International NGOs working in Nepal were severely criticised after the 25 April 2015 earthquake for not delivering what they promised, especially given the amount if money they raised through emergency appeals. Some criticisms continue.
This week I interviewed a representative of INGOs, who told me that any mistakes they made were due to the need to react quickly and save lives. Read more below.
A shorter version of the article was published in Nepali Times.
Nearing the second anniversary of the 25 April 2015 earthquake, international NGOs say any flaws in their work stem from the need to act immediately, and the stifling bureaucracy of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA).
“From any international standard, emergency relief, saving the lives of people, went very well. The reason is that governance was decentralised,” said Prabin Manandhar, Chair of the Association of INGOs.
“When the government centralised operations – creating the NRA, dissolving it again, re-creating it – they created layers of bureaucracy… we had to submit every project for approval to the NRA: it could take months,” added Manandhar, who is also Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation Nepal.
INGOs were blasted in the weeks and months following the earthquake, and criticism continues. Journalist Emily Troutman accused multiple INGOs of taking credit for the same work: ‘One organisation pays for the helicopter, another organisation hires people to drive the truck, and then a final organisation pays for the tarp. All three organisations take credit for ‘providing shelter’.’
Manandhar counters that record-keeping was not a priority in the weeks following the disaster, when the central government gave INGOs a free hand to work, and 93 new organisations arrived in the country. But after three months, figures were provided to the Social Welfare Council. “They must be able to tell you who did what.”
Today, 135 of the 259 INGOs working in Nepal are AIN members.
“There’s a lot of competition and INGOs don’t want to put themselves out of business”
Manandhar thinks INGOs deserve credit for mobilising so fast, spending their own money before donations started arriving. He estimates that flash appeals raised 60 per cent of INGOs’ post-earthquake funding; the rest came from existing sources. From April to December 2015, INGOs spent all of the money they raised, but in 2016 they could only spend about 60 per cent, because rebuilding has been so slow, he adds. “Many INGOs have now shifted their resources because rebuilding projects were time-bound.”
Subindra Bogati, Chief Executive of Nepal Peacebuilding Initiative, says INGOs must do more to recognise, and support, local organisations. “I wouldn’t be that critical of their work right after the earthquake,” he says in an interview. “No one knew what to do, INGOs were trying to do their best.”
But in following months they continued to design projects without first consulting local NGOs, Bogati adds. Facing stiff competition, the locals would acquiesce.
INGOs, but especially donors, need to change their mind-set that local NGOs are unable to deliver projects, says Bogati. INGOs could also support local organisations by sharing knowledge and building capacity, he adds. But he recognises that’s a long-term challenge: “There’s a lot of competition and INGOs don’t want to put themselves out of business”.