By Mohan Krishna Shrestha – The International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction was held on 25 June 2015. The conference hosted by the Government of Nepal, exactly after two months of the devastating earthquake, was timely and well-planned. Among the heads of the delegations were ministers, two of them Foreign Ministers from our big neighbours China and India as well as by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of Japan.
The outcome of the conference is not only satisfactory but also highly encouraging, in view of the pledge of cooperation. Presence of about 300 distinguished delegates representing Nepal’s key development partners, world financial institutions and INGOs manifest deep goodwill for Nepal and Nepalese people. Their concerns, in particular, for the poor victims of the earthquake were based on humanitarian values.
The words and message from the high ranking dignitaries carry big weight. As Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj rightly said, spending the funds will be no less challenging than generating it. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said, his country would like to play an important and active role in the reconstruction works. He even visited makeshift houses where victims and their families were living and expressed compassionate feelings. Surprising and encouraging visit by such a high dignitary gives a good message.
State Foreign Minister Minoru Kiuchi from Japan publicly acknowledged the goodwill gesture of Nepal.He remembered the present from Nepal of few thousand rugs to Japan during the 11 March 2011 earthquake and the tsunami that followed. Japan has provided billions in aid to Nepal, yet they value our small humanitarian aid so much. Not only that, Minister Kiuchi left an indelible stamp on the minds of Nepalese people when he recollected the good works done by Nepalese nationals living in Japan to grow vegetables to feed the victims. Such a note from a dignitary none other than State Foreign Minister Kiuchi adds further momentum in our bilateral relations.
The delegates in the conference focused on the efficient use of resources in a transparent and accountable way and to reach it to the victims. The conference proved that there would be no dearth of cooperation, if we increase the capacity to use the donated amounts and in focused ways. The singling out of the focused areas of preference by donors might make the tasks ahead a little easier and convenient.
A total amount of Rs. 440 billion has been pledged by donors. Exactly half of the amount, 220 billion, has come as grant and remaining half of 220 billion as soft loan. India pledged 100 billion followed by a total of 76 billion by China, 60 billion by Asian Development Bank, 50 billion by World Bank. Japan pledged 26 billion, while US Government pledged 13 billion. United Kingdom and European Union committed 11 billion each.
The pledged amount exceeded the government expectation. This comes to be about 66 percent of the requisite amount of 670 billion as being envisaged by the Post Disaster Needs Assessment conducted by the National Planning Commission. The earthquake made devastating effects on our national life with the irreparable loss of thousands of precious human lives as well as the properties worth billions. However, in a positive note, we can also transform this occasion to build a new Nepal which is vibrant and economically sound. For this purpose, we Nepalese, at home and abroad, need to redouble our efforts to further accelerate the tempo of economic development in the days ahead.
Nepal faces formidable tasks with regards to the rehabilitation and reconstruction work. We need to make thousands of houses, school buildings, hospitals, factories and many other infrastructures. Monsoon raises immediate requirement for support for the people in the earthquake-hit villages and districts. At the onset of lashing rains, flooding and landslides have been reported from all over the country. Rehabilitation and reconstruction works, therefore, need to be resuming in a much faster tempo. A high powered National Reconstruction Authority has been establishment under the chairmanship of the Prime Minister. Several Ministers and other dignitaries would feature as its members. The functioning of the authority will stimulate works at a short and long term basis. Projects with a grass root base must be chalked out to get funding from the donors. Excessive bureaucratic entanglements must be unshackled to accelerate the rehabilitation and reconstruction works.
INGOs and their role
It is true that many international Non-Governmental Organizations are actively working in different district of Nepal to extend cooperation to the people. They are engaged in various sectors, from education, health, population control, child protection, to women’s empowerment and in others fields. These INGOs must have provided cooperation to Nepal in billions. It is understood that INGO budgets are being funded by donor countries and institutions. For a long time, we have been hearing charges that 80 percent of the INGO budget goes to their own administrative machinery. The extent of truth of these claims is yet to be substantiated by facts, as INGOs maintain strict non-transparency with regards to their spending. It is, therefore, incumbent on INGOs to make public their budgetary sources, expenditures patterns and their activities.
Another reality that agitated several Nepalese after the quake was the distribution of rotten rice by World Food Program in some districts. It is very surprising how a scenario as such could develop. WFP is in the country since almost five decades. Media reported that smelly rice and lentil, rotten at the infestation of mildew and fungi was distributed to the victims of earthquake in certain districts. An investigation was carried out by a Parliamentary Committee which proved the media reports correct. This was further attested by the investigation of National Human Rights Commission. Both have recommended appropriate actions against WFP. People involved must be brought to book and punished as per existing rules. Nepalese people will prefer hunger to rotten rice. They do not forget to smile even if their houses are buried by landslides. The indomitable courage of the people to survive in the catastrophe is superb and the recent earthquake has not broken it at all.
It is very startling to note that a high ranking United Nations official Jhon Zing made objectionable statement at a press conference recently. He said that the reporting by Nepalese media in connection with the distribution of rotten rice was hogwash. He further went on, as reported, to redeploy those rotten rice to other countries, if Nepal does not want at all. It looks like coercing to accept this Hobson’s choice. He has crossed all diplomatic red lines and deserves appropriate action from Nepal.
Nepalese diaspora and their role
It is estimated that about 4 million Nepalese are living abroad doing different jobs. A friend of mine is a professor of mathematics at Harvard University in the United States. There are several other Nepalese professionals teaching diplomacy, environmental science, economics, politics, sociology and other disciplines in different countries. There are pilots, engineers, doctors, planners, and managers who have distinguished themselves in their jobs in foreign countries. Presence of thousands of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled Nepali workers contributes to the economic development of several Middle East countries. Now is the right time for those, willing Nepalese in diaspora, to return home to engage in rehabilitation and reconstruction work in Nepal. Nepalese living in foreign countries love their motherland and extend possible cooperation when the country needs it. At these trying times of the country, solidarity among Nepalese people is much needed than ever before.
Mohan Krishna Shrestha is former Ambassador to France and Permanent Representative to UNESCO