The British Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Gareth Thomas, arrived in Kathmandu on Wednesday to look at UK development aid projects. Nepali Times posed some questions to him on the British aid agency DFID's plans to deal with development assistance in a time of conflict.
Nepali Times: In your assessment, does it still make sense to provide development assistance to Nepal while the conflict goes on?
Most definitely. Development cannot wait for conflict resolution. It has a key role to play both to help people survive the conflict and to prepare the way for peace. We will not withdraw as long as the safety and security of development workers can be safeguarded. To do so would increase the suffering of the most vulnerable in rural areas and would, in my view, prolong the conflict.
Provided we remain confident that our support will continue to improve the lives of the poorest, we plan to increase the level of our bilateral effort in the period upto 2006/7 from an estimated ?35 million this UK financial year to ?47 million by 2006/7.
From my perspective, having effective and well targeted programs is more important than volume. I am pleased to say that DFID in Nepal has an excellent track record of disbursing agreed allocations effectively and in full. This record is all the more creditable given the severe challenges in the country. But we should not be complacent. The challenges facing development continue to grow and unless there is real and immediate progress towards a political resolution of the on-going conflict, there remains a risk that the development process could stall.
There are serious obstacles to service delivery. How does DFID plan to overcome them?
We will not compromise on the safety and security of our field staff. We have developed, together with the other bilateral and multilateral agencies operating in Nepal, a set of Basic Operating Guidelines which set out the ground rules for development programs. These Guidelines, available in both English and Nepali, have been given a wide distribution across Nepal and are very familiar to all the parties to the conflict.
As you know, there have been occasions when DFID, along with other donors, have been forced to temporarily suspend activities in some districts as a result of threats to field staff. We will continue to monitor compliance with the Basic Operating Guidelines very closely. The safety of staff is of paramount concern and we will not hesitate to suspend activities should this be put at risk.
Service delivery in an environment where government is not able to work in parts of the country presents some real challenges. DFID is responding by adopting flexible and innovative approaches. We are working through government where possible. We also work with NGOs or community based organisations. In many instances we are working directly with communities and "user" committees. DFID, together with other donor partners, is talking to the government about protecting the space for development and being more innovative and flexible in the design and implementation of programs.
The protection of human rights is central to development. We have acknowledged the government's progress with the development of a Human Rights Commitment paper. We continue to urge the full and speedy implementation of that commitment and especially the need for independent monitoring and a substantial strengthening of the Nepal Human Rights Commission. DFID is ready to help.
Does the continuance of British help with military hardware procurement for the Royal Nepali Army mean that a military solution to the conflict is possible?
It is very clear to me that there can be no military solution to the conflict in Nepal. The UK government is committed to helping bring an end to the suffering of the Nepali people brought about by conflict, poverty and discrimination.
The UK government's non-lethal support to the security forces is intended to help government protect internal security. As part of this support, the UK has provided two Short Take Off and Landing (STOL) aircraft. These aircraft are unarmed and are suitable only for conducting aerial surveillance, search and rescue. The gift was made on the understanding that they will not be armed in the future.
The gifting of these aircraft represents only one component of the UK government's support to Nepal through the Global Conflict Prevention Pool (GCPP). Other important GCPP initiatives include programs aimed at community policing, support for the protection of human rights, support for the victims of conflict and a variety of initiatives aimed at promoting an effective negotiating process to bring about an end to the conflict.
Is there any significance to the timing of your visit?
A visit to Nepal has been one of my priorities for 2004 and I am delighted to have made my first visit. I have found it useful to see for myself how the efforts by DFID and others to reduce poverty are being implemented.