The multi-sectoral assessment team for the INGO I am working with is back with its initial findings. I pick a quote from an email exchange in the first week: “Everything that is being said is on estimation and we don’t have a clear picture on any particular need except that this response will require shelter, shelter and shelter and NFIs and shelter again.”
The coordination chaos manned by the UN OCHA has a spate of meetings everyday Centrally, then at the district level, within clusters and inter-cluster. Although the primary objective is to streamline and manoeuvre needs to the most needy and unreached on the ground, the fallacy of so many external agencies coordinating and leading the processes centrally and within districts and clusters is too chaotic to keep track of. There are cluster leads, then there are separate district cluster leads who report back and so many leads, and so many districts and you blind out the local agencies who have to advocate for any particular gap.
And yet we hold discussions on the successes of such initiatives, in Gorkha the CDO (Civil Development Officer – mandated to oversee relief processes through the DM Act) was easily overruled by the DDRC mechanism which is set up to coordinate and facilitate agencies for relief activities. What are their political colours and interests in these mechanisms, how feudal do they get?
The cluster led its way, threw some weight behind issues related to gaps in tarpaulin distribution in the first phase and managed to clear way for a second round of appropriate distribution adhering to standards. Initially agencies had provided households with maybe one, or smaller size or plastic sheets, covering a small percentage of households within entire VDCs.( village development committees) in that district. This was solved with agencies getting a go-ahead for a proper distribution of emergency shelter items – tarpaulin sheets, ground sheets and ropes for each households.
In Kathmandu in the third week of May, I attended meetings where the cluster patted itself on its back to set up a mechanism with the porters and trekking associations in Nepal to reach out to the farthest areas in the north with basic essential survival kits for households preparing to rebuild before the monsoons. A cluster achievement indeed!
And I am back now in Dhading, another district filled with chaos, as DDRC expresses interest only in CGI (corrugated galvanised Iron) sheets distribution, directs agencies to cover entire VDCS without targeting and cautions against distribution of cash, whereas in Gorkha they don’t seem to have made up their mind to cash first or CGI? What role can cluster play here? Is the DDRC right in guiding agencies to ensure nobody is left out like the tarpaulin nightmare, or what are the interests behind this enforcement of rules arbitrarily? The households from upper VDCs have temporarily descended to the camps here, leaving behind the ruins in their villages.
In the meanwhile, amongst all the chaos and coordination jamboree, the rebuilding of households, ‘self-recovery’ activities continue as people are bringing down their houses brick by brick, sometimes relaying the walls and roofs over the remains of what stood earlier? How safe, green, better and resilient these are, only time could tell, clearly the agencies are caught up in discussions of another realm, mindfully ignoring the needs, processes and priorities of those who burnt the worst, and are still tiding through these waves suffering aftershocks each night and rebuild before the rains begin.