Spending aidHumanitarian assistance in the form of cash, goods, equipment and volunteers flooded into Nepal from various countries, governments, well-wishers and international agencies in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake.
Humanitarian assistance in the form of cash, goods, equipment and volunteers flooded into Nepal from various countries, governments, well-wishers and international agencies in the aftermath of the Great Earthquake. As the country is currently in the midst of a reconstruction and rebuilding phase, it is important to understand the international norms and principles of humanitarian assistance.
According to Global Humanitarian Assistance, humanitarian assistance is generally accepted to mean the aid and action designed to save lives, alleviate suffering and maintain and protect human dignity during and in the aftermath of man-made crises and natural disasters. It also implies actions to prevent and strengthen preparedness for the occurrence of such situations guided by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, independence and accountability. Furthermore, accountability is a core concept of Good Humanitarian Donorship Principles, that is, to allow ourselves to be scrutinised, to listen to criticism from beneficiaries and other stakeholders and to learn from our mistakes and successes and the good practices of others. These principles make it different from other forms of aid and foreign assistance.
In the context of the recent earthquake, it is very difficult to say whether the principles of humanitarian assistance were followed or not. On the one hand, providers of humanitarian assistance managed to deliver relief goods immediately after the earthquake. The government granted customs clearance to materials imported for humanitarian assistance. And fortunately, no major damage was caused to the electricity and communication network.
On the other hand, it was seen that the government was not prepared to deal with such an unprecedented natural disaster. As a result, it could not properly manage and coordinate the relief and rescue operations in all the affected areas. There was also overlapping and duplication in the distribution of resources to the victims, especially those mobilised through INGOs, charities, individuals, various agencies and well-wishers. Also, it was often reported by the local media that many of the victims did not receive any assistance even one month after the earthquake.
It was also reported that there was misuse of materials and supplies in the name of quake victims. There were also news reports about the distribution of date expired and unhealthy food. The rice supplied by the World Food Programme is still a subject of public debate. With regards to transparency, the government did not get accurate and detailed information about the assistance provided. No or negligible efforts were made to strengthen the capacity of the government or local communities to prevent, prepare for, mitigate and respond to humanitarian crises either. It is hoped that this kind of lapse will not be repeated during the coming recovery and reconstruction phase.
The way forward
Considering Haiti’s experience in reconstruction and rehabilitation, recognising the principles of humanitarian assistance and respecting the government’s existing aid policy, there is no doubt that funding should be channelised through the government system. The aid pledges made at the donor conference should be translated into actual funding, and the mobilisation of resources should be transparent.
Both the government and donors should expedite the conclusion of the project agreements without delay. Some donors may wish to contribute their pledged assistance through budget support, but some may opt to use other mechanisms which require months for project preparation. How much of this assistance will be mobilised through the government budget and how much will be spent through off-budget mechanisms may become clear only after the negotiations and project agreements are concluded between the government and its development partners. This will obviously take months. If it is not certain that the pledged amount will be disbursed in the first year.
In order to make aid more effective, it is necessary to hold outreach consultations with a large number of the affected population, civil society, INGOs and NGOs, the private sector and other stakeholders. The government and development partners should work together to ensure the effectiveness of assistance by adhering to the principles of aid effectiveness and good humanitarian donorship and build on the lessons learned. During the implementation of reconstruction projects, quality should not be compromised in the name of ‘fast track’.
While ensuring transparency in fund mobilisation, the Aid Management Platform housed in the Ministry of Finance should be utilised to track post-earthquake assistance received from development partners and INGOs. There should be coordination not only among donors but also other stakeholders and government agencies to avoid overlapping and duplication of effort and resources. Donor coordination is relevant in the sense that it could avoid donor competition, reduce transaction costs and facilitate the tracking of aid flows.
Considering the past experience of delays in public construction projects by contractors, the high-power authority should be able to hire and fire contractors who do not complete their tasks according to the stipulated terms and conditions. The authority should also assess the quality of their work even though it might increase government spending. There should also be continued discussions and debates on ways to improve the quality and effectiveness of development cooperation and increase its impact on development goals while mobilising post-earthquake assistance.
Bhandari is associated with the Aid Management Project under the Ministry of Finance and the views expressed here are his own