business interests could be met with road development and border openings, the fragile ecosystems of Mustang would be immediately and severely threatened and that the area therefore is not suitable as a new China-Nepal transport corridor. Amidst these debates, bridge construction has commenced at several of the key chokepoints along the Pokhara-Jomsom-Lo Monthang road, specifically at Jomsom, Kagbeni, and Tsele. According to informants, although the Chinese Embassy has offered to fund several of these road development initiatives in Mustang, neither the GoN nor local leadership has taken up the offer from Beijing; conversely, the Indian Embassy is funding the bridge repair and expansion in Jomsom.

Finally, Nepal’s civil society has proven itself to be one of the most significant players in the overall earthquake emergency response and longer-term post-earthquake reconstruction effort. Largely because of the weak responses of and unreliable actions of the GoN, numerous villages across Nepal have commenced reconstruction altogether outside of the official and formal mechanisms of the NRA and HRRP. Although operating outside of the NRA-HRRP frameworks will jeopardize many earthquake affected families ability to receive state charity (promised to be 1 lakh NRs or approximately USD $2000), such action is by and large the only way to get things done in Nepal today. This is what Dinesh Paudel has identified as the “anarchy of reconstruction,” the reality that effective relief efforts have and continue to be small is scale, localized, spontaneous, and non-bureaucratic. These efforts have been led and maintained by an eclectic and earnest array of actors, including but not limited to: Nepalis with international networks and remittance resources; Tibetan Buddhist monastic centers; outreach by members of the trekking industry; and the Nepali middle-class amidst new awakenings of social justice. While the actions (or inactions) of the GoN remain agonizingly frustrating in the face of ongoing earthquake-related crises, it is the direct and effective work of Nepal’s civil society that instills hope for both present and future reconstruction efforts across the country.

Theoretical and Applied Benefits

This project provides significant theoretical and applied benefits across global, national, and local scales. These include new intellectual contributions for the academy, deep and critical understandings for the international humanitarian community, and direct support to earthquake-affected populations in Nepal.

Benefits to Hazards Response in the United States

This research provides new insights into disaster management and global humanitarianism in the context of international investment, infrastructure development, government failure, and state building in Nepal. Despite the virtual paralysis of reconstruction in Nepal co-generated by ongoing fuel crises and government incompetence, my research opens fresh perspectives on the operations and challenges of the international aid community in Nepal. In the context of the abject failure of the GoN to effectively address the needs of the country, it is essential to reexamine ways in which “interagency and intergovernmental coordination, especially in relation to preexisting disaster plans” takes place. On the basis of further analysis, this research will also transform Nepal-based observations into new understandings on the role of civil society, the Chinese state, and the effectiveness of social media in the “anarchy of reconstruction” to directly advance the objectives of CU’s Natural Hazards Center.

The international aid community, US-based humanitarian agencies, and social scientists alike will benefit by studying the actors and resources employed in relief and reconstruction efforts related to the Nepal earthquake. It looks increasingly likely that Nepal will inevitably join Haiti as a case study of disaster mismanagement and we can expect new and widespread criticism over mishandled relief efforts in Nepal to resonate with similar conversations over the Haiti disaster. Moreover, a more critical engagement with both the Haiti and Nepal earthquakes – particularly in the context of “disaster capitalism” – will help set the terms for better international coordination in disaster response and the eventual transformation and improvement of the humanitarian industry on a global scale.

Benefits to Academic and Nepali Communities

A situated analysis of the ways in which power operates spatially, this study will continue to generate new knowledge on China’s role in defining, institutionalizing, and building the state in Nepal through the intersecting vectors of aid, infrastructure, and humanitarian relief. Advancing my own conceptualization of “development with Chinese characteristics,” my dissertation and relevant articles will contribute new knowledge on the role of China in the humanitarian sector as well as a fresh perspective on Chinese development abroad, especially beyond the more popular contexts of Africa and South America. More broadly, my dissertation and relevant articles will contribute new data for the international community on the role of China in the humanitarian sector as well as a powerful source of global FDI.

In addition to this international scale, the research will support national understandings across Nepal on domestic experiences with investment and development as well as help clarify countrywide confusion on the relationship between international aid, state building, and codification of a constitution. Finally, but perhaps most importantly, this project supports local communities by examining and exhibiting the impact of Chinese interventions in Nepal’s ethnically Tibetan borderland districts. Because a Nepali state presence has long been absent in these spaces, the 2015 earthquakes, Chinese aid, and ongoing international development increasingly present structural, institutional, and social changes that local constituents desperately seek to better understand. This project will inform and in turn support local claims for more contextualized and appropriate development interventions between Nepal, China, and the wider international community.

Personal and Humanitarian Benefits

The April-May earthquakes and subsequent fieldwork in Nepal changed my larger dissertation research project in both theoretical and practical ways. I have gained invaluable personal experiences through volunteer emergency relief work in response to the earthquake. In addition to conducting dissertation research during the earthquakes in Nepal, since May 2015 I have also coordinated field and fundraising operations for Rasuwa Relief, an emergency aid organization I co-founded to deliver humanitarian relief to a region severely affected by the earthquakes yet underserved by the international aid community: https://www.facebook.com/groups/rasuwarelief/

As of August 2015, Rasuwa Relief has raised nearly $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations, supporting the delivery of more than 20 tons of emergency supplies, the construction of Temporary Learning Centers as well as sanitation and solar electricity stations, scholarships for marginalized children, training programs for displaced mountain guides and tourism entrepreneurs, and health clinics for both western allopathic and traditional Tibetan medicine.

As a result of these dual yet complementary experiences of graduate fieldwork and grassroots relief work, I have gained a unique perspective on the roles of various humanitarian actors in Nepal. This nuanced view is particularly important to understanding where and when the Government of Nepal has been absent in earthquake relief and how both civil society and foreign actors have provided key services to fill holes in humanitarian aid across Nepal.


  1. Shakya 2016 http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/news/2016-02-02/reverse-gear.html 

  2. INCR. 2015. International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction. Accessed September 1. http://icnr2015.mof.gov.np/index.php 

  3. Giri 2015b http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2015-06-25/generous-aid-pledges-delightnepal.html 

  4. Guardian 2016 http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/feb/03/nepals-fuel-smugglers-border-blockades 

  5. Pandey 2015 http://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/india-hasnt-imposed-any-blockade-claims-indian-ambassador-tonepal/ 

  6. Prasain 2015 http://kathmandupost.ekantipur.com/printedition/news/2015-10-29/nepal-inks-historic-oil-agreementwith-china.html 

  7. Shrestha 2016 http://nepalitimes.com/article/nation/delay-in-big-projects,2838 

  8. Sangroula 2015 http://www.myrepublica.com/politics/story/33940/nra-to-take-some-time-to-be-up-and-running-ceogyewali.html 

  9. Sangroula 2016 http://myrepublica.com/politics/story/34723/reconstruction-to-begin-only-after-mid-april.html 

  10. Himalayan Times 2016 http://thehimalayantimes.com/opinion/editorial-ill-conceived-idea/ 

Suggested Citation:

Murton, G. (2015). (Re)Building the State: Border Infrastructure, Chinese Development, and the Politics of Aid in Post-Earthquake Nepal (Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Research Report Series, Report 259). Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder. https://hazards.colorado.edu/quick-response-report/re-building-the-state

Murton, G. (2015). (Re)Building the State: Border Infrastructure, Chinese Development, and the Politics of Aid in Post-Earthquake Nepal (Natural Hazards Center Quick Response Research Report Series, Report 259). Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder. https://hazards.colorado.edu/quick-response-report/re-building-the-state