Earthquake in Nepal: NGOs eating out democracy in Nepal?

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Earthquake in Nepal: NGOs eating out democracy in Nepal?

Is NGO sector emerging parallel government after earthquake?

Name of write withheld on request

An honest Prime minister is running fragile democracy and Nepali government with very modest economy in Kathmandu. This tiny country of South Asia is depending upon tourism and Non Government Organizations (NGOs) as “bread earners”. Kathmandu is the hub of NGO sector activities where foreigners are working on short to long term projects, causing rental market boom and increase rental fees of good standard accommodations.  I consider Kathmandu as “Dollar City” where people mostly buy and sell in USD instead of local currency. Kathmandu’s economy is actually based on foreign money flow.   Kathmandu is a city of very poor locals and very rich foreigners and middle of this divide is emerging Middle class working mostly in foreign funded NGOs.

Death toll rising over 6,500 people is news for people living outside Nepal but it was reality for us just after 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit our country and international media kept reporting death toll as less as 1,000. I still believe death toll is over 7,000 and it was known to all government agencies as well as to media in first 4 hours of devastating earthquake but actual figure was not released for next 4 days. On April 28, the Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala indicated that the death toll from could reach 10,000, and also appealed for foreign supplies of tents and medicines but even his statement was underplayed by international media who was working closely with NGO sector instead of government authorities and Saturday being the “Off Day” in NGO sector was another factor that NGO sector waited till Monday to expressed views to international media after having their internal meetings and guidelines from their donors and headquarters.

The reason behind underplay of devastation by international media could be old narrative of “avoid shocking news and release actual figure in pieces instead of creating psychological trauma” but this narrative of media management played havoc with Nepal because world did not take earthquake seriously for next 24 hours and thousands of injured were lying in the corridors of hospitals without basic medical and first aid care.

The first help came from India—the neighboring country and Indian prime minister took this disaster very seriously. Second help came from Pakistan and quality of help came from Pakistan will be remembered by people of Kathmandu because doctors from Pakistan Army were present around the clock and they came with ample stock of medicines. Pakistan Army field hospital at Bakhtapur was main sources of receiving medical aid for next 4 days. Third help came from China who left behind others despite of its neighbourhood and bordering Nepal. The reason could be foreign policy of Nepal and its distance from China but China should have forgotten foreign affairs when people needed this regional super power for basic medical treatment and food.

Now aid is coming from different parts of the world but mostly directly to NGO sector and problem is not supply of aid materials rather appropriate distribution. How to distribute aid materials to the actual needy is the real issue right now and Katmandu is still a focal point of distribution because majority of NGOs are in Kathmandu and media is also concentrating on capital.

We fear that there will be a tug-of-war between different NGOs for disbursement of aid materials because no system has been evolved for receiving and distributing aid. Government looks in shock or shamble. Ideally distribution of aid should be through government with readily available nationwide infrastructure that should be doing this job.

“Unfortunately government has already been discredited, partly because of its own delinquency but also because of the misinformation spread by corrupt officials of some NGOs which now form a quasi-official parallel administration. Sadly, in situations like this corrupt elements within NGOs and government do come to the fore”, claimed a journalist while commenting upon situation in Kathmandu.

I have no doubt about the honesty of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala but it looks he is lost due to this havoc and he is letting NGO sector to play lead role in providing relief goods and support to earthquake victims instead of putting pressure on bureaucrats to come out of their slumber and play the role they are paid for.

The leadership of Sushil Koirala and importance of fragile democracy in Nepal are at stake. His honesty and the goodwill he enjoys among the people are not playing any role to show people that government is there when people need their government.

“Government cannot let NGOs walk all over the relief effort, providing only quick fix solutions. This is the time for sustainable, democratically-inspired long-lasting development work, not NGO band aid. This is the time for government to come up with holistic solutions that will bring relief for the present and be a preventive for the future. Quick fix patchwork solutions may make for good media presentation, but they are not enough”, commented a popular blog writer.

I believe that that national level crisis management teams should be formed with the involvement of all major political parties instead of giving a walkover to foreign and local NGOs because people are questioning the importance of democracy and its link for public service. NGOs sector is effectively working since the era of King and what is the difference today in democratic Nepal and Monarch run Nepal?  . This question can form the future of democracy in Nepal.

I believe that Nepal public administration should work together with local democratic institutions like village panchayats and must be empowered and given the task of distributing aid materials in remote areas because mountainous areas are still not receiving what they need in the form of medical as well as food materials.

The role of NGOs is important but NGO sector is promoting certain thoughts through television shows, newspaper articles and online blogs, claiming that Nepali democracy is weak and corrupt and only NGO sector is the honest and useful tool to play the lead role in relief work.

I share 3 dangerous points appearing in the national as well as international media to promote NGOs against democratic government in Nepal:

1-   NGOs also have the ability to collect significant disaster aid.

2-   The most important comparative advantage of NGOs in disaster relief is their relative lack of electoral incentives in the recipient country. A large body of research indicates that disaster aid is often misappropriated and channelled to political supporters. The degree of misappropriation depends on political institutions and economic conditions – and on both these counts Nepal does poorly according to the UN’s Human Development Index, Transparency International and the World Bank.

3-   US-based NGOs, distribute aid according to sincere humanitarian needs. Indeed, NGOs are not subject to the same political pressures as local politicians and therefore are in a good position to use their local knowledge to effectively distribute aid.

I believe that future of Nepali government and Nepali democracy are at stake and apolitical forces slowly but surely are moving ahead to replace the power of real and democratic forces while taking NGO sector at frontline armed carrier.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author whose name is withheld on request as writer is former employee of NGO sector. His/her opinion does not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Dispatch News Desk International and Eurasian News. Assumptions made within the analysis may not reflective of the position of Eurasian News Desk of Dispatch News Desk. All sectors are welcome to write comments, responses, rejoinder and their view points over this article and Eurasian News will publish their opinions. Responses can be send to