Spend it right

  • As in Haiti, foreign donors should not bypass the government of Nepal
- Rajju Malla Dhakal
Spend it right

Jun 25, 2015-

Thursday marked two months since the devastating April 25 earthquake in Nepal, which killed over 8,700 people, left more than 17,000 injured and destroyed half a million houses. According to the official estimate, over eight million people were affected by the earthquake.

The Nepali government was criticised from all quarters for its inefficiency in the immediate aftermath of the quake. Indeed, the government’s performance left a lot to be desired, and apparently it was least prepared to deal with an earthquake of this magnitude. However, we should not underestimate the overwhelming impact of a disaster of this proportion on any governments.

This is not an appropriate time to question the government’s performance and point fingers at it, but a time to lend a hand and assist the state. And though some donors continue to argue that the government is rife with corruption and mismanagement, the Haitian experience has taught us that we should strengthen the government to deal with crisis, instead of weakening it. The sustainability and long-term priorities of relief as well as reconstruction efforts warrant the government to take charge and ownership of the process. Many aid experts and commentators are urging the international community not to ‘make the same mistakes’ they made in Haiti after the January 2010 earthquake.

Sadly, a new contention has surfaced in the aftermath of the quake over relief-distribution and reconstruction mechanism between donor agencies and the Nepali government. Several donor agencies and international non-governmental organisations did not route their support, both cash and in kind, through the government channel citing the incapability of the government. This was despite the fact that the Finance Ministry had made it clear that all funds should be routed through the government channel or the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.

The government expected to garner the resources required for reconstruction through yesterday’s donor conference. The Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) estimated that Nepal’s recovery would require $6.7 billion, roughly a third of the country’s economy.

Although Nepal and Haiti are different in many counts, some parallels can be drawn between the two countries, particularly concerning donors’ financing of reconstruction efforts in the quake’s aftermath. Following are some important lessons from the experiences of Haiti that must be mentioned in the wake of the donor’s conference for their consideration.

Support the government

No one knows a country better than its people and a democratically elected government representing them. Despite the best intention, international agencies and donors cannot replace the state. Similarly, international organisations do not have the same stake in building a community that the locals have. Besides, these organisations and their representatives do not stay forever, while all seasoned development workers know that for aid to work, long-term programmes are needed.

Unlike in Haiti, foreign donors should not bypass the Nepali people and the government while carrying out their development efforts. They should be actively involved in key decisions regarding how this fund is to be spent, and they work closely with Nepali authorities, NGOs and other organisations irrespective of their perceived limitations. Local NGOs must be encouraged to work with the government to ensure they have the right system in place to coordinate efforts effectively, supporting them to prevent pitfalls such as corruption and to facilitate the delivery of the right support to those who need it most urgently.

Jobs are crucial

It is important to issue contracts to local businesses and experts, not international companies, as much possible to ensure that the lessons gleaned from reconstruction stay within the country and jobs are created for the local people. Experiences of other countries show that half of the aid money meant for the victims never reaches the recipients, because it is often spent on administrative costs. According to some Haitian aid workers, the country received a mere 38 percent, or $732.5 million, excluding debt relief, of the donor dollars promised for 2010.

This is something that needs to be avoided in our country. People are in need of gainful employment after a devastating disaster more than ever and putting them to work on tasks of reconstruction and rebuilding is very important. If the government and donors focus on the singular task of ensuring jobs for the survivors, reconstruction could be a success in Nepal.

There is hope

The impact of each disaster is different depending on the socio-cultural, political and economic context of the country.  Surprisingly, this crisis brought the Nepali people together with a spontaneous outpouring of concern and support from both inside and outside the country. More importantly, the voluntary support provided by our youth in the aftermath of the earthquake has instilled optimism and hope in others. They not only helped to restore the faith in goodness and humanity of the youth, but also assured a sound future for Nepal. There is no doubt that if this spirit is retained it will create pressure to perform on those who hold the mandate for the reconstruction and development of this country.

Malla-Dhakal has over 17 years of experience with Canadian, British, Australian and American aid agencies

Published: 26-06-2015 07:53

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