- The government has to make it easy for individuals and organisations willing and able to help Nepal to do so
May 4, 2015-
In a world jaded by news of disasters, where there are endless appeals made by charities to raise funds for one disaster-stricken part of the world or another, the world media has been abuzz with the calamity in Nepal since the 7.9 Richter Scale quake struck ten days ago. The last time Nepal had made it to the headlines so extensively was during the royal massacre in June 2001.
Like all Nepalis living in Nepal or overseas, I have been feeling the pain that has befallen my country. The Nepali diaspora and other well-wishers have been mobilising, like no other time in my living memory, due to the need to help Nepal. My own little attempt at fundraising in a small department of a hospital in little Ireland has seen people donating money open-heartedly. Even the widowed, elderly mother of one of my colleagues contributed. It is not as if I work with people who have a lot of money to splurge on extras. They are mostly hard-working people doing their best to keep the banks from taking their homes.
There have been many initiatives much bigger than mine to raise funds for the earthquake victims in Nepal who need shelter, food, water and sanitation. An appeal by the British actress Joanna Lumley—whose father was a British Gurkha officer—raised a whopping 19 million pounds in one day. Admittedly, five million pounds came from the British government. The rest was donated by ordinary British people—people with everyday worries about their everyday needs. The social media network Facebook pledged to match up to $2 million in donations. Within two days, $12 million were raised. The Canadian government has pledged to match every dollar in donation to all registered Canadian charities working in Nepal. These are just a few examples.
The goodwill is pouring in from a lot of quarters. People of all nationalities, ethnicities, creed and colour have been giving. And giving generously—money, goods, food, personnel and medicines.
In the meantime, the news from Nepal is that the government continues to be stuck in the quagmire of ineptitude and squabbling even at this crucial hour. The ‘state of emergency’ does not seem to have resulted in the bureaucracy’s surmounting the obstacles of red-tape. There is news of aid goods arriving and floundering at the Kathmandu airport, with people keen to distribute them paralysed by the bureaucracy. There is also indication that the responsibility for taking decisions is being flung from one arm of the government to another, which eventually leads to inaction. The announcement by Nepal Rastra Bank on April 30 that all monies coming into the country have to be channeled through the ‘Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund’ has also raised many eyebrows. It was not until May 2, that the Prime Minister’s Office issued an official clarification that this directive “only affects bank accounts that were opened in the last 6 days under the direct subject of ‘quake relief’. People, agencies, NGOs, donors with established bank accounts before April 25 can continue to receive and mobilise funds just as they used to in the past.”
This is a time of emergency! Many Nepalis, including erstwhile members of the café society, are doing good voluntary work for the benefit of their compatriots during this hour of need. I doubt many or any of them had registered NGOs before the earthquake. The government directive supposedly in place to ensure against fraud has resulted in thwarting these people with personal connections around the globe from receiving much-needed funds for the relief effort.
The Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund is the body everyone is directed to send monetary contributions to. It is purportedly shielded from the interference of politicians, with the funds channeled through the Chief District Officer in each disaster-struck area. In theory, it all sounds pukka. However, regulations are only as good as the people who monitor and enforce them. Sadly, the Nepali government has yet to earn the credibility to assure people that funds will not be misappropriated. According to the corruption watchdog Transparency International, Nepal has a dubious reputation of being one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Who can ignore the fact that some members of the present cabinet have a less than a pristine reputation when it comes to accountability? Who in her right mind would wish to contribute to the coffers of the corrupt? In addition to corruption, the other major concern is that the government is regarded as being inept. If they do not even have the nous to release the goods meant for the earthquake victims from the airport and border customs in a timely manner, how can they be trusted to distribute them properly?
Set an example
I agree that this is not the time to criticise the government for its many shortcomings, including the fact that the Prime Minister did not have the sense to address the terrified nation until three days after the earthquake. This is the time for all to come together and repair damages. The government has to make it easy for individuals and organisations willing and able to help Nepal to do so. It has to be transparent in how it spends the aid monies received. The needs of the country are many—the immediate ones being shelter, food and safe drinking water, as people slowly regain control over their lives and livelihood. We have to prove to friends of Nepal near and far that their generosity and goodwill will have not been squandered. Nepal should not be the reason that the next time disaster strikes, some corner of the world (another tsunami/flood/earthquake/war/epidemic might well be just around the corner), people who may otherwise have been generous do not start giving in to apathy—and flick to the next channel when a charity appeal is broadcast.
Thapa, originally from Kathmandu, now lives and works in Dublin, Ireland
Published: 05-05-2015 09:06