We're not even a week into the aftermath of Nepal's earthquake, but the next few years are easy to foresee.
Shocked and appalled, the world scrambles to help just as it did after the Boxing Day tsunami, after Haiti's quake and cholera, and after West Africa's Ebola. Countries compete to deliver the most personnel and medical supplies. Newspapers in the West run full-page ads by NGOs: "We're helping in Nepal! Give us money!"
The ads will be followed by lots of news coverage, mostly dealing with the hard luck of Westerners trapped on the slopes of Everest or posh hotels in Kathmandu, or with the selfless courage of Westerners helping the miserable Nepalis. We identify with our own folks, after all. All we know about the Nepalis is Sherpas leading rich Westerners by the hand as they pretend to climb Everest. Oh, and the amazing Gurkhas, renowned colonial soldiers who served the British Empire. But they're not really our sort, are they?
We will see predictable stories about the helplessness and corruption of Nepal's government, and then stories about how little real money actually reaches Nepal from the countries that have pledged millions. Sob stories produce both tears and promises of money, and both dry up very quickly. We will collect ourselves, and begin to shake our heads: Really, the Nepalis could do better, couldn't they? And then we wait for the next disaster.
Just yesterday, a writer in The Guardian noted that Nepal's dead and injured have one thing in common: they're poor. More affluent Nepalis live in better-constructed buildings that survived the quake. Poverty is also the common denominator for Haiti and West Africa—and even for the casualties of Katrina, most of whom were poor or old or sick or black, or all four. Rich white countries can take beatings and bounce back (or at least confine the misery to those citizens less rich, less white, and less covered by the media).
Haiti, already poor, still limps from the beating it took in the 2010 quake, and the infliction of now-endemic cholera just a few months later. West Africa will still feel the effects of Ebola at mid-century, even if the disease never returns. Nepal will enjoy the dubious attention of India and China until it's pulled into the orbit of one or the other, or ceases to be of political interest.
Meanwhile, we can expect fresh disasters. Unless they're in boring, non-strategic places like Sudan and the Horn of Africa, we'll pour aid into those disasters too, dispensing Band-Aids and feel-good stories in all directions. Nepal will be as forgotten as Haiti or post-tsunami Sri Lanka.
Globally, we are now something like the 1850s London of Dickens's Bleak House, when a handful of wealthy people thought they had sealed themselves off from the ignorant masses that sustained them. Dickens knew better: Whatever plague killed the poor would eventually find its way up the ladder to the rich. And when it did, it would serve the rich bloody well right.