'There is no point in building back the same thing'
The United Nations has been helping Nepal conduct relief operations since the 7.6-Richter earthquake ravaged various parts of the country on April 25. To ensure there is no delay in delivery of life-saving aid, the UN had also immediately asked member states for $423 million. But, unfortunately, the fund raising process has not moved ahead in a desired manner, with countries making very little contribution. Rupak D Sharma of The Himalayan Times spoke to Jamie McGoldrick, the UN Resident Coordinator, who has now been designated as the
humanitarian coordinator for Nepal, on why the international community’s response was so unenthusiastic and whether the country can expect higher commitments from development partners during the International Donors’ Conference scheduled for June 25.
The UN made a flash appeal for $423 million soon after the earthquake. But it has so far been able to raise only around 30 per cent of the funds. Why was the response from the
international community so lukewarm?
There’s something we should realise. The flash appeal was made by the UN for its partners. And the appeal is only one of the mechanisms for responding to the crisis. There are lots of donors that mobilise funds through other organisations. And as you saw a lot of donors made their contribution outside of the appeal. Also, the UN launched the flash appeal four days after the earthquake. A lot of donors gave money during those initial four days to various sectors like health and education. Yet, what I’d like to say here is that we are at a very difficult situation because the monsoon will start in three or four weeks. And there are some key areas where we need international support — especially food and shelter support. Besides, it is also necessary to get kids back to school. Then we also need to figure out how to deliver materials in high areas before the monsoon because once the rainy season begins the number of deliveries will go down. Well, monsoon comes every year to those places, but the difference this time is that the massive earthquake has devastated most of the schools and clinics. And this has affected people’s way of life. Of course we cannot fix everything before the monsoon, but we should do our best to protect and support them. Another thing monsoon will bring is landslides. We know Sindhupalchowk has always been affected by landslides. There was a big one just last year. Now because of the earthquake and aftershocks, the steep and mountainous areas in that district have become more fragile and precarious. And this makes us even more worried. So, we must respond before the monsoon kicks in.
Considering all these needs and the urgency to respond, the response made by the
international community to the UN’s flash appeal appears
half-hearted, isn’t it?
We should also be aware that a lot of organisations did not make appeals for funds because they had resources with themselves. The problem is that those resources, generally the emergency stock, have not been replenished. So, we have to consider this aspect as well.
So, how can we mobilise resources before the monsoon to ensure lives are not affected?
We are working very closely with the Ministry of Home Affairs, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development, and also with the Nepal Army to make the logistics work. But more important is the work at the district level, especially in 14 districts most affected by the earthquake. The partnership with chief district officers, the village development committees and forums, like the district disaster relief committees, is working very well. It was initially difficult for them to respond because their families were affected and their houses and offices had also collapsed. So, we couldn’t have expected them to work as normal people. Yet, the spirit with which they worked and commitment they showed were quite impressive. And this made our job a lot easier.
The government is planning to hold international donors’ conference on June 25 to mobilise financial resources for reconstruction. Can the government expect better response from donors, especially in terms of
financial aid commitment,
during that meeting?
Soon after the disaster, international military officials and other teams quickly arrived in the country to conduct search and rescue operations. The response was amazing; it was comprehensive and large-scale. But the unfortunate part is that such teams generally leave the country within two to three weeks of the disaster. And the void that they leave behind is where we are right now. This period, when relief operations are being conducted, should not be less funded or less supported. But I don’t understand why this has happened because the better the relief operations, the better the reconstruction and recovery. However, the government has done a smart job by planning to hold donors’ conference at this stage. Actually the June conference was planned for later this year. But the government brought it forward because people can’t wait. You have already started seeing people building back. And if you can lend support and guidance at this time, they can build back better. I hope the response of the international community would be better during the conference than during the time when the UN issued the flash appeal. But I don’t think the donors would pledge everything they wish to during the conference. So, some of them may make a general commitment to support key areas. But a firm commitment for specific projects may come during another conference that would be held later in the year outside Nepal. So, during the June 25 conference, only a general overview on requirements of 23 sectors — in which post disaster needs assessments are being conducted — will be presented.
You mean to say there will be a follow-up donors’ conference later in the year?
Currently, the government is conducting Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA), (a report on which would be presented during the June 25 donors’ conference). The PDNA will look into 23 parts of the reconstruction puzzle and provide a ballpark understanding of the needs of key sectors, like roads, schools and health. So, PDNA is a quick exercise; and its findings need to be verified as time goes on. But using the PDNA report you can get the picture on the extent of damage caused by the earthquake and areas where reconstruction should start. Another thing is that the PDNA would be based on the government’s figures. So, donors may prioritise works that need to be done in the short-, medium- and long-term. Currently, we know over 500,000 houses have been completely destroyed and over 200,000 houses have suffered damage. There are also other areas that have been badly hit by the earthquake. So, the needs have to be prioritised, as everything cannot be done at once. Besides, what also needs to be known is how these reconstruction works would be managed, and the linkage between the government and international donors. So, donors would probably make firm commitments for specific areas, like urban development, during another conference likely to be held in September.
What is the UN doing to drum
up support for the June 25
The UN is one of the key partners in the PDNA process. At the moment, we are taking stock of the damage and the needs. It is not yet known how the June conference will go. I understand that the Ministry of Finance wants to call a meeting of development partners to discuss the meeting’s agenda.
So, what are the initial findings of the PDNA?
I haven’t seen the details. But you know the number of damaged houses in rural and urban areas. You also know a different approach has to be taken to build those houses in a better way. So you need to develop different models for different areas like rural, very remote rural, highland rural and lowland rural. This is because there is no point in building back the same thing. And what is also important is to provide guidance to people so that they could build back better.
The country has also suffered huge losses in the social sector. Would it erode the gains made by the country in sectors such as education and health, creating hurdles in achievement
of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)?
Over the last five to 10 years, Nepal has done amazingly well in certain areas of MDGs. But the latest earthquake has badly damaged infrastructure of health and education sectors. And this will have an impact on these sectors. But we first need to find out a way so that the development gains made by the country are not lost or diminished. I think people are very conscious about protecting what was achieved before. Another big issue is protecting livelihoods, which includes creating employment opportunities. I think the rebuilding process will bring lots of Nepalis working abroad back to the country. I also think now is the time to address some other issues, like improving roads and market connectivity, and create a new Nepal, which provides fairer opportunities to everyone. So, this adversity has also provided a window of opportunity to look into problems faced by disadvantaged groups, gender parity issue and how children can have a good start to life or how school drop-out rate can be reduced so that more students can graduate with quality education. Lately, we have been hearing many say ‘it can’t be business as usual’. So, reconstruction process is not only going to be physical and is likely to bring about a change in the thinking process as well.
Will the losses made in the social sector reduce the country’s chances of graduating to the league of developing nations by 2021 as said earlier?
I think you will be able to maintain scores (on Human Assets Index and Economic Vulnerability Index, which will enable the country to graduate through non-income criteria). But graduation can only be sustainable if income goes up. And the National Planning Commission was very clear on this from the beginning. But the government recently said that the country’s economic growth would be affected by the disaster, which will decelerate per capita income growth. So all hinges on how the country performs in the next three years (because Nepal’s case on graduation will be reviewed by the UN again in 2018).