On his second visit to Nepal, British Minister of State for International Development, Alan Duncan, spoke to Nepali Times on Wednesday about the new Operational Plan that will nearly double support to Nepal. Excerpts:
Alan Duncan: Nepal is a priority country for UKAid. When we announce the details of our support to countries in the coming weeks, you will find that our allocation to Nepal has increased significantly. It's the poorest country in Asia and the 15th poorest in the world. And it is also a country recovering from a 10 year conflict and whose peace process is still fragile. Among many other things, we are continuing our support to the peace process. But what is important is that whether we are working on infrastructure or climate change, governance or forestry we make it absolutely sure that it has a direct bearing on poverty reduction.
What are the highlights of the new ODA plan you announced this week, and how will it impact Nepal?
The Operational Plan that I announced today spells out what we plan to accomplish in Nepal over the next 4 years. This includes:
• Supporting the peace process, helping strengthen governance and improving security and access to justice
• Helping poor and excluded people benefit from economic growth
• Helping deliver better health and education services
• Helping Nepal adapt to climate change
• Reducing the risk from disasters, including earthquakes
• Improving the lives of women and girls
The main highlights of this Operational Plan are:
First, the approach we are taking to development in Nepal. We recognise that to reduce poverty and vulnerability we need to promote political agreement and stability. Equally, unless our programmes help poor, vulnerable and excluded citizens on the ground, a return to conflict will be more likely. That's why we are supporting Nepal's peace process and helping tackle poverty at the same time.
Second, the size of the funding. Over the next four years, we will make available a total of £331 million. By the fourth year, our support to Nepal will be £107 million - an increase of over 90% on our funding this year.
Third, the new plan includes some new areas of work for us in Nepal. For example, our support to reduce risk from disasters. I have been extremely focused on the high vulnerability of Nepal to a catastrophic earthquake since my first visit to Nepal last year. The UK, and the international community, is committed to doing all that it can to avert another Haiti in Nepal.
Similarly, we are going big on climate change. The results we expect to achieve include reducing the climate vulnerability of 3 million poor people, and lifting 570,000 people out of poverty through the forestry programme alone.
And our programmes on rural roads, peace process, health and education and water and sanitation remain in place, contributing to helping Nepal achieve the millennium development goals.
Overall, what the UK wants to see is a stable Nepal where you will have settled the peace process, written the new constitution and be well on the path to development and prosperity.
You visited Nepal last year, what is your assessment of the post-conflict development scenario?
Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2006, Nepal has made tremendous strides politically. For example, the most inclusive Constituent Assembly was put in place with encouraging representation from historically socially excluded groups – women, Janajatis, Madhesis and Dalits. However, development has not reached many people - largely due to continuing political conflict. Sorting out political problems are still at the top of the agenda and that includes the drafting of the Constitution. While I understand the complications, in a post-conflict country with the diversity of Nepal, the UK encourages politicians to grapple with the challenges of development before it is too late - we must not forget that one of key drivers of the 10 year conflict in Nepal was poverty and if this remains unaddressed the country could slide back into conflict.
Where does governance fit into all this?
As a trusted partner, the UK is concerned about poor governance here. While we continue our support to deliver basic services – health and education – and provide skills and jobs so that poor people can see an improvement in their lives, we are also keen to promote greater accountability of government to its citizens. We therefore support accountability and transparency of civil society and our development partners. We are working to strengthen the public financial management systems of the government. We are also helping communities to demand greater transparency and accountability from the government, through our governance programme, the Enabling State Programme.
You also visited Bhojpur last year and saw for yourself the impact of the Rural Access Program. Do you think this is a cost-effective intervention, and if so are there plans to scale up?
Our Rural Access Programme has had tremendous impact on poor communities in rural Nepal. Not only does it build new roads, but also provides employment, additional infrastructure like irrigation canals and school buildings, training, income and savings for the poor to tide them over lean times. Since 2009 the programme has created 2.9 million days of employment for 16,600 poor people. Given all these results, it is, undoubtedly, cost-effective.
This work will continue in our new operational plan. During this time it will build another 530 km of roads, maintaining a further 3,700 km and create a further 3.4 million days work for poor and excluded people.
Where we go after the current phase we need to see. We will be working with government to better maintain rural roads, generate employment and reduce poverty in the poorest areas of Nepal. Funds have been set aside for this work. We are considering whether we should have a more clearly defined geographical emphasis to our work, concentrating in the poorest areas of Nepal, the mid and far West. However as the design of these programmes has not started it is too early to say exactly what we will do, but I know my team is thinking about this and will be consulting with government and partners on their ideas.
You have allocated sizeable resources to upgrade Nepal's disaster preparedness. Is money the problem, or is it something else?
Nepal is highly vulnerable to a catastrophic earthquake, and I have been extremely focused on this issue since my first visit to Nepal last year. The UK, and the international community, is committed to doing all that it can to avert another crisis like Haiti in Nepal. Earthquake preparedness is central to DFID's new four-year operational plan in Nepal.
I applaud the UN's efforts in creating the Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium as a means to coordinate preparedness efforts. This Consortium aims to fund programmes worth 9 billion rupees to reduce Nepal's vulnerability to disasters. The UK will join this Consortium. Over the next four years, the UK will commit some 2.3 billion rupees to increasing Nepal's resilience to earthquakes. So I don't think that money is the issue.
But we all need to work together. I am urging the Government of Nepal to prioritise the National Strategy for Disaster Risk Management for approval in the Constituent Assembly. The UN, donors and NGOs need to coordinate their disaster preparedness and response efforts if we are to reduce the risk and impact of a catastrophe. I am looking forward to hearing the results of the joint Government of Nepal and US Military's assessment mission to Nepal when I attend a high-level conference on Nepal in the US next month.
And, of course, India's role will be crucial in any response. The UK government will be encouraging India to play an active role in response planning.