I just arrived back in Gaighat after two days away in the city of Biratnagar. I attended a conference for NGO workers, “New Nepal Federalism Country Structure, Eastern Region. It was hosted by the member organization, Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP) in which NESPEC is a member. The objective of the conference was to get participants talking about the benefits and disadvantages of a Federalist state, a state in which ethnic groups are represented on both the national and regional levels and to further take it to the constitution assembly after bringing the issues to their organization. The new government is currently writing the new constitution that has taken more than a year so far and is still far from complete. Federalism is a major demand by small ethnic groups to gain representation politically and culturally as well as inclusion by the state.
It was another crowded roller coaster bus ride to the second largest city in Nepal, about four hours southeast, along the Indian border. Green, rolling hills with endless rice fields, cows and goats grazing and many young boys bathing in the local watering holes. One of those water sources is the largest river in Nepal, the Sapti Koshi that has over ten dams. Last year, one of the dams broke suddenly, tragically wiping 5,000 homes in Nepal and 500,000 in India, (in the Bihar state). Still causing much concern because of the fear of the old dam structures, also resulting in strife between the two countries.
As the bus turned to escape from a massive pothole, was when I thought, I am going overboard with everyone on this crowded bus. Luckily, the driver turned the wheel abruptly as if it were a knee jerk response to an everyday problem. Driving around children, cows, goats, motorcycles, and cars is extraordinary and certainly no small task.
While looking out to the beautiful landscape, I began thinking about the same lingering questions that I have for sometime, what exactly are the problems and benefits of foreign aid? The roads are another sign of the under-development in Nepal and how infrastructure improvements are required for the future. The Nepali news on TV reports almost nightly about incidents of landslides, bus accidents and the diarrhea outbreak in the western Terai. 200 people have died in the outbreak and the government has been greatly criticized for acting so slowly with medicine.
I used to always think that you have to serve the people, however I’m beginning to think that foreign aid needs to be directed to the industry base instead. (One of the many issues that I need to dedicate time researching which will be difficult due to the stubborn internet connection). Many NESPEC workers are unable to reach needed villages due to flooded roads during the monsoon season, producing for worsening conditions for people and also, the organization is unable to carry out its mission. If foreign aid is given more effectively to roads, then marginalized people, such as the indigenous groups in the hill valleys can be reached because the roads will be drivable. A book I am reading that I found in Kathmandu, “Fatalism and Development” by Dor Bahadur Bista says that
“The purpose of foreign aid is to develop a strong infrastructure that can generate its own process of growth, to address the economic needs of the people and raise the standard of living. Once the infrastructure is in place, and the initial capital investment has been made, the ideal expectation is to wean itself from its aid dependency. Nepal’s success will then depend on the economic skills of it’s own people.
If donors give aid to help develop Nepal it cannot be enough. The Nepali people need to take action and more importantly, the government and the peace process need be sustained. The wealth coming into the country is not turning out as hoped, not to mention the aid has covered up the economic corruption occurring.
“If we had more money and industry, then better roads could be built and remote villages can be reached but we live in one of the poorest countries in the world”, a common statement from many Nepalese here whom I have spoken to about the future of their country.
I’m beginning to hear the words, “we live in a poor country” all too frequently. Maybe I don’t want to hear this as it reminds me of my privilege of being American. Yes, Nepal is a poor country, although I believe there is a psychological dependency there that can be threatening to the country as a whole. Below is a Nepali proverb that describes this attachment:
“Do not feel too sorry for the death of one son but watch out that death might return again frequently.”
The same danger lies in Americans believing they are citizens of the best country in the world. Being poor or wealthy becomes a fact of life for people, a self fulfilled prophecy that deepens the divide between the underclass and the upper class.
Posted By Morgan St. Clair
Posted Aug 2nd, 2009