Building a Resilient Nepal


By Tika P Dhakal (KATHMANDU, June 22) – Nepal is hosting International Nepal Reconstruction Conference on June 25th with an objective of raising US $ 7 billion, required for rebuilding the country from the devastation of the April 25th earthquake.

The scale of destruction in Nepal’s April 25th earthquake measures in the fact that it has so far left 9000 people dead, over 22000 injured, and brought its struggling economy to complete ruins, together with the country’s hundreds of thousands of residential buildings.

The housing sector has obviously suffered the most. The Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA), prepared by the Government of Nepal (GoN) with the support of the Asian Development Bank, Government of Japan, European Union, the World Bank, and the United Nations points to the need of rebuilding over half a million houses absolutely destroyed and another 300,000 severely damaged across thirty of the seventy five districts of the country. This colossal work would cost about two-thirds of the total rebuilding requirements.

But the damages are certainly not limited to the private housing. Nepal’s rich cultural heritage sites, the historical temples and monuments in the Kathmandu valley came down to the rubbles.  Public buildings that housed government offices, including the secretariat of the Government of Nepal, turned unlivable. Irreparable loss looms over the recently growing high rise community living.

The human cost of the tragedy, unprecedented in Nepal’s contemporary history, expands further. The Office of the Coordinator of Humanitarian Affairs of the United Nations puts the number of people needing humanitarian assistance at 2.8 million, half of which needs emergency assistance but lives in the geography difficult to access. This population, living below the poverty line, spreads across mountains and is more vulnerable in view of the deepening Monsoon rains.

The earthquake has badly hit the reform goals of the Government of Nepal. The growth rate, estimated to be 4.8 percent at the start of the financial year, has been revised down to 2.8 percent. Additional 2.5 million people, approximately 3 percent of the total population, endured capsize poverty cycle, meaning they fell back below the poverty line against their recent emancipation from it. The GoN’s ambitious goal of graduating to a developing country by 2022 from the current status of the Least Developed Country faces setback. In the same vein, one could talk at length about losses in the sectors of agriculture, health, education, tourism, and further.

Standing in the middle of this sight of desolation, if one had to point out the most remarkable development in post-quake Nepal, it would be the burning desire of self-help of the Nepali communities, specially their youth. Helping is, in fact, ingrained in Nepali culture; the earthquake just forced its large-scale reappearance. And by extension, the government reflects commitment in building a more resilient Nepal. It enjoys support of its people across political spectrum in meeting the reconstruction objectives, which is a positive win against the politically polarized landscape of the past decade. But a more gigantic battle against the political turmoil would be to sail the rebuilding priorities for next many years since political divisions tend to become sharper as the memory of the devastation wanes.

Against this backdrop, the PDNA estimates a need of US $ 6.6 billion for recovery, while calculating the damages at US $ 5.15 billion and lost incomes at US $ 1.9 billion. With an objective to raise the funds by mobilizing international support, the GoN is organizing in Kathmandu, on 25th June, the International Nepal Reconstruction Conference (INRC), also known as the Donor Conference in popular parlance.

Pakistan and Haiti

Against all political odds comparable with Nepal’s, Pakistan and Haiti, respectively in 2005 and 2010, in their post-quake donor conferences, raised more funds than expected.

Countries like Nepal, scraping for resources, find themselves in difficult situation to help themselves during the disaster of this scale.

Ten years ago, in October 2005, Pakistan underwent a painful humanitarian crisis caused by an earthquake that proved to be more destructive than Nepal’s.  The death toll reached 80,000; three million people were rendered homeless and 100,000 injured. Another 1,400 people had died in the Indian side of Kashmir.

In its bid to manage resources, Pakistan was quick to call for a quake recovery donor’s conference within one month while moving ahead in war footing for rescue and relief works.

The response was massively generous. The pledge stood at US $ 5.4 billion against what Pakistan said it would require 5.2 billion. Two thirds of the pledge came in long-term concessional loans. The Asian Development Bank and the World Bank provided US $ 1 billion each.  The USA came forward with half a billion dollars for one of its closest allies. The Islamic Development Bank and the Muslim states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and UAE were other large donors.

Why Pakistan’s donor conference became successful had a reason.  United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, present himself in the conference in Islamabad, had urged the delegates from fifty countries and organizations to be prepared to work together with the long term perspectives. Earlier, he had repeatedly called for a more generous response from the donors, against their “weak” and “tardy” attitude.

In the run up to the conference, Pakistan provided credible guarantees of the accountability and transparency of proposed spending.  Its reconstruction effort after the conference, not much discussed in the media, is considered a moderately successful one, against all political odds comparable with that of Nepal’s.

On the other hand, a more recent recovery endeavor in Haiti, after 2010 earthquake, presents a contrary example. Many agree today with the new development community adage that the Haiti earthquake was far more destructive, like its rebuilding efforts. Since the entire country had come at ruins, the United Nations itself led the Haiti’s donor conference, which thumped US $15 billion in pledges. More than a hundred countries and organizations participated in the conference addressed by the big names like UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Former US president Bill Clinton was made the Co-Chair, alongside the Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, of the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission. The commission was constituted to mobilize big money through it, but it had failed due to the desire of certain countries and organizations that went on using their cooperation as they deemed right.

Today, the world knows what has happened to Haiti. After five years and US $15 billion, 80 percent of the Haiti’s quake hit population still sleeps under tents.  It’s a real shame for the lofty ideas of the international development community. A not much publicized joint corrective plan was set in motion together by the US government and the United Nations, whose results are also yet to be seen.

Rebuilding Nepal

The Government of Nepal and the development partners appear as if to be locking horns while the observers see they are competing for authority over resources. They must stop wearing holier than thou posture and should work hand in hand rebuilding Nepal.

International Nepal Reconstruction Conference presents a litmus test for both the donors as well as the Government of Nepal. For the international development community, it is interesting because there are very limited successful examples of post-disaster reconstruction achieved by mobilizing development aid. This is especially truer when double standards, citing country specific needs, regarding the spending proposals are debated. For example, five years ago in Haiti, UN and the US government strongly pitched for one-door spending through the Interim Haiti Recovery Commission.  The humanitarian organizations wanted to spend through own channels.  In Nepal, there is hardly any development partner, barring the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, China and handful others, willing to direct the cooperation through the GoN instruments.

This is, however, not because there is no trust in government. Truly speaking, there is more trust in this government than in the recent past as it is a democratically elected government. The support of the international community to any government, in many ways, resembles the support of the people to their government. Make no mistake; people of Nepal at this hour unitedly stand behind the Government of Nepal in the work of post-quake reconstruction. So does the international community. This means international partners trust their host government only as long as its people trust it.

But spending involves entirely different waters to jump in. The development partners’ local instruments, their field offices and partner NGOs, would probably have to stay disengaged in the absence of an arrangement for mobilizing funds. They are also under an obligation to perform and are answerable to their own governments.

Instead of entangling in a seemingly endless debate of how to spend the money, which ensued a nasty competition of exposing how bad the INGOs or the government instruments are, a coordinated approach that aligns needs along the lines identified by PDNA would serve well to the cause of both the GoN and the development partners.

The GoN may be late and slow to deliver but it should also be taken into account that it was the machinery under the same government that helped the development partners, equally frustrating in many instances as WFP, in helping the people of Nepal. Instead of wearing a see-through garb of holier than thou stage show, they must sit down and work together in rebuilding Nepal.

Donors’ expectation

Donors have limited expectations from countries in crisis. In Nepal, they simply look for an accountable spending, a better coordination within the government and an efficient communication with the local officials.  They also look forward to seeing a more generous financial engagement of China and India.

Many in Nepalese media and expert circle seem to be thinking that the donors expect (or should expect?) a whole lot of things from the Government of Nepal. They are wrong.  The development partners‘ expectations of a country in crisis are limited. Nepal is no exception. To enunciate, look at Haiti, which being a basket case of rampant corruption, even called a ‘Banana Republic’,  raised US $15 billion five years ago.

Coming back to Nepal, four major expectations, extended from the normal times, could be running in the minds of many donors at the moment.

First is accountability.  The donors would certainly look for convincing transparency and accountability of spending. In reply, the GoN could say Nepal is a leader in South Asia to have democratic instruments monitoring government accounts. And this is so true.  The Office of the Comptroller General audits all government accounts regularly. The parliament’s Public Accounts Committee and the State Affairs Committee are powerful bodies with authority to summon highly placed officials and politicians. The Commission for the Investigation of the Abuse of Authority, Nepal’s Ombudsman, has done a commendable job to check corruption in the country, not sparing even sitting ministers and powerful politicians; as opposed to the perception of many, who would like to sell the idea that power in Nepal, as elsewhere,  absolutely protects corruption.

Second is the coordination between the line ministries. Many development partners are wary of the bureaucratic attitude that obstructs work if certain interests (individual?) not fulfilled. The GoN has established through an ordinance a super-instrument for post-quake reconstruction. This is good, but development organizations would not want their partner ministries undermined in the process. At the same time a weak super-structure could easily turn into another “Peace and Reconstruction Ministry”, sounding perfect just for namesake. There is a fine balance to make between the all-powerful instrument and the line ministries, a difficult job since several ministries can claim cross-cutting scope of work. A super-body that performs in reconstruction by winning the trust of the ministries would be a good, positive achievement, away from failure.

The third expectation of the donors is a chance of “real dialogue” with the responsible officials of the GoN.  Having such a dialogue, in a formal but non-structured setting, has a barrier of language in the context of Nepal. Western donors enjoy to be challenged by reason and logic. Because rational communication forms the basis of Western education, one way talk throwing PowerPoint presentation on the donors is a most primitive form of digital dialogue.

The Ministry of foreign affairs has some of Nepal’s best communicators. So does the Ministry of Finance. But they are limited in number. The GoN can hire in the new super-body some expert communicators whose duty would be to engage with the development partners and brief the high officials in the government. These people can be assigned the task of sharpening government communications in high level conferences.

The fourth expectation of many western donors is rather from Nepal’s two giant neighbors. The rest of the world wants to see what kind of support India and China pledge for the reconstruction of Nepal. The two countries, of late, have strongly asserted themselves in the global arena.  It is known in Nepal that they both regard Nepal in high esteem of friendship. Their embracing support to Nepal is likely to endorse their global role this time.

Expectation of the GoN

The Government of Nepal, like the people of the country, expects a whole-hearted and unconditional support of the international community in building a more resilient Nepal.

The GoN has outlined its objectives for INRC quite clearly. Above fifty delegations of development partners are expected to participate in the one-day conference. The objective is to generate as much money as possible so that implementing national reconstruction plan would not impede at the deficiency of funds.

The PDNA, outlining recovery needs, enjoys joint ownership of Nepal and the development partners. In a way, the donors already know the requirements. Nepal would reinforce the understanding once again in the conference regarding the huge loss it has suffered. The delegates would be led around the sites of devastation in an attempt to keep the interest of rebuilding Nepal renewed.

Nepal expects that with the help of the friendly countries, the destruction becomes temporary. The people want to smile back; the Himalayas want to see more people from around the globe. We in Nepal recognize that building a more resilient Nepal is possible with the generous support of the friendly countries and organizations.

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Twitter: @tikapd




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