Nepal After the Quake – Foundation’s Partners Help with Innovative Means
In Nepal, relief operations after the horrific earthquake have entered the second week. From the outset, we have been in close contact with our friends and partners at the Samriddhi Foundation. The good news: they are sound and safe – and very active giving a helping hand and applying modern technology in so doing. Following is an interview of Regional Director Dr. Ronald Meinardus with Robin Sitoula, the Director of Samriddhi Foundation in Kathmandu. A German translation of this interview and a background report on the political dimensions of the earthquake have been published in German on the main website of the Foundation - http://bit.ly/1zA7uyF
Meinardus: Now that the dead have been recovered and much of the damage assessed, what are the immediate next challenges confronting the people in Nepal?
Sitoula: As we embark on reconstruction, it is important for us to heal psychologically and feel strong again. A lot of aid is pouring in and the challenge is to channel it towards enabling people to get back on their feet without perpetuating dependency, which is a prominent ‘side-effect’ of aid as we have seen. Focus on creating sustainable economic opportunities for livelihood is of paramount importance now. A country largely made of micro and small enterprises, which already were facing problems regarding access to finance, the challenge is also to come up with sound ideas to enable rebuilding these micro and small enterprises, which were affected badly during the disaster.
The discussion regarding the efficiency of the crisis management of the central government has also reached the outside would how do you assess the government's performance?
The Armed Police Force of Nepal and the Nepal Army along with international teams were commended for their rescue efforts. The government’s intention to ensure minimal duplication and maximum transparency was also praiseworthy. But there were many cases demonstrating that the relief effort was rather slow and inadequate. A lot of skepticism regarding government’s credibility and reliability in conducting relief and construction was also visible. Specifically some policies adopted by the government did not seem to be well thought through and simply reflected the government’s panic and its mistrust towards organized and voluntary relief efforts outside of the government. I believe at the same time, the government also overestimated its own capacities to deliver. This discouraged voluntary groups to take up more responsibility and kept them from effectively delivering relief.
There has been much commentary that the Nepalese nation was ill prepared for the big earthquake. What needs to be done or changed and what role can the civil society and organizations like Samriddhi play in order to improve the readiness?
I do agree that we were not as prepared as we could have been for the earthquake despite knowing that the risk was so huge. Also, the lack of stable governance structures including legitimate local representatives was felt more strongly than ever. Nepal has not had local elections since 2002 and political mafias have largely filled the void since then. These two aspects were crucial in terms of ensuring a better preparedness. However, on the brighter side, Nepal’s community action in forest preservation and micro lending has been very successful. If can utilize the experience and lessons from this and weave it into disaster preparedness, it can be very successful. Also Nepal has great local indigenous community groups (such as guthis, family trusts and neighborhood societies) who are well organized. Such groups from the civil society have a great role to play in this. As for Samriddhi, which is a policy institute, we can play a role in political economic analysis of policies that are in place or will be put in place for better preparedness and reduction of risk.
You have launched a matching project using digital media and the internet. Can you please explain the impact and the role of these media in the Nepalese environment which is characterized also by poverty and a lack of technological development?
Our contribution to the relief efforts with the information portal www.nepalrelief.net was focused on coordinating relief efforts which involved matching relief seekers with providers and ensuring both the groups had as much information in their hand to take speedy action to access resources and deliver them on site. As many motivated, spontaneous and voluntary efforts came to the picture, our portal and few others immediately realized the need to coordinate information and efforts through digital media. I think these efforts helped minimize duplication and to spread information to make sure relief reached places where even the government had not reached at that point of time. I also feel that Nepal’s grip on technology in not in a very rudimentary condition anymore, especially if you consider mobile phone’s penetration. They were crucial in coordinating relief activities. I should also mention that utilizing social media, groups like ours were also successful in creating pressure on the government to water down its strict customs compliance and funding restrictions in a matter of few days.
How can people who want to help, help? Where do you - e.g. through your website - see the biggest needs and what could people as far away as in Germany do to help the people of Nepal?
In short term, through website like ours, the obvious contribution is towards providing resources to enable immediate relief. On our website - www.nepalrelief.net - we feature a lot of organizations and groups that we saw and trusted were doing good work and making a tangible difference. These groups need to be further supported and we are happy to channel resources from people in far off places such as Germany to these groups and play a role in ensuring accountability and effective delivery of relief from the contributions. However, in the medium and long terms, people of Germany can help Nepal by transferring technologies and know-how to Nepal to address the risk and challenges facing us in reconstruction regarding education, shelter, public services and much more.