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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015

SHORT-TERM: emergency food, medicine and shelter
MEDIUM TERM: Semi-permanent housing, seeds for planting season
LONGTERM:  Reconstruction, jobs

In all the criticism about the slow government response to the 25 April earthquake, what many forget is that governance in Nepal was a disaster zone even before the earthquake. Slow delivery of services, lack of coordination, mismanagement, ad hoc decisions and corruption have been the hallmarks of our soft state. Despite the restoration of democracy and regular elections, accountability has somehow always fallen between the cracks. Leaders who traditionally thrived on patronage have felt no need for performance-based legitimacy.

Maitighar candle

Photo credit: Gopen Rai

Although it can’t be an excuse, poor management of earthquake relief was a  given. Why were we even surprised? How could we expect the Nepali state to  become the epitome of efficient management and speedy delivery overnight, just because there was an earthquake? In an ideal state, elected leaders would be forced to be decisive, to prioritise and act to ameliorate the massive suffering caused by this disaster. It would have streamlined procedures to receive maximum assistance instead of creating hurdles, it would have expedited delivery of urgent medical and food supplies to remote areas instead of letting it pile up at the airport, it would have encouraged donations to pour in instead of creating obstacles and obfuscation.

Instead, what we saw were politicians and bureaucrats showing the same inertia and lethargy as they have during ‘normal’ times. They pushed paper, waited for rubber stamps and ‘clearance from higher-up authorities’ as if it was just another humdrum day in our banana republic. All right, we’ll say it: the bureaucratic delays in the initial days after the quake cost lives. The earthquake killed people, red tape killed many of the survivors.

Then there are the politicians. There are? We haven’t seen them since the earthquake. This would have been a time for the top leaders, ministers, elected members of the Constituent Assembly, to be observed to be doing something. Politicians thrive during times of disasters to demonstrate their crisis management skills. Even cynical politicians will “never let a serious crisis go to waste” as former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once notoriously put it. Here in post-earthquake Nepal we didn’t even see many examples of leaders exhibiting the energy to even do token relief. The Prime Minister toured Sindhupalchok by air 10 days after the earthquake, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal has been holed up in a secluded villa in Man Bhavan for the past week, and only briefly gate-crashed a relief distribution event organised by the Guru Dwara. The President, it must be said, shunned media attention and made low-key personal visits to ruins of Kathmandu’s historic heart.

And when the politicians and the government did act decisively, it was to spread even more hopelessness and confusion. Just like the famously absurd sound bite by a palace official after the royal massacre in 2001 about it having been caused by the “accidental discharge of an automatic weapon” this time too, officials were busy shooting themselves in the foot every time they opened their mouths.

The Central Bank issued a dreadful statement that all earthquake aid had to be channeled through the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund (‘otherwise they will be seized’) that immediately halted most emergency cash donations from abroad. The PMO tried to clarify it was only for NGOs set up after 25 April for earthquake relief, but its interpretation sowed even more confusion. Then some wiseguy in government said we don’t need any more aid. Not to be outdone, another smartass told foreign rescue workers “we don’t need you anymore we can handle it ourselves”. The government is the subject of ridicule across the world, it is squandering the goodwill that Nepal and Nepalis command internationally – testament to which is the tremendous and prompt delivery of relief flights.

To be sure, this was a disaster that would have overwhelmed even the most efficient, best-prepared and well-endowed government. The impact zone is vast and rugged, settlements are widely scattered, you’d need hundreds of helicopters to reach every nook and cranny where there are survivors in dire need of emergency relief.  And although it started slow, there are signs that the government is getting its act together in streamlining customs and expediting delivery of supplies. The Army and Armed Police together have 120,000 personnel deployed in the 12 districts, and by all accounts have gone beyond the call of duty, despite their own family tragedies, in search, rescue and ferrying supplies. Civil society, individuals, overseas Nepalis and the private sector have stepped in to fill the gaps.

The Nepal government has got its work cut out. In the short-term there is still the need to get emergency food, medicine and shelter to the areas where they are most needed. In the medium term, we will have to turn our attention to semi-permanent housing as well help with seeds for the planting season as the rainy season approaches. This is of vital importance so subsistence farmers who have lost their granaries have something to eat in the coming year and will not have to depend on outside food aid. Then there is the colossal need for reconstruction of the 300,000 homes and 15,000 schools that have been destroyed.

This needs a Marshall Plan type movement with seamless coordination between the government, local bodies, the international community, the UN and the multilateral agencies. By now we have plenty of lessons learnt from Haiti to Haiyan about how to best manage the rehabilitation of vast populations. No two countries are alike, but there are red flags about where things went dreadfully wrong elsewhere, and why things worked brilliantly in places.

Minister of Supplies Sunil Thapa has decades of experience handling emergencies around the world for UNHCR. Similarly, we have many Nepalis recently retired from UN relief agencies, or are about to do so, whose expertise and experience we can tap. The legislation to set up a Disaster Management Authority that has been languishing for five years, and now needs to be speeded up.

But more than anything else, we in Nepal need to turn this tectonic shift into a  paradigm shift in the way we govern ourselves, how we plan, move towards a renewable energy economy, be more self-sufficient, enforce urban planning, zoning and safe housing regulations, and decentralise decision-making.

Nepal has turned into a no-man’s land because of overseas out migration. Village after village devastated by the earthquake have only women, children and the elderly. Post-earthquake reconstruction will need able-bodied men, and this could be an opportunity to stem the tide of migration by offering well-paying jobs at home, and to make it worthwhile for others already abroad to return.

Nepalis are used to hardships. We have a tremendous sense of national pride and a sense of self-worth. Our community ties bind us together and offer hope and solidarity in this time of great need. Now our elected national leadership must help the people who elected them so they can get back on their feet again.

Read also: 

Massive earthquake rattles Nepal Om Astha Rai 

Everyone their own way Om Astha Rai

Sindhupalchok’s sorrow Bhrikuti Rai

Monumental loss Stéphane Huët

Giving to the living

Not-so-big One Dambar Krishna Shrestha

Belabouring the obvious Editorial

“Let’s learn from Haiti”

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21 Responses to “NEEDED: A MARSHALL PLAN”

  1. namah on Says:

    Ok. Let’s get this Mr.Thapa to head the Rebuild Nepal Initiative. If not, someone else! I think we need to organize a million wo/man march onto Singha Durbar: give us our nation back OR else we will take it back – by force.

    The did not listen to the whispers of our prayers so let them hear the shrieking of our battle cry!

  2. namah on Says:

    How about pre-fab housing? costs a fraction, mobile and equake proof. comes with bathroom, kitchen and walls for privacy.

    just a thought…

  3. Ketan Dulal on Says:

    Excellent article…..I hope this earthquake gives us opportunity to think ahead and in new ways to face challenges surrounding us…

  4. Samyek Shrestha on Says:

    Disaster is an understatement. Has the current government got the mandate to govern Nepal? I think with this situation they are way over their heads. How much bigger wake up call does Nepalese public need?

  5. Brijan on Says:

    We will not forgive the our Government this time, if they fail to provide!!! A correction needs to be done from the root. If not now, when? Check this

  6. Dr Brian Metters on Says:

    This is exactly right and something I have written about many times. Incompetence is a general state of being, and those in politics in Nepal are completely and utterly incompetent. Not fit for purpose whether that purpose relates to disaster management, healthcare, power supply, job creation, education, infrastructure, the economy.
    They operate a completely “extractive system” and until they are completely removed and replaced Nepal will remain one of the poorest and least developed countries. The tragedy of this is that the country is FULL of resilient, hard working, caring people but who seem content to be led over the cliff time after time.

  7. Daniel on Says:

    Yes, there are people retired from UNHCR or RED CROSS, but mind, some of them have experience in handling the refugee only..
    We feel that why not we at this time, have those who have worked in DISASTER Management in itself in the UN agency or Red Cross etc like in Haiti or so.

  8. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    In Europe there were mainly two blocks during the Marshall Plan Negotiation days; I mean the Democratic Western versus the Totalitarianism Communist Soviet Block. The conflict of interest was there.
    In our situation we have to cater to the different power blocks too.
    The Western spearheaded by the Scandinavians ( the cat’s paws) , the Chinese and The Indians and to some extent the Islamist interest groups..
    So what we need is a statesman to head us.
    Authrity cannot be imposed goes the saying.
    It is advised that we all once listen to the song sung by Sishir Yogi , written by Dr.Viswonath ” Prem”, called Manche ko Khozi” produced by MUSIC NEPAL.

    Ma yeuta machheko khozi ma chhu … … …

  9. Tapan Das on Says:

    Langada kangada chaukidar ,

    gauoki ledi khabardar!

    goes our saying in the Eastern Nepal Tarai.

  10. Avantika Regmi on Says:

    Why Mr Thapa? We still have to be ruled by these parasites like Mr Thapa? No other Nepali exists or what? Also, people of the likes of Kunda Dixit should not speak any ill of the Koirala Government. Should I tell more why he should not?

  11. Kesang on Says:

    Thanks for this well-articulated master piece, voicing our thoughts and opinions .. an inspiring note to the youth to return and participate in re-building their nation… by then, i hope the senile beings squatting on the high seats will remove themselves and go on a pilgrimage or timbuktoo.. for they won’t even be useful as mentors or someone worth learning from!

  12. namah on Says:

    in a recent tweet David Seddon asks: ‘What happened to Disaster Preparedness?’
    My Answer: DisPrep Funds ‘paid’ US College Tuition fees for many kids of high placed officials in the Govt of Nepal. That was their way of ‘preparing’ for the disaster – get our kids out of this blackhole…

  13. Narendra Tamang on Says:

    I think the Nepalese people simply do not have any trust left on the Nepali politicians of the day. Whatever shape, size or background these politicians and bureaucrats come in with, they have failed hopelessly, collectively and individually, more so those who are in the cabinet. It is crystal clear that those who are in power now or had been in the past, only look after their castes, kith and kin. That leaves a large section of the Nepali population unattended, uncared for and marginalized. I have participated in hundreds of discussions where my community felt totally neglected and marginalized by the mainstream or so called ruling castes. They just throw in one or two pieces (posts) just to show their presence in the name of samaweshee (inclusiveness). Unfortunately, there is no dearth of foreign donors or their representatives singing the chorus prepared by the government and toeing the line prepared by Baluwatar and Singhadarbar suiting to the interests of those in power. But a great many donors I have talked to realize the dire situation. A sense of pride should come from being treated equally to all its citizens by our government. It is useless to provoke a sense of pride at a time when many people are dying due to lack of timely relief.
    Our government did not work for all in the past, if it worked at all, does not work at the present and I see no chances of making things work in the future if we are to inherit the same people or their type in the government. Need I elaborate it further?
    The red tag should be put on the Baluwatar and Singhadarbar; they are broken.
    Finally,I feel it is not due to the lack of a plan, like the Marshall Plan. It is the implementation. I am afraid that is where we lack in.
    hare..shiva shiva..

  14. namah on Says:

    kunda: i have mentioned this in another forum:

    Declare academic year 2072 as Nepalis Build Nepal Year. with so many school buildings in shady states and everyone (teachers, administrators, etc.) involved with their own lives would it be worthwhile to direct school/college going children (age permitting) into a national volunteer service program?

  15. namah on Says:

    they should have allowed anyone to open an account and get the money INTO Nepal. after that controls could be placed on its disbursement: simple auditing, what did you buy, where will you send it, when will it be sent, give us the receipts, give us the photographs, etc.

  16. Netra Thapa on Says:

    Excellent article to read. In Nepal right now I didn’t see a leader at present who can handle the Marshal Plan type of work. Those who are not in power there are some Nationalist leaders but so called power monger does not allow to function. So it’s a pathetic situation right now. God bless Nepal.

  17. Bhaicha on Says:

    Min. Sunil Thapa ,does he have experience in handling disaster management?
    What is needed is one who has in disasterand security in Un or ,thru.Red Cross.,

  18. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    Equivalent of the ” Marshall Plan.”- yes a must.

    Mark; the Soviets declined the plan initially even when they were offered the same aid as the Western nations; for fear of certain degree of United State control over their territories.
    We have also quadrilateral push and pull instead of bilateral in the original European case. They had WESTERNversus the SOVIETS .

    We do have The Western( including the North Europeans -surrogates), The Chinese, The Islamist ( including the fundamentalists, like Al Quida, ISIS , Wohabbists ), and the Indian establishment which regards Nepal as their soft belly.
    We desperately need Marshall like aid to rebuild and reconstruct this devastated land of ours.

    But we have no B P Koirala( or even King Mahendra like ones); what to talk of a statesman to lead us like Lee Kuan Yew .

  19. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    Don,t expect much from these stick-in-the-muds.

  20. ANepali on Says:

    I hope the remaining natural forests will not be severely exploited and degraded during the reconstruction process. Reconstruction must be planned prudently with environmental sustainability and efficiency in mind, and without adversely impacting the natural ecology. This is an opportunity to make things right from the “get-go”, and I hope politicians, government officials, planners, citizens, and the donor community will behave rationally and with farsighted forethought.

  21. Daniel Gajaraj on Says:

    Don’t you all think we have ” proven incompetents’?

    Fresh fields and new pastures?

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