A Small Initiative Leading to Priceless Happiness

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The locals having received relief material watch over how the rest of the community is handed the basic goods (Sanogaun, Sankhu-01)

From an early age, I developed a liking for community work. The activities would entail cleaning the neighborhood, helping juniors in understanding their course materials, attending Training of Trainers (TOT) sessions etc. Until now, I have always found myself sharing these experiences in place of many other endeavors that I have undertook. Sometimes I even feel redundant and ask myself “why the same experiences?” I then came to realize that those were one of the most satisfying moments in my life. Those experiences became the foundation of my passion. I believe that not only me but most of the people get priceless satisfaction bringing smile on others. However, at the present moments thousands of people have become homeless and many have lost their family members and relatives due to earthquake and its continuing aftershocks since 25 April 2015. I could not stay idle from the 2nd day of the earthquake, so I started doing everything I could. During my attempt to ease affected people’s lives, I visited Sankhu.

On 20 May 2015, four of the members of Daayitwa Abhiyaan, Natasha Kafle, Ganden Ukyab, Sofia Maharjan and I went to Sanogaun (ward no. 1), Sankhu to distribute relief materials.

A few days before going to Sankhu, I was very tensed and worried. I contacted two of the local members to figure out the immediate needs there. I made sure to follow up, and confirm that materials we were to provide were the ones they actually needed. For the need assessment, the contact persons were initially reluctant to carry out the study as they were worried of being seen asbiased,and having to be the reason for inciting internal conflict, for dissatisfaction of local members were a high a possibility. However, I wanted them to be able to take the lead and make decisions for sustainability and increasing their participation in contributing to their society. After explaining them the importance of their involvement in need assessment they agreed to help me. Then, with the help of the fund collected from the Nepal Rising Campaign, we were able to purchase the required materials.

Another challenge was to make sure that we do our best to justify people based on their needs and utilize the fund wisely. As Sankhu is within Kathmandu valley where there is ample amount of agricultural land, I had to find a way to provide food materials to the ones in urgent need. I discussed with the contact persons of Sankhu and decided to provide food materials to local people who have lost their houses, whereas provide mosquito net and sanitary pad to all the households as majority of people were sleeping in tents due to the fear of strong aftershocks. However, I could imagine a messy crowd anxious to receive help. Giving two different packages of relief materials for the people of the same area would be a difficult task. I thought of a lot of options and discussed with my team mates. One thing was sure that whatever we plan, it won’t be thesame in the field.

We reached Sanogaun and I could recognize some familiar faces whom I met in the last meeting. After a quick introduction among the local members and Daayitwa team, we went to observe the place which was completely destroyed by the earthquake. A little far from the settlement area, all of us sat and discussed about what to do next. They shared their woe of not having access to market, which consequently led to these materials not being sold, and hence, rotten potatoes and lack of income would ensue.The Daayitwa team proposed the local members to consider the prospects of potatoes being sold in a cheaper price out of Kathmandu valley in the form of relief materials. In addition, we discussed the potential of operating temporary learning centre and one of the local members took the leadership.

After a brief sharing session, we then dispatched to distribute relief materials. As soon as we reached near the truck with relief materials, people started joining us, which was gradually getting my nerves, as I initially feared. One of the local members then suggested me to clarify the rationale of having two types of relief packages. As per her suggestion, I announced the fact. With the help of the list created by our contact persons, we distributed the materials, which surprisingly took place in an organized way. One of the local member said, “I am very glad that you brought mosquito net.” I was relieved to hear that statement. Mosquito net is a sustainable solution to mosquito coils and a “life-saving” tool for the ones sleeping in tents.

At the end of the day, everyone was happy: having to ease people’s lives and having received assistance. One of the local members said “We are a family. You helped us in need and we want to give you potatoes to share our happiness.” The entire community had lost their houses. They were perplexed on how to move ahead and resume their daily lives. Despite these hurdles, they showed great generosity, which was priceless.

We then bid them goodbye sitting on the back of the truck with sacks of potatoes we received as a gift.

About the writer: Ms. Rasani Shrestha is a 2015 Daayitwa Winter Fellow working on the project ‘Policy Analysis in Finance Committee’ with Hon. Mr. Uday Shamsher Rana.You can reach her at rasani.shrestha@auw.edu.bd

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Uncertainties Ahead: Dangers of Tarnishing the Image of Government

Army and Armed Police Force help clear rubble from the dilapidated public school
Army and Armed Police Force help clear rubble from the dilapidated public school in Northern Gorkha 

The dangers of tarnishing the image of the government-

(Note- In this write-up the government is referred to the entire administrative state apparatus.)

It is not surprising to be aggravated by the pervasive rhetoric that the “government [1] is completely inept. What is the government up to, when the country is razed to the ground?” At face-value this will undeniably seem true, although we (“the civil society”) will need to “pull our socks up” on this one, and strive harder to probe into these prefabricated appraisals. Have we really understood the scale and nature of this calamity, given, both the ineptitude of the government for speedy redressal, and the extremely contorted topography of the “hilly” country, and difficult accessibility to these areas.

Given the difficulties that lie ahead in immediate future- incessant tremors, heavy monsoons, seemingly dysfunctional civil society, and a desperate state, merely criticizing the government at this juncture is a self-fulfilling recipe for further adversity.

Constructive criticisms and baseless insinuation are completely different things; and both will result in disparate outcomes; while one could either guide involved actors towards solution-driven actions, the other could hinder speedy recovery at this dire juncture of emergency.

Constructive criticism would entail exactly knowing where the government has wronged, and how it could be corrected. Baseless accusation would entail largely remaining in the disingenuous default mode of criticizing the government, without understanding how it functions, and other factors that determine its structural capacity to act.

A fundamental dilemma in disaster response is the tension between the natural impulse to respond quickly and doing things right,” writes Elizabeth Ferris in an article explaining what went wrong in Haiti.[2] Certainly, the ad hoc relief efforts carried out by innumerable number of volunteers and non-government entities are commendable and seem to demonstrate that “natural impulse to respond quickly.” But once the dust settles down from the rubbles, it is plausible to assume that the volume of volunteers will plunge down, as the unaffected ones will resume with their normal lives; or to put it bluntly, they will move on. Now, who will be left to fend for their own survival? Here, doing “things right” will entail engaging local communities themselves in the rebuilding process, the very individuals that have either lost their entire source of livelihood, or even families. And very crucially ensuring that the government measures benefit the affected, the least the “civil society” can do. It will take years to build what was destroyed in seconds.

Constructive criticism versus baseless insinuations- When we refer to the government, who are we exactly talking about? Let’s break it down a little- Is it the bureaucracy, the 601 membered CA, the party in power, the judiciary, or other extensions of the state such as the armed forces et cetera?  At least we could find out who is and who is not in charge of what, before becoming decidedly against every action that the government takes.

The dangers of continually putting aspersions on the government will inevitably act as a double-edged sword. While, weakening the existing mechanism put in place to cope with the emergency at hand, it will also discourages individuals in it from putting up their best efforts, even when numerous of them have undergone personal tragedies themselves. There have been countless reports of army personnel continuing with rescue and relief, even as some of them have lost family and homes.

At this stage, it might be very constructive to recognize who the actors in this process of rehabilitation and rebuilding are, so that the entire process can be seen in a perspective, and we actually know whom to get hold of; rather than just pointing to an ambiguous figure of government.

Once this has been clearly figured out, there is a need to assess what the government is capable of doing, so other alternative measures can be put in place in time. Both the citizens as well as international communities present here in Nepal need to objectively discern this. This will entail clearly understanding what mechanism and protocols they are required to carry out during situations of emergency.

The very nature of government is its visibility, both at home and globally than other numerous entities; hence, it is possible to hold them accountable. In democracies, legitimacy of any government is directly derived from the people. When these very people recurrently demonstrate dismay at the government, along with the loss of its authority, it also loses the capacity to act when called for. As the “buck is finished being passed over”, having moved through all avenues, it inevitably ends in the hands of government.

Once, the state apparatus is weak, it is not implausible to assume that issues of crime and security will increase. Even though the Haitian government was weak before the earthquake struck, it lost even its due legitimacy with the incessant criticisms against it, both from the Haitians, as well as international communities. This can even lead to tearing up of the social fabric, when there is no legit force to ensure the very basic necessities- such as security of life. We should be really careful what we wish for at this juncture and in this matter, because the consequent result could lead to other uncalled-for complications. The abrupt breakdown of the state is the last thing we want, even as we are yet to get a grasp of the after effects of the earthquake.

Just complaining what the government is doing, and what it is not, does not help anyone. If the new pretext (one that of helplessness across actors with the devastating earthquake) does not open up avenues for collaboration, and further assistance of the government, then there never will be another one.

Certainly, the government’s capacity to perform has always been up for questioning, to make matters worse, we are faced with such a huge magnitude of problem. “The quake has completely damaged 10,790 government offices and buildings while 14,997 houses and buildings have suffered partial damages.”  Rampant landslides and inaccessibility of roads increase the odds of reaching to these regions, and make the work harder. It is not wholly the intent, but incompetence and inability to collaborate with the other parties of the state entities that could be inhibiting the aim of reaching to the neediest at the moment, and accelerated rebuilding in the immediate future.

Across the international borders, the government is the face of Nepal. As it already is, Nepal does not have a strong standing in the international community; and yes, this will really matters more in the coming days. I wonder if the Haitian government has a say in any international matter; I doubt if it has that luxury even on its own territory. The “face of Nepal” needs to look resilient, as it is not new that the vulnerabilities of weak countries like Nepal have been played time and again by “external” forces. In addition, it also discourages international communities from providing further support to the government.

Its role in the rebuilding phase will be most integral, as other entities neither have the manpower nor the resources to carry out work in large scale. It can already be observed that as the heat seem to have reduced; both the world as well as Nepalis are becoming desensitized to new events being reported from the ground, already having witnessed the horrors of devastation again and again.

The government already had existing mechanisms such as National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) and extended District Emergency Operation Centre (DEOC) in the districts that are supposed to connect the Secretariat at the center with the districts, during unforeseen events as these. I have personally been to government offices numerous times in the past 10 days, and seen how overwhelmed they are by the sheer load of work they are required to do in a day. I have myself, along with my colleagues, been part of an initiative through the central government, and have witnessed how they are willingly to entertain new ideas and also execute them, given the efficacy of the proposed scheme.

One thing is clear; our government is not inherently built to cope with national calamity such as this. But considering their pervasive reach across the country, they are best suited to deal with the situation than any other parties, especially in terms of rehabilitation and rebuilding of the dilapidated districts. Even more, when the international agencies are gone, it will automatically fall into the government’s responsibility to oversee and ensure that the lives of badly affected are brought to a state of normalcy.

Let us take our “myopic glasses” off for a while, and look at the government from a distance as a massive organization made up of fellow Nepalis. They are just not used to be assisted by “outsiders.” Capacitating government individuals is a prime task at the moment, which probably even is not plausible given their immediate engagement. But again, the homework is figuring out their existing level of competence, as a start. We might not be in a position to play the “us and them” game at this moment. I can’t stress enough, one need to be utmost clear if their’s is a “ready-made” suspicion or if it is based on clear evidence.

The government’s task-

Let’s be clear about the scale of the problem we are faced with at the moment. Eight million people have been affected, with 1.4 million people are in need of food aid immediately.[3] Probably, the country as a whole has never faced such a predicament together before.

The willingness of many parties to help needs to be complimented by rigorous planning and strategic thinking to address the work at the center, which on the one hand is to immediately “dress the wounds” of the aggrieved, and on the other hand, and equally important, to rebuild Nepal to a resilient society. For the latter, channelizing the good intent and competence of millions of Nepalis- civilians and the government, as well as the international community which is working exceptionally hard to ameliorate the situation here is necessary. There is dire need for the international community currently here in Nepal to trust the government, and vice-versa. While the former understand ground realities well, the latter is equipped with technical expertise and resources.

It is a tricky question as to who will take the lead in this, but can we now see the entity that can accommodate all these parties together?

Last week, when the government announced that all funds from around the globe for relief and rebuilding would be deposited in the Prime Minister Disaster Relief Fund, it raised a lot of eyebrows. The government’s rationale was it did not want such huge assistance to be immediate dispersed over a largely scattered ground parties. These funds will be crucial in the rebuilding phase. But again as expected, it did not communicate its intent well with the country.

There might not be a better time than this, given the urgency of the situation, to introduce new mechanism that will compel the state apparatus to be transparent and accountable. But there needs to be close vigilance of the activities it carries out, as with more power designated, the more streamlined its work need to become. Now, the “civil society” has assumed a critical role, I reckon. This is not a time for accusations, but for constructive criticisms. Recommendations to the government-

  • Stay close to what people have to say.
  • Communicate well what it is up to. It could initiate a mechanism to sincerely brief the country with how much help it has sent, along with the resources dispatched.
  • Push for more transparency, to gain the confidence of its citizens. Show to public that it is ready to step up its transparency measures. Much help that is yet to come from abroad should not be deterred because of issues of accountability.
  • It needs to be able to make use of the intellectual and technical expertise that Nepalese home and abroad are capable of providing.
  • Take the international community on board, and work in close coordination.

Since, the public has access to the world through social media; continually projecting the government as the “bad guy” without proper evaluation and knowing the ground realities they are functioning in, it will only prove to be counter-productive.One thing is for sure, if Nepal is declared a failed state, it will be of no utility to anyone, whatsoever.

These opinions are open for discussion.

Please comment below or get back to me at nirnaya.bhatta@daayitwa.org

About me- I am a researcher in the Leadership Lab at Daayitwa Abhiyaan. As for millions of Nepalis, the “Great Earthquake” is a turning point in my life. I believe each one of us need to do our share, after having recognized it, for speedy recovery of this country and its beautiful people. It is time to be inspired, and to inspire.

Reference-

[1] In this write-up the government is referred to the entire administrative state apparatus.

[2] “Haiti Three Years On: Overpromised and Underdelivered,” < http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2013/01/10-haiti-ferris>

[3] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-32492232