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Politics

India, China chip in with aid

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Nepalese police watch an excavator dig through rubble from Saturday's earthquake in Kathmandu.   © Reuters

NEW DELHI -- India and China are contributing to relief efforts in earthquake-ravaged Nepal amid a rising death toll and reports of food shortages in inaccessible areas.

     More than 3,500 people have been confirmed dead, 6,500 injured, and hundreds of thousands displaced since the magnitude-7.8 temblor struck Saturday.

     The epicenter was about 80km northwest of Kathmandu, the capital. The quake also caused damage in India and China, with 62 and 20 confirmed deaths. And an avalanche at the base camp of Mount Everest claimed at least 19 more lives.

     In a radio broadcast, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised an all-out effort to help Nepal. He spoke with Nepali President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala soon after the earthquake hit.

     Modi is monitoring relief operations and has urged the early evacuation of affected people by road to India. Medical personnel have been dispatched along with 22 tons of food, 50 tons of water, and 120 large oxygen cylinders. Ten Indian disaster response teams have been deployed, and another six are being readied. A 40-member army engineering task force has also been sent.

     Indian officials report that 1,935 nationals have been repatriated from Nepal by the air force. Civilian aircraft are also being used in the air bridge between New Delhi and Kathmandu. Other foreign nationals are being evacuated in the effort as well. China has pledged $3.3 million in humanitarian supplies, including tents, blankets and generators, according to the official Xinhua News Agency.

     China has already repatriated 600 nationals. President Xi Jinping promised further assistance Saturday. A 62-member search-and-rescue team from China reached Kathmandu on Sunday, and a 58-member medical team followed Monday.

Competitive giving

Nepal is a strategically important nation nestled between China and India, Asia's two most populous countries.

     "Geographically, India is at an advantage to provide succor," said Pankaj K. Jha, research director at the Indian Council of World Affairs. In strategic influence, he said both India and China are competing for good relations with Nepal.

     "China will definitely have bigger pockets than India and will be trying to pitch in with a lot of men, material and other support," Jha said. India has much to offer in medical and food supplies for rehabilitation assistance, however, and has linguistic and other advantages.

     "Monetary assistance will always be of importance, as Nepal is a relatively poor country," Jha said.

     Xi announced last month $145 million in support for Nepal for infrastructure and transportation development on the sidelines of the Boao Forum for Asia in China's Hainan Province. This supplements existing Chinese annual assistance, recently quintupled to over $128 million.

     Modi visited Nepal last August, announcing a line of credit exceeding $1 billion for infrastructure development and energy projects for the Himalayan country. Modi said then that the trip reflected "our shared heritage of nature, history, culture, spiritualism and religion." He spotlighted the "high priority" placed by his government on relations with Kathmandu.

     India is setting up camps along the border with Nepal to provide assistance to tourists crossing over. Immigration officials have been directed to issue free visas on arrival.

     An Indian army expedition training at Mount Everest's base camp at the time of the avalanche was reported safe despite losing equipment. The contingent helped with the recovery of 19 bodies and the rescue of 61 injured.

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