Message from National Planning Commission (NPC)


The Great Gorkha Quake: A Grumpy Update.1. There are three major phases of response to the ongoing disaster in Nepal: rescue, relief, and reconstruction. With the ferocity of the aftershocks receding, there is a gradual (not complete) shift from rescue to relief. Rescue has been directly led by Nepal Army (with the help of other security agencies). More than a dozen helicopters are in the air ferrying the wounded to Kathmandu and Pokhara. As of yesterday evening, about 100 injured folks were airlifted, compared to about 600 over two days prior. Some pilots have had to return without landing at a few locations because of poor weather as well as higher safety guidelines (esp. for Indian pilots). By April 28, 2015, the threshold of 5000 deaths and 10,000 injuries will likely have crossed.

2. We at the National Planning Commission (NPC) have begun looking into medium to long-term needs for reconstruction. We scanned the architectural and residential losses in the Valley and will be departing to the districts soon. We resolve to rebuild better. To get some organized volunteering going, NPC’s National Development Volunteer Service (NDVS) has partnered with the Himalayan Climate Initiative, a civil society group to create an organized platform for thousands of young citizens seeking to contribute. All other volunteering groups are also encouraged to join hands in an organized manner: http://himalayanclimate.org/TheGenNep

3. Even on a good day, the services of Nepal Government are hard to appreciate. During a disaster, they are bound to feel inadequate. However, thousands of dedicated personnel on the ground are doing what they can with limited resources. I have seen several cabinet ministers, Secretaries, and notably the Chief Secretary leading from the front, fully devoted to the crisis despite a history of ill preparation on the part of all past governments. Note that even the world’s richest countries have struggled to pacify people during such crises. We all witnessed the botched rescue efforts by the mighty US Government during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and by the Japanese Government over its handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

4. But let this record not be used as a cover for incompetence. We must hold officials to account and call out those who are derelict in their duty. Let us, however, be mindful about the enormity of the calamity, and not discourage those who are working tirelessly in good faith with thoughtless tirades and abuse.

5. Many citizens have left the Kathmandu valley out of fear, and to escape hardship. Ironically, this relieves some pressure on public handouts and services. Free vehicles, including school buses, are being arranged to facilitate exit. Thousands of young people are helping spontaneously. But not all, including many who are able-bodied and whose property has not been affected. Instead, many well-off folks seem to be grumbling, in between card games, about not receiving anything from the government.

6. Members of parliament and other people’s representatives should be in their constituencies already, by road or on foot. Ridiculously, many are expecting to be flown on helicopters which has generally been refused. Here is a simple math: one unnecessary traveler by air means 80 kilos of vital relief material off-loaded, or an injured person not flown back. Please do not do anything to strain already stretched resources.

7. We have also seen curious situations where rescuers are themselves demanding government rescue. State capacity is spread so thin that NGOs should not count on government husbanding for anything except vital approvals (like flying or driving cargo in). They should self-initiate, self-organize and self-deliver just like the Red Cross and tens of others. Novice NGOs could partner with seasoned ones. For check-book charity, there are multiple channels for online aid transfer. Sometimes good intentions alone are not enough. Please pay attention to some wise advice here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/apr/27/earthquake-nepal-dont-rush-help-volunteers-aid

Govind Raj Pokharel