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Humanitarian Aid on the move # 19, special issue: Aid localisation

Aid localisation in Nepal following the earthquake of 25 April 2015
François Grünewald

Key word: Southern Asia /

Nepal – which has recently been through a civil war (1996 to 2006) – is a country where there are numerous risks, particularly due to its geopolitical situation in relation to China and India. Nepal’s civil society, which is influenced by the caste system, but also by a long tradition of solidarity, was immediately on the front line of the response to the series of earthquakes that began on 25 April 2015. Individuals, local NGOs, religious institutions and village and district authorities rescued injured people from the rubble, provided first aid, collected and distributed blankets and clothes, etc. International NGOs, particularly those who had been running risk and disaster management programmes, were quickly mobilised in support of their Nepalese partners, in coordination with the National Disaster Management Unit and the United Nations system. Other international organisations, however, who were often new to Nepal, arrived in the villages and carried out distributions with very little, if any, consultation of the local authorities or the population. This caused resentment among Nepalese associations and local authorities, though the extraordinary hospitality and kindness of the Nepalese people helped to smooth things over somewhat.

The decentralised administrative system (village and district development committees) is very politicised, which can lead to problems of independence and impartiality. These committees were very involved in assessing needs and they attempted to establish local coordination mechanisms which international organisations who were new to Nepal sometimes took some time to understand. Nepalese NGOs were often key actors in isolated areas that could only be reached after hours of driving on difficult roads, or even hours on foot in the mountains. The living conditions in these areas remain very harsh and are made worse by monsoon rains and the cold during the winter months. These NGOs are highly exposed to political pressure and the interests of powerful people in villages and therefore have to operate in a highly complex socio-political environment. This has been made worse by the fact that two of the last stages of the peace process – the local and representative elections – only took place very recently, and those who were elected are only just becoming familiar with their responsibilities, even though many of them have civil society and NGO backgrounds. Indeed, many of these new representatives began their involvement in the public arena in the non-profit sector, advocating for change [1]. As such, it will be interesting to see how they will operate now that they have “stepped through the looking glass”.

Few donors chose to specifically target national NGOs to implement the response to the 2015 earthquake despite the advocacy of the powerful Federation of Nepalese NGOs. Some nevertheless did in a strategic manner. Thus, the Fondation de France, which specialises in collecting and redistributing public funds, adopted a multi-faceted approach which consisted of: 1) targeting both large, well-known Nepalese NGOs (THEWA and ARSOW) and a myriad of small NGOs, 2) setting up a technical support and advice mechanism for building reconstruction, and 3) supporting the Federation of Nepalese NGOs in its advocacy work vis-a-vis the national authorities, international NGOs and the United Nations. This approach was first adopted after the 2004 Tsunami, then in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake and in the Philippines after the typhoons in 2011, 2013 and 2014. It helped to identify: 1) numerous advantages of supporting national NGOs, such as the quality of the assessments, the strong societal anchorage and the capacity to maintain a presence in very difficult areas, 2) risks in terms of the ability to scale up programmes, programmes being exploited by local interests and problems of integrity, and 3) lessons for future large-scale disasters. It is clear, for example, that it is possible to transfer significant funds via national NGOs, if the appropriate support mechanisms are put in place (e.g. technical and resource management mechanisms), as well as the appropriate monitoring and learning mechanisms. In terms of aid localisation, generosity and lucidity are not contradictory.


François Grünewald, Executive Director, Groupe URD

[1] After the 2015 earthquake, Nepalese NGOs played a key role in pushing for the ratification of the national law on disasters which had been on the table for more than ten years.