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Lesson learnt from Nepal: AID Asia Forum (Bangkok, 2016)


Lesson Learnt from Nepal:
Critical reflection of youth engagement &
the role of international communities!

AIDF: Aid & Responsive Summit [2016]

Talking points – Brabim Kumar K.C., Nepal
(Details of the Program – http://asia.aidforum.org/why-attend…)
1) Thank you for providing this opportunity to speak with you today. I would like to start by noting that aid organizations and international agencies have made significant contributions during the relief and early recovery phase, and they continue to play a critical role in the reconstruction of earthquake affected Nepal. However, I would also like to discuss mistakes made and lessons learned in the past year with the intention of instigating a critical and necessary discussion.
2) My experience comes from being involved in working with thousands of young volunteers who played a critical role during the rescue, relief and early recovery phase. Their selfless commitment of time, labor and heart went a long way towards filling up the gap left behind by the state and aid agencies as it relates to relief distribution. (Example – #act4quake during the relief time – joint initiation of AYON and CYSU). I also speak based on my engagement with various critical groups (like Asha Toronto, Power of People, and University of Toronto), aid agencies and intimate conversations with families directly affected by the earthquake. (My house has been damaged by EQ, my mom decided not to wait for the government and the aid communities –she lost the trust in due course/process)
3) I was the part of a large youth led relief effort in Nepal. We served more than 16,000 households in 400 communities across 18 districts. The government and media acknowledged this initiative as one of the largest youth led relief operation in Nepal after the 2015 Earthquake. I would like to emphasize that the total operation costs of this youth led relief effort was just 1% of approximately 500,000 USD. It is important to perhaps make a comparative note here with the operation costs of international aid agencies. We found that one of the key reasons why we were able to keep the operation costs at such a bare minimum were the communities with whom we closely worked from day 1.. Rather than being passive recipients of the relief support, the locals participated actively, and worked jointly with us during the, the relief process. In many cases, it was the locals who led the relief distribution as a result of ad-hoc creative self-organizing. It helped bring the cost down by a large margin.
4) After security forces, and sometimes before, it was volunteer groups, such as ‘Karma Flights’, a grassroots volunteer group that to hard hit communities first. It was sad to see that it took about a week or so after the quake for the international agencies to reach out to the severely affected communities. (example Saurepani – Karma Flights )
5) So far, I haven’t noticed the public audit report of relief organizations; AYON published its audit report on website and even shared that through social media. It would be great if international agencies could also openly publicize their audit report.

Lessons learnt

6) During and after the relief I’ve observed four mistakes:
a. Increase in consumerism – relief items distributed without considering the real need of the community – distributed whatever people/agency has not what people needed. (Example in Gorkha – male asking for sanitary pads, distribution of fancy shampoos etc).
b. Increase in dependency – example of a Tamang baje, who had planned to build his house by himself, but when he saw people coming with supplies, he decided to wait for the donors to build his house. Many people didn’t plan the rice last year. And, because of high-wages paid by INGOS, affected communities are now reluctant to contribute to the rebuilding efforts unless paid.
c. Conflict between the community members – because of the inconsistent relief materials
d. Not acknowledging the role of informal platforms and mechanism that exist in the communities since origin – Guthi in Newar communities, dhukur in tamang communities. These platforms are informal in set-up, but much powerful and effective than the formal platforms, which sometimes are based on the power structure existing in that society
7) What should be done?
a. Closely work with local communities, informal platforms – respect their capacities as was made evident during the relief operations. I repeat: it is important to recognize and harness the creative self-organizing potential of local communities and mobilize it towards ongoing reconstruction.
b. Sustainable ways to engage with youth – {Nepal needs at least 50,000 new masons, but we only have about 7,000 – but everyday more than 1400 youths are going abroad – }
c. Acknowledge and engage with diaspora communities – about 7 billion dollar was sent last year, 40% after the earthquake –
d. LISTEN TO PEOPLE – listen to their aspirations,
8) Some critical questions –
a) Why are we doing what we are doing? And how do we speak about why are we doing what we are doing? Are we bold enough to realize and acknowledge that there is a thin line that separates altruism and self-interest specifically as it relates to disaster works? And our location on this line of separation may not be black or white, but rather gray? And where do we locate the local households who continue to be crushed under the weight of waiting? What were the institutional ruptures that the earthquake forced to reveal to us where our fault lines lie? Is it important to repair us even while we repair? If so, how do we repair us while repairing Nepal?
From AYON’s press statement AYON calls all the concerned stakeholders to be transparent in the use of post-disaster relief funds and prove their highest degree of accountability towards the need of those most affected. We urge all stakeholders to ensure the involvement of affected people in the planning, designing and implementation of rebuilding initiatives, without discrimination or bias on the basis of political affiliation, religion, caste, geography etc.
Rebuilding works should give special priority to address the needs of most vulnerable and marginalized households, including elderly, people with disability, single women, displaced, and families in the remote areas. Government and other actors should ensure that rebuilding not merely concern the physical structures, but also involves social and economic recovery including livelihood of the affected people. AYON is concerned to observe that most of the affected families have not received enough support from government, and are forced to live in poor conditions under temporary roofs, even one year after the earthquake. Thus, we urge the government to carry out reconstruction activities with a sense of urgency. While we acknowledge the fact that procedures are important, but the lives of many still waiting for support cannot be put at stake. As monsoon arrives, the situation of many survivors will be more challenging, especially for those still under temporary shelters. We urge the government and other stakeholders to take proactive steps in advance before the situation get worse. We are highly committed to support earthquake survivors and to do so through transparent and accountable ways; and we would like to urge all to do the same.
Brabim Kumar K.C.
Many thanks to Dr Sabin Ninglekhu and Nirwan Moktan for providing great inputs while preparing this note.


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