Some immediate reflections while leaving Nepal

Having spent two months in Nepal since the earthquake, I am taking some key lessons with me on how the relief happened and will shape the recovery processes in the future. It will be interesting to learn how Nepal rebuilds after this twin earthquake and what lessons apply for agencies involved in relief and recovery process.

1. Aid delivers: In the immediate aftermath, for almost a month there was a huge influx of international search and rescue teams – SARAID.UK being one of them. Many relief and charity organisations providing essentials, many volunteer groups providing medical and psycho-social support, such as students from TISS. These actors risked their lives, bearing the aftershocks and living out in tents as the general tendency was to live outside the buildings for the fear of collapse due to the still-ongoing tremors.

However within 30-45 days these players left, and only those who were interested in the long-run process stayed and planned for longer-term recovery and reconstruction. These included experienced humanitarian actors such Christian Aid, Oxfam, Care, Acted etc.

2. Cluster coordination is a jamboree: In another blog, I have already addressed what happens when cluster systems kick in a nation! In the second month, it seemed overpowering the local mechanisms and the government got onto a front foot to deliver aid to all the affected households.

3. Geography and politics matter: Although there was a huge impetus on getting aid delivered to one and all affected, there were lot of geographical constraints, poor logistical support, lack of roads and vehicular access. All the hilux, 4-wheel drives were hired by international organizations, and trucks and tractors by UN bodies to deliver food and relief.

4. Local government leads the process: The CDO – Chief Development Officer is the nodal person in the Nepal Disaster Management Framework at the district level. he ensured that international donors and all other actors in the district comply  with local mechanisms for relief delivery by sending out regular circulars, memos and MoU for agencies to sign on the dotted lines and deliver prescribed goods within prescribed timeframe to top-down indicated geographies.

5. Humanitarianism in recovery: Targeting and timeliness are two concepts that saw reluctant acceptance among the development actors in the nation. Although time seemed of crucial importance with oncoming monsoons, standards and quality of goods distributed due to supply chain bottlenecks were questionable. Moreover development mindset of actors prevailed who imagined that everyone affected had equal right to the relief goods being distributed. Although this has been seen elsewhere in disaster affected areas, it loses significance to give a CGI sheet to someone whose window is broken, or house has observed wall-cracks after the earthquake. The need-based approach vs top-down standard response strategies locked horns once again in the context of Nepal.

8. Development in WaSH pre disaster instrumental in ensuring that post-disaster sanitation and health scenario did not worsen post-earthquake. The use of safe water springs, safe water handling, and sustained use of shared toilets despite the damage of family latrines due to earthquakes ensured fewer people were susceptible to water-borne diseases.

These are immediate off-the-hip observations from being a reflective practitioner, a tag I have lately lovingly picked up for myself. I will churn these thoughts and empirical anecdotes and follow up with rigorous understanding and conceptual foundations. More to follow on this soon.


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