‘Nepal on course to ensure inclusiveness’

  • Interview Walton Alfonso Webson

Apr 24, 2017-

Walton Alfonso Webson is the Permanent Representative of Antigua and Barbuda to the United Nations. He is also serving as the president of the Bureau of the Unicef Executive Board. In 2016, he served as one of the four vice-presidents of the bureau.

Webson led a 19-member high-level UN Mission to Nepal this week to assess the work of the UN and visited some districts to interact with the local communities. Binod Ghimire & Manish Gautam talked to him on the UN’s role in post-quake reconstruction and the Sustainable Development Goals. Excerpts:  

Could you elaborate on the purpose of your visit to Nepal at this moment?

The mission is comprised of the representatives from various programmes and agencies of the United Nations from their head offices either in New York, Rome and Geneva. These agencies, in the process of reviewing the country programme and strategic plan, make joint visits to UN’s member states every year and it was Nepal this year.

The primary reason behind choosing Nepal is to have a better idea of the work of the UN agencies in Nepal and to see how these agencies are carrying out their mandates and the directions of the UN. This helps truly understand what they are doing in the field and brings us closer to the ground rather than making decisions from afar. 

How do you assess the works of UN agencies in Nepal?

Basically we tried to look at three things. First, as a UN mandate, we tried to see how well they are working together in close coordination and supporting each other as one UN rather than competing with each other. For example, UNDP and Unicef will be working together to scale up the capacity of the project rather than competing between themselves.

That reflects very much on the field. Secondly, we wanted to see how they responded to the recovery and reconstruction works. After the visit, we are convinced at the significant amount of works done to this regard. Lastly, we also wanted to see the collaboration of the UN agencies with the government.

Our observations show that the UN agencies here are putting in significant amount of effort in disaster recovery to development working closely with the government.

You visited some districts. What is your assessment of the pace of rebuilding quake-ravaged properties?

Yeah, we visited four districts including one hit hard by the disaster. I went to the West but the report from other members of our teams suggests that the recovery and reconstruction is moving along though I am unable to comment on the pace. We certainly have moved from humanitarian support to the development phase.

We are seeing new buildings being constructed with new codes, response to food insecurity is going well so is the social capacity-building process. This shows that both social and physical reconstruction is going along. Though Nepal still needs big help, the process has begun well.

But there are complaints from victims of the slow rebuilding process.

I am sure there are. The UN works with the government and supports it. So it’s not for us to say to the government. I think we are seeing progress but I’m sure a lot more is yet to be done. If there are complaints, the government, together 

with its development partners, has to respond well. And, the UN is always there for support.

As you know, Nepal is a member state that has adopted the Sustainable Development Goals. Where do you think Nepal stands on way to sustainable development?

Nepal is one of the countries which despite different hurdles completed the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals]. This July we are having a high-level meeting in New York where 42 countries including Nepal are voluntarily prepared to present their progress on the SDGs.

That is because countries like Nepal are beginning works towards attaining these goals. We are seeing that with a motto of leaving no one behind in the new democratic process in Nepal, inclusion is ensured in different political structures. Similarly, there are works being done towards controlling child marriage.

There are schools for children with disabilities, one of them I visited, which is a step ahead towards attaining Goal 4. Towards attaining sustainability in terms of environment we saw the places where solar energy is being used. There are lots and lots to be done but these instances show Nepal is taking the agendas seriously. This is just the second year towards attaining SDGs and there are good signs already.

In view of the United States cutting funds to UN, don’t you think this could hamper the goals including the SDGs?

We don’t have any concrete evidence that the US government is cutting its grant and we don’t believe that is something we are yet worried about. The UN is a multilateral organisation where we all work together in any circumstances. The US is a tremendous partner to the UN and I’m sure we will work cooperatively.

The UN believes the US, as a major partner, will continue to play the role it has always been playing.

Inclusion has been an area of UN’s particular concern in Nepal. What is your observation of the situation here?

The issue of inclusion has been well addressed in Nepal’s constitution following the mantra of leaving no one behind. Inclusion policies based on the constitution in the new political dispensation lead me to believe that in a couple of years, in course of addressing SDGs, the issue of inclusion will be addressed effectively.

You visited Nepal when the local polls are just three weeks away. How do you see the preparations for the polls and the people’s take on it?

The people from the district in the West were very much excited for the polls. People, including women, are eagerly waiting for the election not just to cast their votes but to contest. This is a very encouraging sign. 

You have seen both landlocked countries like Nepal and small island countries like yours, Antigua and Barbuda. What could these learn from each other?

Antigua and Barduda is a very small country compared to Nepal and with a very different environment. But there are definitely some matches. We both are very vulnerable to the natural environment. Atigua and Barbuda as an inland state is vulnerable to hurricane and we also get earthquakes and have challenges of drought as well.

On the other hand, Nepal is vulnerable to earthquakes and water induced disasters. So sharing the lessons in disaster preparedness between the two countries against natural exposure would be one very useful way. The other thing is both the countries have huge potential for economic growth, mainly through tourism.

The sharing of experiences on how you promote tourism could be another sector both can benefit.

How do you think Nepal and UN agencies will work together in future?

We remain convinced that UN is doing useful works in Nepal and we look forward to continuing collaboration with the Nepal government. Nepal has been contributing to the UN Peacekeeping mission since 1958 and is the sixth largest troops contributor.

This reflects the level of cooperation between Nepal and the UN, which will continue in the days to come.

Published: 24-04-2017 08:26

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