Foreign Aid and Local Government - Together or in Conflict?
On April 25, 2015 a 7.8-magnitude earthquake devastated the central region of Nepal, followed just a couple weeks later by a 7.3-magnitude aftershock that took us all by surprise. Nearly 9,000 died, more than 20,000 were injured, and as many as 450 small earthquakes followed. Upward of 750,000 homes were destroyed, or significantly damaged and uninhabitable. Soon after the earthquake, the Nepali government announced that each family that lost their home would receive $2,000 grant, to be given out in three installments so that the government could monitor adherence to new building standards. A series of reconstruction groups were assembled and disassembled, and most recently, the “National Reconstruction Authority” was established in December – eight months after the disaster. Only last month, they disbursed the first round of reconstruction funds ($500 to 600 families) to enable people to build foundations for their new homes. As of a couple of weeks ago, they had enrolled 450 of the almost 6,000 households expected to participate in round two.
Those are the facts. Just to summarize: one year later, only $300,000 has been paid out by the Nepal government for reconstruction of homes to 600 of the 750,000 affected families.
In their defense, the Nepali government has faced a lot of challenges that they have never had to face before. A four-month blockade of their border with India caused shortages of everything from petrol to steel to cement, and that’s still not completely resolved. And I can vouch for the order and communication around this reconstruction effort. It’s really slow, but it’s there. I’ve never been to Haiti, but I’ve read that foreign aid circumventing the government’s reconstruction plans is one of the main contributors to Haiti’s oft-perceived “failed” disaster-recovery. Foreign aid efforts certainly help families in the short term, but unless they are done in coordination with government plans, these efforts don’t support the infrastructure of the country in the long term. For example, until last week, the government had banned international organizations from rebuilding homes with their donations. But that didn’t stop many of them. Many have gone rogue, rebuilding homes while flying under the government’s radar. These are responsible organizations - the potential problem is not that they’re rebuilding unsafely, but that they are doing the work meant to be done by the government.
Of course I understand why aid organizations are circumventing the government. The government is huge, inefficient, and has both a long and recent history of corruption. Simple decisions turn into drawn out standoffs between political parties, while the Nepali people wait and suffer. Many have died and likely will die as a result of this inaction – this is the “structural violence” that Paul Farmer writes about. If you had $100,000 earmarked for earthquake victims that desperately needed it, could you look them in the face and do nothing? Tell them to wait for their government, knowing they will suffer needlessly in the meantime? A tough decision, I’m sure.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in this country that I love so much, but I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, I figured I’d end this painful subject on a positive note. Here are the positive things I’ve seen in Nepal in the last year:
Nepal continues to be stunningly beautiful. The Himalayas, the temples, the people, and the culture are breathtaking.
In the most heavily damaged regions, there is peace, harmony, and unity among the people.
Many local people are more active and engaged in the futures of their communities.
Really thoughtful conversations are happening in the humanitarian sphere.
Nepal passed its first democratic constitution!
The government successfully negotiated the end of India’s border blockade. (Well, mostly.)
And finally, the tourist industry is bouncing back. All trekking routes are open!
Why don’t you come out and see for yourself?