What is it like working with the various UN agencies in Nepal? Have you ever faced any difficulties in your time as Resident Coordinator?
The main challenge is very often to make each agency understand that while their work in their very sectorhas to be done in a certain way, but they have to consider the big picture. […]That’s the reality, while an agency has a very specific mandate, the impact of the work that is done in this very sector of activity or on these very specific target groups, has a far-reaching impact on other groups or other sectors. The challenge is always to make sure that this collaboration between the agencies happen. The other one is also to work with the government, because the same, the government also has its own structure, we come in support to these structures but we don’t intervene on everything, we don’t work on all sectors […] The role of the UN is not only to work with the government but to support member states and the member states is composed of civil society and population. So, part of the work we do is to work with civil society, to help civil society be better organised for instance. We also do capacity building of NGOs and we also use NGOs as implementing partners. […]The work of coordination is also a challenge in itself because in reality, nobody wants to be coordinated. […] So, coordination means that you constantly have to convince people and to demonstrate your added value when you as a coordinator come and intervene, it is for the betterment of what is being done. […]
Actually, you know what, in coordination people always realise how important it is when you don’t have it. When suddenly coordination fails, for whatever reason, then this is when the crowd starts, “Oh my gosh, we need to be coordinated!”
The UN has continuously been supporting Nepal for sustainable peace through its transition from a constitutional monarchy to a federal republic, could you describe how the UN has been supporting Nepal through that?
The UN has been operating in Nepal for more than 50 years. […] The role of the UN is to adjust to the needs of the country with a view to helping the country build its development so that it can become a developed and peaceful country. […]One big chunk of the work that the UN does, it’s really to help build the institutions, the main agency that is involved in that is actually the UNDP. When the country started a war, the role of the UN has been much more to help in the context of war and to assist the population. […] We look at issues of protection because people are exposed to violence, civil population are killed […]One work of the UN has been to help facilitate the discussion between the warring parties to find a settlement and to find a peace agreement. This is how the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed in 2006. Following the years after the signature, this was when the UN was present in the form of a political mission admin, the United Nations Mission in Nepal. At that moment it meant, while the work of the specialised agencies somewhat was continuing at a lower pace, the big chunk of the activity of the UN through the mission wasto assist the two signatories to the peace agreement to implement the peace agreement because it had a number of components. […] Then once the country considered it had implemented almost everything of the peace agreement, this was when the country requested the mission, therefore, to close down so the UN went back to their mode of supporting the development. We went from one first stage of helping a country constitute itself and develop itself as a full-fledged country member of the UN, to a more humanitarian protection mode in that type of intervention, to a more political intervention for the peace agreement, then now to a more development setting.
How do you see Nepal's progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?
First, I have to say that Nepal is one of those countries that has done quite good with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were the predecessor to the SDGs. It’s evenadmirable that the country has achieved such a good result with the MDGs because the period of the MDGs was 2000-2015, part of that period Nepal was, for 6 years, in a war situation. […] I think the country is quite well positioned to also achieve good results for the SDGs. Now, the SDGs started in 2015 and it’s only been 3 years, so it’s a bit too early to say whether the country has achieved anything that is important.
Nevertheless, what is important to know is that the country has demonstrated that it is fully committed to achieving the SDGs and there are a number of actions that the country has done. First of all, Nepal was the first country in the world to issue a position paper on the SDGs even before the SDGs were signed,meaning Nepal really wanted to demonstrate its readiness to put in place all the necessary mechanisms to make sure that over the next 15 years it would doeverything to achieve the SDGs. The second thing, Nepal has put in place as well,is a mechanism for coordination so there is a committee in order to coordinate the work on the SDGs, that involves the Prime Minister as well as the different Line Ministries. […] Thirdly, the country has already also worked on its budget and has itemised the budget along the SDG requirements, so it means that it’s very clear today if you take the budget of Nepal, how much of its budget is dedicated for each SDG.
Nepal is now preparing its fifteenth 3-year plan, it has all the activities that have been identified as the priority for Nepal, as per the government, and have been structured along the priorities of the SDGs. As the UN, we have worked with the government on all these stages, we have also helped develop some SDG-based planning guidelines, the National Planning Commission has actually elaborated those with our support. Right now, the country has engaged into a series of capacity building of the different provinces and the local governments to share these SDG-based planning guidelines […]This localisation is very important because in the context of a federal state, like we have in Nepal, local governments and provincial governments are closer to their constituencies, they know better what the needs are and therefore they can really have an approach that is tailormade to their provinces.
What difficulties do Nepal face in achieving the SDGs?
One of the variables is the financing of the SDGs because what has been very clear at the moment of the adaption of the 2030 Agenda, as we called the SDGs, was that the main funding for the SDGs has to come from the governments […] so the variable now is if the government is going to invest enough of its resources and if it’s going to manage them well […] otherwise they won’t realise them. […] There is another variable,Nepal is a very vulnerable country to disasters by its geographical position. Disasters like earthquakes and floods constitute serious hurdles for countries. […] Then the other variable is how much international communities are going to support Nepal because, as I say, the main donor for SDGs is the government itself […] But still, the international community is here to support Nepal in some of its endeavours […] The last variable that I want to raise is also how much the publicown the SDGs, and when I say the public, I mean the civil society at large which includes the private sector, and really all the non-state actors. […]How much the people of Nepal really understand that the SDGs are their agenda and it depends on them working towards that, demanding that the government does what it should do. Also, the private sector making their activities align with the SDGs and so on.To summarise that, the SDGs are a big endeavour that cannot be achieved by one actor, it needs really a combination of all these actors to make sure that the country achieves it.
What areas of development do Nepal need to improve on?
First of all, the government has determined four sectors as its priority. Infrastructure, indeed there are so many areas in Nepal that are inaccessible by road. You cannot develop a country without infrastructure, we do not work on that but that’s definitely a challenge for the government, they need all the possible support they can get. You already have the two neighbours who are already quite involved in that which is good but also, as I said, you have to put a lot of resources into that. Then agriculture, that is indeed a big challenge because actually although Nepal is one of the fastest urbanising countries, it nevertheless remains a very rural country. More than 75% of the population of Nepal lives off agriculture, directly or indirectly, so it means that agriculture continues to be a very important sector and on that there is a big challenge for Nepal because at the same time Nepal faces a lot of migration of its population. Who migrates out of Nepal? Mostly the people who are coming from the countryside. Why? Because they find no job, they can’t live off the little piece of land they have, so it means that this weakens the agricultural sector which constitutes a big backbone of the country. But it also means that we are facing a feminisation of agriculture because the men go to work abroad and women are left to not only take care of the family as is always the case, but also tend the land, so that’s a big challenge and so Nepal has to work on two aspects of that. First of all, develop the country in such a way that people don’t go abroad to seek a job because they will find here so Nepal has to make sure that the agricultural sector continues to develop and continue to offer job opportunities for the rural population so that they don’t leave the country or they don’t migrate to urban centres because if they go to urban centres and they don’t find jobs there either, that’s not a good thing. But also, to address the difficult situation that the women, the head of households, face - that’s a big one. The third sector that the government want to develop is energy, we are not very involved in that as well. These are for the banks, the World Bank, the ADB, the UN agencies are not involved with this. We do support some small-scale projects, like having micro-hydro in very rural communities, otherwise we don’t really get involved in the issue of energy but that’s definitely an important challenge for the country because the country so far has been sitting on a treasure without exploiting it properly. Currently, it is estimated by the experts in energy that Nepal has a capacity of more than 85 thousand megawatts of power; it’s enormous, we have all these mountains and all these rivers and so on. Nepal is only exploiting less than 1000 megawatts, so you see the scope. If Nepal was multiplying what it was doing by two or three, it can actually, indeed, become a big producer of energy for the entire region and that would bring a lot of currencies and income for the country. In order to be able to do that Nepal has to strengthen its own institutions, it has to strengthen an environment that is conducive for the private sector to come and invest, for foreign companies to come and invest and help develop that. Nepal can as well do it with its own national companies but right now, it hasn’t really managed this so it means there is a need of injection of foreign investment, so that is a challenge. Then the fourth sector that the government wants to develop is tourism and tourism is indeed the best thing that the government can invest on because Nepal is a country that is so rich in what it can offer in terms of tourism. It has the highest mountain in the world, that is already a big attraction; it has fantastic nature all around; it has a magnificent culture with so many ethnic groups that all have different customs, it’s wonderful and it has people who are so kind and nice and friendly and pleasant; the flora and fauna, it has everything. So the challenge for the government is that tourism has to be done in a way that it will be environmentally friendly, so that the country should not do the mistakes that other countries have done, having big tourism industry that ends up destroying the country; it has to be tourism that involves the people, that is to say, a tourism that it will give jobs to remote people in different areas and not only the Kathmandu area, so that’s a big challenge.
What does the UN think Nepal has to improve on?
Besides that, what the UN sees as a challenge for Nepal, one is inclusion. Despite the fact that Nepal has a new constitution that is quite good and has several provisions that allow the inclusion of the diversity of Nepal, ethnic and caste as well as inclusion of women which we have seen it through the election, Nepal continues to be a country where there is a lot of discrimination. While it is true that now you have 40% of women elected at local level and 33% of women elected at national level, this doesn’t mean that the situation is solved for women. […] Women are facing violence. You have cases of rape like we’ve heard with the Nirmala Panta case and on that there is still a huge level of impunity and impunity fuels the violence because then perpetrators know that nothing will happen to them. […] So that’s a big element of violence against women that deprive women of their right and impede them in becoming fully-fledged actors of development in Nepal, because when you’re beat up you can’t do much. Then you have harmful practises that still exist in Nepal like the Chhaupadi, […] also the issue of early marriage[…] The state has a huge responsibility in going and educating these families and making sure they are sensitising the population that they can’t do that, protecting the girls from that, sanctioning the parents who do that[…]Then you continue to have exclusion at an ethnic level and caste level, you still have, today, people who will not eat food prepared by Dalit - that is so medieval. Nowadays in Nepal, we can’t say that all people are equal, people don’t have the same access to all the opportunities. Then you have another type of inequality in Nepal, […] the geography has much more impact on malnutrition even than the ethnic group, so it means that this geographic inequality is an important factor that the government needs to address becausethe people whose level of human development is the lowest are the people living in the south of Nepal. […]
What does this mean for Nepal?
It means people face multiple inequality. […] The country, as much as it wants to go forward, if it does not address these issues that are issues of human rights, the right to education, food, shelter, women having the same rights as men, it will not get far. […]
You really have to diversify your economy and you have to capitalise on the youth, that’s one of the other challenges of Nepal. […] These are the young people who will bring new ideas to develop Nepal; these are the young people who are going to change the mentality of Nepal; these are the young people who are going to say enough of the discrimination because the young people don’t believe in that, the young people have their hearts in the right place. […]Take the population of Nepal, discard the women who are usually left out of opportunities so half of the population is not here, discard the youth, discard the ethnic groups who are not considered worthy, who is left to develop the country? The men from a certain elite, above fifty – it’s very small! Are we going to develop Nepal? I’m sorry, no, because no country can develop with only that group. The power needs to be shared with everybody so that’s why federalism represents a fantastic opportunity because now, out of the people who have been elected, you have women, you have Dalit, you have young people. What is another challenge of Nepal is to make sure that the federal system works because if the federal system works really as it should, then this diversity that we mentioned, youth, women, ethnic groups etc., will be given an opportunity to really do their share, contribute with their new ideas and that could be a way for Nepal to really develop.
There are many more challenges, we could spend the rest of the day talking, there is the challenge of climate change that the country really has to embrace. Although it’s not a country that at one level can say it’s responsible for climate change but the pollution in Kathmandu is an issue Nepal has to do something about, then they can’t blame someone outside because that’s their own making. The cars are polluting enormously because there’s no control; waste management is so badly done people continue to burn their garbage in the garden and that pollutes enormously; you have the brick kilns that are polluting, all this constant dust and so on and so forth, so many things the country does that they can’t blame on anyone else. They have to do it, then it will become the first cause of mortality tomorrow.
In your opinion, which sector is in need of prioritising most in Nepal?
I would say the government, and the world in general, tend to a have a reasoning like this: in order to develop a country, I need to have money, so in order to have money I need to develop my economy, first put all the effort into developing the economy. My point is a bit different. How do you develop a country if your people are uneducated, in bad health and discriminated? My view is that while the economy is important to develop, you can only develop the economy if you have a workforce that is educated and well taken care of, to help you push the country forward because you can’t develop a country without its people […] For me, the government cannot leave on the side the social development, therefore the country should have a two-track effort, while it’s making all possible efforts to develop the economy and the sectors that we mentioned, but it has to also work well on social sectors […] education, health, social protection networks have to be developed at the same time […]Nepal has to finish with the discriminations whether it is based on gender, on ethnic or caste group, on the youth, Nepal has to address that, that is the priority today. Otherwise it will continue to be a country with some people having access to everything and all the privileges, but a big chunk of the population that will continue to have its’ rights violated and that is absolutely not acceptable.
Lastly, I think Nepal has to complete the Peace Agreement. In the Peace Agreement you have the transitional justice which is also a very big component, whereby truth has to be told and so far, the country has never engaged on the truth telling exercise in order to say exactly what happened during the war; it’s important to know what happened during the war because then it has to be put into the curriculum of the school teaching so that children will know their history because a country that doesn’t know its history is bound to repeat itself. […]Then you have to give reparations to the victims and reparations comes in the form of justice, that’s the criminal accountability, people have committed crimes and you have to try the perpetrators. But you also have to give reparations to people who have lost loved ones, who have been raped, who have lost their lands, that’s important. […] When you look at countries that have been at war, those countries that have really managed to consolidate peace are those that have recognised that they have been in a war, recognised that these were the victims of the war, this is what they did to their people; but now they know the perpetrators have been punished, they have repaired the damage that has been done and they teach it to future generations so it will never happen again. That is still challenge for Nepal.
How well does Nepal cope with natural disasters?
The country has decided to structure itself with a national authority for disaster risk management; it was actually a law that was adopted last year that establishes this disaster risk management strategy and law, that determines within the ministry of home affairs, there should be an authority. So, the legal framework is there, the government has made a big effort for that; the problem is that it has not yet been properly implemented, the head of the authority has not been named yet and so on. That being said, I think the country has made progress when it comes to responding to disasters because, from the memory of the colleagues who were present at the time of the last earthquake, and when we faced the floods last year where 1.7 million people were affected, we could see that the country was already better equipped to respond to disasters. I think that in general the country has learned some lessons and is moving forward, but still a number of things need to be done so the country is not yet there. When it comes to disasters like earthquakes, because earthquakes cannot be predicted, […] there is a lot of work Nepal that has to do, first in making sure that the new norms of construction are respected and that implies a monitoring system, a system of control and this is not yet in place. For the floods also, there is a lot of work that has to be done, […] prevention action that needs to be taken that has not yet been done. The legal framework is there, the intent is there, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done for the country to be really prepared to face disasters.
How does the UN see the earthquake reconstruction process going?
I know that there is lot of criticism on the reconstruction effort but I want to say something that maybe goes against that because, once again we have to understand that Nepal is not a rich country, it’s a Least Developed Country, it aspires to become a middle-income country by 2030 but it’s not yet there. In three years, nevertheless, the country has managed to support the reconstruction of 250 thousand houses, plus a number of schools and hospitals. […] yes more can be done and better can be done, but at the same time we have to recognise that for a country that is poor and that has a number of other challenges, let’s not forget that after the earthquake there was the propagation of the constitution that lead to a number of problems and the blockade for 6 months, Nepal had to face a number of problems that somewhat may have distracted from the effort of reconstruction. Despite that, there are some results today. […] What reconstruction should now focus on is a tailored approach, so that you really identify each situation so that if you are really, really poor, then the government can help you more otherwise they’ll never get off the ground. It needs now a tailored approach and if the government doesn’t do that now, then it will perpetuate some inequalities that we discussed earlier on that become so visible in this reconstruction effort […] I know that the NRA wants to now, over the 2 and a half years that is left of its mandate, to hand over the reconstruction responsibilities to local governments. Then the government has a big responsibility, to not only to hand over the responsibility, you have to hand over the means to carry it out, so money has be given to local governments to support their people who need reconstruction. Policy frameworks have to be put into place so that things are done according to criteria, you have to accompany the local governments in the reconstruction.
How well is Nepal progressing on its gender issues?
Thanks to a progressive constitution, we can say that there is progress, to have so many women being elected that’s great, but they have been elected because of the provision of the constitution, not because the people wanted it, or the men particularly. It means that the mentalities have not yet evolved, so I think, from a legal framework perspective, progress has been done, but when it comes to the mentality, I think that there is still a long way to go. As I say, we see it with the issue of violence against women, so I consider that Nepal has made some progress from an institutional viewpoint but that is not enough progress on the issue of mentality. This needs a very proactive approach and as I say, something that has a zero tolerance to discrimination, so it means that more has to be done at institution and government level because if you wait on the mentality to evolve, we will be waiting for a long time, it’s not going to change soon, so I think that there is still a lot of work that needs to be done when it comes to gender.
In your time of living here in Nepal, what kind of transformations or changes have you seen?
Well, two years and a half is long and short period to really see transformation, but I was really happy and lucky to be here to witness, for instance, the holding of the elections in 2017. Nobody really believed Nepal could do this election that was so complex; the local elections were very complex, you needed to elect 36 thousand people in a country with infrastructure that is very poor, where people are in so very remote places and not all of them were educated enough to understand what they had to do. But still the country managed to do that with a huge turnout. It was done, somewhat, peacefully, there were a few incidents here and there but honestly it was well organised. So, that in itself is a big achievement, that has been really something that the country can be really praised for. Now, I’m the everyday witness of that federalisation, it’s only been one year now that the government has been in place, so it’s far too early to draw conclusions. We definitely see the huge forest of needs and things that have to be done but meanwhile we have to look and even though there are a few, we look at the trees that have been planted and are growing. I think that this as well is moving forward, it’s not enough and definitely there’s so much to be done but for any country that would be a challenge, to transform like this, because to go from a unitary to federal system, it requires so many adjustments. So, these are the things of progress I see, but my heart still aches when I see the situation of women, still aches when I see the victims of the conflict who haven’t yet gotten access to justice, when I see that mentalities are still considering some people as unworthy, or different, or untouchable, when I see that the disabled people still don’t have access and are still the most unemployed people, that has yet to progress.