There is a flashflood of flood relief donation drives in the streets of Kathmandu. Many of them are self-declared good samaritans who have left paying jobs, colleges, and politics to raise money for flood victims. All very well and good.
Some have pre-invested a part of the proceeds into getting matching caps and jackets. Others have printed receipts. Brokering relief has always been a money spinner for governments across South Asia. In Nepal, every disaster brings in its wake an opportunity to amass funds.
The focus is on how to collect the funds, not really on spending it properly. The government, of course, sets the example by showing how one can amass money in the name of relief and use it for purposes that have nothing to do with the disaster for which the money was created.
The apex fund for disaster relief in Nepal is the Prime Minister's Natural Disaster Relief Fund, which is supposed to distribute the charity to the neediest.
Contributions to this fund even enjoy tax breaks making it the most desirous route of contribution.
However, till today, we haven't yet heard about incomes and disbursements and to whom. The Beed is given to understand that this Fund is used to dole out pork-barrel funds to political cronies and withdrawals are made in cash. We are waiting to see audited results of the Fund and potential corroboration of data from recipients to check whether the intended purpose was met or not.
The Fund must be managed more transparently and be freed from the fingers of politicians. The people of Nepal are owed this information from the trustees of this fund, they need to be told about the procedures for allocations, how one is eligible to apply and so forth. At the moment contributing to the Prime Minister's Fund is like pouring water on sand.
Relief operations require a lot of coordination, and as Nepalis we have a profound dislike towards coordinated efforts. We do not have a nodal agency that has the competency in managing relief. While the Red Cross Society is there politics and infighting in even that non-profit makes one wonder what makes positions in that supposed charity organisation so lucrative.
There is no use trotting up the excuse that even the US government was blamed for relief post-Hurricane Katrina. There are two sets of problems for Nepal's relief 'business':
a) the growing tendency of using manmade or natural disasters as an excuse to collect money. We can't turn brokering death and destruction into a job.
b) if this is what we do with a flood that killed 95 imagine what we would do if the Big One struck with hundreds of thousands of casualties.
c) Last Saturday, as kids put strings and ropes across Kathmandu's alleys to forcibly collect donations to lay the mythical demon Ghantakarna to rest, others were stopping vehicles for flood relief.
If it's this easy to make money, why work for a living?