Print Edition - 2015-05-24  |  Free the Words

A letter to Joanna Lumley

  • How to protect the funds raised in the UK from leakages on the way to victims of the earthquake
A letter to Joanna Lumley

May 23, 2015-

Dear Lumley didi,

I cannot explain how proud and grateful I am to find you beside us, far in the UK, collecting money to support the victims of the earthquake in the dispersed hills and mountains of Nepal. I salute your resolve and creative ideas. But I hope you realise the huge challenge of spending this money for the benefit of victims in the best possible way. How to protect it from administrative and logistical leakages on the way as well as from the greedy?

Two sides

On one side, you have the Government of Nepal, which considers the ‘one door’ policy the best way to support earthquake victims. The Finance Minister argued in a meeting with donor agencies in Kathmandu on May 15 that such a policy would ensure transparency and avoid the duplication of resources. “There are oversight agencies to look into the transactions done through it,” he said. The minister also claimed that the fund avoid expenditure on administrative purposes.

On the other hand, you have the international donors, who do not quite trust the government’s ability, efficiency, and honesty. There are valid examples of state incompetency, such as the handling of the floods in Surkhet and Bardiya last year by the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund. At the same time, there is no denying the fact that the government should take the lead role in coordinating the international support. Nevertheless, the truth remains that the government must convince donors, with enough homework of its policy priorities and strategies, to help rebuild Nepal.

It appears, however, that there is little to offer on the table.

First, there is no political framework to handle work of this scale. We have neither the constitution nor mandated leaders. The present leaders, who were elected to draft the new constitution, lost political credibility when they failed to deliver the statute within a year as promised. Similarly, local bodies have remained without elected leaders for over a decade.

Interestingly, following the earthquake, political parties have not been bold enough to put aside their differences and come to national consensus to build the necessary policy framework to deal with the crisis. Similarly, the government seems susceptible to internal and external pressure to mobilise necessary resources. For example, there is widespread suspicion that the government’s refusal of the British Chinook helicopters for aid were based on external pressure more than local requirements.

Second, the government has failed to mobilise professional teams to disaster-hit areas for quick assessment and thereby, generate clear knowledge of the nature and scale of the disaster. For example, there was no authentic knowledge on the cause and effect of the earthquake for the common people, which resulted in them screaming and running out of their houses all because of baseless rumours.

Damage and dimension

Similarly, the government seems to only have understood the figure of damages, but not their dimensions. People have lost their family members, houses, properties, and livestock animals. Public properties such as schools, health posts, hospitals, office buildings, water supplies, and historic monuments have been destroyed. Urban trade and roadside businesses have been destroyed. Young people working in India, the Gulf, Malaysia, and South Korea cannot return home to support their families because there are no employment opportunities at home. The fragility of the mountains, especially glacier lakes, is unknown. Therefore, without a clear understanding of the nature of the problem, how can the government convince international donors to show their support?

Finally, there is a problem in understanding the modalities of rebuilding the livelihoods of victims. People have lost their properties, livelihood, and hope, but they are not charity-seeking poor. They want partnerships. To begin with, they want immediate help to clear the rubble in order to search for their own food grains, clothes, furniture, and other lost properties. Next, they wish to build their own houses on their own land. Similarly, they want support to build common properties, such as health posts, schools, government buildings, etc. A number of buildings that have been damaged will need to be demolished. Equipment and skills are required to demolish these big buildings. Only then, one can have a clear idea on how to build new properties.

However, the government has already announced financial support packages for victims. The word has been given that all houses shall be built by the government. Does this mean that there will be a mega-project under the PM’s Relief Fund to rebuild over 500,000 houses in 14 districts? All donors, as well as receiving households, are confused as to what their role in the rebuilding process is.

A choice to make

Ms Lumley, I have no idea how you wish to spend the money that you have collected. You can donate it to the PM’s Relief Fund, as the government has insisted, or purchase relief materials for distribution, as several other agencies are doing. My only hope is that your support can be as creative and audacious as your initiative.

If we had bold celebrities of your stature in Nepal, perhaps we could have grasped the intensity of the disaster and identified appropriate policy packages, institutional arrangements, and resources. I remember the UK’s support during the 1970s and 80s for hill agriculture research through the Pakhribas and Lumle Agriculture Farms, which made wonderful contributions to agricultural development in the hills and mountains of Nepal. We need such a daring effort once again.

Paudyal is Chairman and Executive Chief of the Rural Self Reliance Development Centre, an NGO


Published: 24-05-2015 06:54

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