‘Nobody can do everything, everyone can do something’

- Post Report, Kathmandu

May 4, 2016-

UN Deputy Secretary General Jan Eliasson was in Nepal for a three-day visit to observe post-disaster reconstruction and rally support for Nepal in the run-up to the World Humanitarian Summit to be held in Turkey later this month. Eliasson spoke to the Post. Excerpts:

Can you tell us the purpose of your visit to Nepal?

Of course, the main reason is the horrific disaster that struck your country and the people last year. It was a shock to the whole world. We at the United Nations wanted very much to be helpful—as much as possible. We know basically it will depend on national efforts but we want to show international solidarity and engagement with you.

At the same time, we’re planning for the World Humanitarian Summit which will take place in Istanbul, Turkey. Together with my colleagues in New York and the Secretary General, we decided that I would go to Nepal and prepare for the Istanbul meeting on natural disasters. I will myself also go to the meeting.

So, this visit was in a way preparation. I spent three days discussing the result, response to the disaster, the degree to which one can be better prepared for next time, the degree to which one can ‘build back better’, the different measures that can be taken in different areas, from building standards to socio-economic measures. 

During your trips to Sindhupalchok and Bungamati, you got to see first-hand how earthquake survivors are living and how reconstruction works are going on. How did you find the recovery process going on?

In the 90s, I saw the cyclone in Bangladesh that drowned 190,000 people in 45 minutes. I witnessed the earthquake in Armenia, I followed the Haiti operation from the Swedish perspective, and I know its huge challenge. Having said this, I think there is the need to see an event of this nature as a huge challenge to any society, a huge opportunity to mobilise the whole spectrum of national and international actors. 

I say nobody can do everything; everybody can do something. But I am very proud to say that cooperation between UN agencies and 

the government, at least the district activities, is very good. And we hope that we will be able to move as rapidly as possible. 

How do you assess the role of UN when Nepal is recovering from the Gorkha Earthquake?

We are perhaps the most important international partner. We are not only United Nations as the sum of the agencies, but we are also linked to the 192 member states. And, of course, there was the donor conference that brought the pledges to the fore, but I think it is important that we move to the stage of translating the pledges into programmes. There is increased focus on preparing the projects so that we can pass them to member states and also to the World 

Bank, the IMF and regional banks—for all those willing to help out. Because these 

projects are not only humanitarian actions, they are also development.

As you said, this visit was in preparation for the World Humanitarian Summit. What were the lessons the UN learnt from the earthquakes that struck Nepal last year. What was the UN 


Well, the same experience that we experienced practically in every natural disaster: to react rapidly and in a coordinated fashion. But in Nepal, you’ve huge problems of geography, lack of transportation facilities. But also there is a need in a situation like this to rather immediately set up a coordination mechanism and move together. And, it is surprising, in how many areas you need to have that coordination—in logistical terms, in terms of delivering humanitarian assistance, you have to the deal with shelter needs but you also need to have the political support. You need to have as broad a political support as possible for these operations. And, I would want to see this as a huge problem of course, but also as a huge opportunity. You have a historical task now to set the stage for better future by ‘building back better’, by mobilising everybody around a common goal and look more long term than short term.

Given the slow progress in reconstruction works in Nepal one year after the quake, how much is the UN committed to reconstruction works in the long term?

We are committed to short-term, medium-term and long-term. We have almost 2,000 people working in Nepal—most of them Nepalis. We have mobilised young people, we’re very proud to see UN volunteers who’re joining the efforts. And, we see this as a very important mission and we also want to send a message to the World Humanitarian Summit that we should have better preparedness for natural disasters. I know from experience that you can improve the preventive measures, build resilience even in natural disaster situations. 

There is so much one can do to prepare the ground by building standards, but also go stronger into the economic and social processes and learn that it is often the poorest people who are paying the higher price. So we will be there at your side and my visit is meant to send the signal to Nepal and the Nepali people that we are there to help.

UN has been one of Nepal’s oldest development partners. It is obvious that, after the earthquake, one major area of UN engagement will be post-earthquake rebuilding. But Nepal has also been planning to graduate into a middle income country. What would be the UN support for this?

Nepal has been so successful in achieving several of the millennium development goals. I have been very much involved in the negotiation for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which is a new set of goals. I had a meeting with the vice-chairman of National Planning Commission, where I was briefed about integrating these 17 SDG goals into national planning. These are not only related to development assistance but also to change we have to make in our society to make it more sustainable.

Published: 04-05-2016 07:53

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