International relief organizations are intensifying efforts to distribute aid in Nepal a month after the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Nepal’s government, however, seems intent on rejecting the help.
“Immediate support is needed to help affected people get transitional shelters that can withstand the monsoon season, and farmers resume preparations for the rice sowing season that is to start within a few weeks,” said the Asian Development Bank on May 25.
Just two days earlier, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) issued an urgent appeal for $93 million to support 700,000 earthquake victims ahead of the monsoon season. “Every day we are bringing in to the country supplies of tents and tarpaulins that are being sent to the hardest-hit areas but it is simply not enough,” said the IFRC.
Ironically, these appeals came just after — and in spite of — Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs’ instructions to local authorities to prepare an “exit policy” for relief distribution.
Rameshwor Dangal, chief of the ministry’s natural disaster division, was reported in the Kathmandu Post as saying relief distribution might make people dependent on outside support.
He also cited duplication in relief distribution as a reason to turn away help. However, he failed to explain why the government is not trying to coordinate the relief work better and reduce overlapping, or why all affected districts have been asked to prepare an exit plan and not just the ones where he thinks there are too many relief workers.
Dev Ratna Dhakhwa, secretary general of the Nepal Red Cross Society, said “Distributing relief after a major disaster is a complex job all over the world.” He told the Kathmandu Post “there is no hard and fast rule [as to] when relief distribution should end.”
Government “done nothing”
People affected by the April earthquake and its aftershocks also seem to be nervous about the idea of relief groups leaving soon. “The government has done nothing,” said a man who identified himself only as Suresh from Sauraha village in Nepal’s southwestern district of Chitwan. “This temporary shelter we’re living in was not given by the government,” he said, standing next to his tent in the Tundikhel camp in Kathmandu.
“The government is not even providing us food. We have received nothing at all from the government,” said Tez Maya Shrestha, an elderly Nepali woman at the same camp. She said food is handed out at the camp but sometimes there isn’t enough for everyone.
A study commissioned by the country’s parliamentarians has also found that relief is yet to reach at least 70 badly destroyed villages across the country.
However, Laxmi Prasad Dhakal, joint secretary and spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs, told the Nikkei Asian Review that livelihoods would not be an issue in many of the districts as it would soon be time for wheat harvesting, and the government would be able to provide further support to those affected.
Dhakal refused to comment on the government’s problem with relief groups, but it is not difficult to see why the government is upset.
The international relief groups are showing no signs of leaving. Apart from the IFRC and the ADB, Oxfam International continues to seek donations for Nepal as do World Vision International, Save the Children and many others.
Foreign donors have had a long relationship with Nepal, giving its government about $1 billion every year. However, international agencies have mainly been channeling the earthquake aid through their own systems, as their donors find it difficult to trust the Nepalese government, which is widely perceived as corrupt and inefficient. Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perception Index ranked Nepal the 126th most corrupt nation out of 175 countries.
Soon after the quake on April 25, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) issued an appeal to foreign donors and UN members for $423 million for life-saving assistance and protection for three months. More than 160 countries and organizations responded and $262.2 million was donated to Nepal last month.
By contrast, the Nepalese government has struggled to raise funds itself. Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat have asked for all aid to be channeled through government funds. However, the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund has only raised about $35 million from overseas donors.
The government has so far only been able to distribute $53 million worth of relief packages from the prime minister’s fund, less than one fourth of distributions by international organizations.
Koirala said reconstruction would cost an additional $10 billion — nearly 50% of Nepal’s gross domestic product. However, the government’s National Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Fund, which aims to raise about $2 billion, has received no money or pledges from foreign donors yet.
As a result, the efforts by foreign relief groups may have created the impression that the government is doing nothing.
Disillusioned with politics
The calamity hit at a time when the Nepalese public was already feeling disillusioned by political parties’ failure to promulgate a new constitution. This would cement the country’s transition from a Hindu kingdom to a democracy six years after the fall of the monarchy. Due to the prolonged transition, the nation has struggled to move on and progress economically, with one-third of the population living below the poverty line.
The earthquake and subsequent 7.3-magnitude aftershock on May 12 are Nepal’s worst disasters in more than eight decades. At least 8,633 people have died, 18,000 injured and 755 remain missing, according to Nepal Red Cross. In addition, 651,675 families have been left homeless by the total destruction of 542,864 houses and partial damage to 308,787 dwellings — many of which will have to be pulled down.
If the Nepal government continues to refuse to cooperate with relief agencies, a man-made calamity might be waiting to compound the natural disaster.