Aid in collaborationIt was in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes that the government instituted a “one-door” policy for the first time, according to which international organisations, NGOs and volunteer groups would not be allowed to directly hand out aid but would be required to channel all relief through government mechanisms.
It was in the aftermath of the 2015 earthquakes that the government instituted a “one-door” policy for the first time, according to which international organisations, NGOs and volunteer groups would not be allowed to directly hand out aid but would be required to channel all relief through government mechanisms. Recently, after the floods in the Tarai, the government once again announced a one-door policy. There was a widespread outcry against this provision. Everyone could see that government efforts at relief distribution were highly inadequate, and few had the confidence that it would be able to manage the large quantities of aid. In addition, many volunteer groups felt that the one-door policy constituted an infringement upon the right of people to help their fellow citizens.
The government has repeatedly stated, however, that the one-door policy was a way of preventing chaos in distribution. Officials stated that distribution by non-governmental groups was haphazard. While some areas had received aid multiple times, others had not received any. The task of the government was to ensure even distribution. Furthermore, the government was also concerned about maintaining “sovereignty”.
Political leaders and officials were concerned that international groups were working unchecked across the country. These are valid concerns. But the problem is that the state does not quite have the capacity to handle and properly channel large quantities of relief aid. Until such a time, it has to devise better ways to cooperate with civil society groups to distribute relief. After the earthquake two years ago, local administrations did find ways to cooperate with NGOs and other groups. In some areas cooperation has improved service delivery. However, government officials often have a tendency to think that only they have the right to engage with the population, and are resentful of civil society groups. This state of affairs exists not just in districts, but at the very heart of the government.
A few days ago, the Supreme Court issued an interim order that prevents the government from implementing a one-door policy. This is not a final judgment yet. The Supreme Court will have to deliberate on all aspects of the situation before rendering a decisive judgement. But the order is nonetheless welcome. It offers an opportunity for state officials to reconsider the policies they have adopted. Senior officials at the highest reaches of the state should now embrace a more collaborative approach. Recognising that their own efforts have not been sufficient, they need to find better ways of cooperating with NGOs and voluntary groups. The experience of post-earthquake relief and reconstruction can offer some good lessons in how to do so.