Interview BØRGE BRENDE

  • There’s a lot of intl commitment to help Nepal’s reconstruction
Interview BØRGE BRENDE

Jun 28, 2015-

The Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Børge Brende was in Kathmandu to attend the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, held on June 25. During the conference, Brende pledged a support of $30 million (Norwegian Kroner 100 million) to Nepal, and assured that the funding would increase later. Akhilesh Upadhyay and Dewan Rai talked to Brende about his personal connection to Nepal, Norway’s commitment to upgrade Nepal’s hydropower sector and to increase development cooperation with Nepal.

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Is it true that your father was travelling in Nepal when the quake hit the country on April 25?

Yes. It was his 10th visit to Nepal. He is 77 years old and was on his way to Kathmandu from Pokhara after trekking in the Annapurna region when the earthquake occurred. He said a number of rocks fell down on the road during the quake. Fortunately, nobody was hit. He stayed here for sometime before returning home. I sent him a text message to share my feelings with him about the country after landing in Kathmandu. I am happy to be here in such a fascinating country. 

 

Is this you first visit to Nepal?

Yes, it is. 

 

Now that we have embarked on the road to reconstruction, what does it mean when you say that Nepal is a ‘focus country’ for Norway?

One of the purposes of my visit was to receive feedback from Nepali ministers and the prime minister on Nepal’s  needs. I have got a pretty good picture based on their input and from those in the embassy. For me, it is important that when you are organising a relief operation, you also have to commit yourself to recovery and long-term development. 

Focusing on long-term development is not a challenge for Norway because we have already been involved in Nepal for decades now. Our annual engagement with Nepal is more than $30 million and we have decided to contribute $30 million more for relief and reconstruction. So moving forward, we will be stepping up our partnership with the country. And the core areas of our focus, which is based on the inputs of the government of Nepal are energy, education and governance. 

 

You mentioned Norway’s commitment to develop Nepal’s hydropower sector in your speech at the inaugural session of the donor conference.

Norway is the sixth largest producer of hydroelectricity in the world and we have some comparative advantages there. We can contribute in this area. 

 

Other areas? 

Then there is education. Still, around four to five percent of Nepali children do not have access to primary education. I discussed with Nepal’s education minister on how we could help in improving the quality of teachers and education in the country. Then comes the governance. We hope that the new constitution is finalised soon, and that better governance structure and transparency is ensured. This is yet another area where we can help.

 

How can you help develop cooperation in hydropower between the two countries?

During my meeting with Nepal’s Minister for Energy she mentioned that Nepal’s hydropower potential is staggering. But despite that staggering potential, Nepal, if I am correct, still needs to import energy. So there is a realistic ambition on part of Nepal to not just be self-sufficient in terms of renewable energy (hydro, solar and wind) in the future, but also to become a major exporter of surplus energy in the region. 

But this ambition cannot be achieved overnight. There are complexities involved in achieving the target. For example, while rivers harbour much energy potential, they are also a major source of irrigation not just in Nepal but also in its neighbouring countries. So, Nepal has to achieve its hydroelectricity potential without having a negative impact on other countries downstream.

 

You also emphasised in your speech that as we move ahead in reconstruction we need to work inclusively with the marginalised groups. 

I have already mentioned the three areas of focus. But we are also working on horizontal areas, such as gender and girl’s right to education, which I have talked about with the Education Minister. It is important for women to do well in education. Then there are marginalised groups we would like to support. They could be disabled, Dalits and indigenous peoples who are in a volatile situation. I also learned that there are over 100 ethnic groups in Nepal. This shows the diversity as well as complexity of the country. In Norway we have one indigenous people—the Sami people. And we have invested a lot of resources to enhance their livelihood. I can imagine the complexity in Nepal as there are so many groups. Besides, we believe in inclusive growth which is sustainable and job-creating. 

 

Norway is hosting a global Education Summit in July, where Nepal is an invitee. What is the purpose of the summit and how can Nepal benefit?

We have seen a lot of positive developments in the field of education following the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000. But we are still facing a situation where 58 million children globally do not have access to primary education or are not enrolled in primary schools. The Oslo Summit will discuss ways to narrow the gap and make the education system work in a way that in the coming years all children can have access to primary education. Secondly, we have seen that access to education is very difficult in the regions suffering from war and conflict. 

Also, after natural disasters education gets affected. In Nepal, 8,000 schools have been partly damaged or wholly destroyed leaving a million children affected. So how can we create an international fund that can reach out to areas where there are natural disasters, wars or conflict? This is another agenda that will be the part of the Summit. 

 

Post-quake, two distinct narratives have emerged in Nepal. One, the Nepali government failed to cash in on the international goodwill especially in the early stage of the relief process. Two, there is also a lot of criticism about foreign funding, especially regarding its accountability and transparency.  

It is a very good question. Let me just share my experience of working as a secretary general of the Red Cross. I was in Port-au-Prince just 36 hours after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. I was also in Pakistan during the floods. 

When there is a major natural disaster in a developing country, where things are not working 

the way they should be, it is very complex and very difficult to handle the situation. Further, if the country has remote areas, things become even more complex. If the airport has limited capacity, we have to make tough priorities. 

How would you look at the Nepal situation as a donor and in terms of donor accountability?

Nepal witnessed all these challenges during the relief operation. My overall  assessment is that the Nepali government has really tried its best. After such a terrible disaster, which took more than 8,000 lives and affected many more, we have to look at things that could have been done differently. 

This disaster has also alerted us that it can happen later in the future. What is important is to learn from the disaster. Over 500,000 households were affected by the quake. It is crucial that we rebuild the houses better. We should make sure that the country is more resilient. 

On the accountability front, I would like to say that it is a very important discourse and I believe no one should be defensive about it. No one is perfect. But going by what we saw in the conference, there is a lot of commitment to support Nepal to move forward. We will continue to work in those areas where the government and people of Nepal think we can add value.

Published: 29-06-2015 08:06

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