The devastating earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 has caused widespread destruction and almost incomprehensible levels of human loss.
But in the weeks since the earthquake, victims, civil society groups, and international aid agencies have criticized the Nepalese government for making a horrible situation even worse. Many have accused the government of making the provision and delivery of relief packages more difficult than necessary, and complained that while the relief supplies are there, their distribution is uneven and unjust. People who are near government headquarters, or who are close to local political parties, have had more access to the relief efforts, while others have been deprived.
Part of the reason for this is that the government has introduced a “one-door policy” for the distribution of relief materials, meaning that all relief is supposed to be channeled through the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. This decision has been harshly criticized by national and international donors, many of whom doubt the effectiveness and transparency of such a fund in a rapid-response situation.
After all, Nepal isn’t known for its effective public services, even on a good day. Corruption and dysfunction are rife throughout all levels of government. After the quake, observers in some districts accused politicians of being focused on relief for their constituencies rather than concentrating their efforts on the worst-affected victims and villages.
It’s worth noting that, even amid criticism from various actors, many public servants have been working hard on rescue and relief efforts, despite the risk to their own lives. In some places, communication lines, electricity, water, and other public services have been restored quickly. Security personnel and helicopters were deployed immediately after the quake.
Coordination and cooperation with the government should complement these efforts. No one should be discouraged from responding to the humanitarian crisis. We need to maximize utilization of the resources collected in the names of the victims. This is an opportunity for the government to revive solidarity and support at the local level with the smooth distribution of relief and resources in these communities.
Civil society has multiple roles to play in this difficult situation; it can be mobilized to rebuild communities, rehabilitate victims, and reestablish the trust of government by coordinating effectively with it. At the same time, it is essential to build the confidence of all agencies working to provide support and avoid the duplication of their work.
The local communities, which survived 10 years of armed conflict, have shown high levels of resilience. Some of them have been responding with relief efforts of their own and are sharing their stories of recovery. They have high hopes that the government will help them reconstruct. These hopes must be realized.
The government should engage with civil society to develop appropriate policies for reconstruction, taking into consideration the most vulnerable groups. Only then will Nepal have truly recovered.