Foreign aid, which covers about 40 percent of the government expenditure, is now in question vis-à-vis its impact on Nepal’s sustainable development. Despite billions of dollars provided by donors, the post-conflict development plan failed to fill the structural gaps between the rich and the poor through equitable redistribution of resources. More than 90 percent of resources are still under the control of the same dominant elite who managed aid during post-1951 development planning.
Discussions of aid prove irrelevant when it is accessible to only a few urban elite and acceptable only for fashionable white-color jobs. John J Metz argues that ‘Nepal’s elite has directed and diverted foreign aid into channels which consolidates its power’. Suicide committed by three members of a family in Bhalakcha-1, Rukum and the death of more than 350 due to diarrhea and cholera outbreak in Jajarkot-Rukum, raised questions on the usefulness of aid. It seems that the isolated approach of development has been promoting elitism, widening economic gaps and limiting access to resources.
In spite of continued inflow of huge foreign aid, its direct contribution to development has hardly been felt by the poor people, whereas the number of unemployed has been increasing. Rising number of youths are flying out of the country to seek opportunities in ‘dangerous zones’ of the Middle East and Gulf countries, which is a visible example of frustrating development impacts. There is no doubt that a poorly-managed country like Nepal needs aid for serving the needs of the poor, strengthening livelihoods and improving social indicators. However, translating this rhetoric into development policy, which can bring about changes at the grassroots, has remained elusive. Aid that does not serve the livelihood needs of the poor, lacks equity and fails to improve social indicators might be perceived as absurd. Pointing out the communication gap, writer Sushma Joshi has rightly questioned: ‘How can people of Dolpa and Jumla know how much fund has been allocated to them?’
There is a growing feeling that the expanding aid culture might devalue local democratic values, deplete internal resources and create social tensions by reproducing future elites, instead of reducing poverty and conflict. Such an approach has weakened the potentiality of volunteerism, collectiveness and local initiatives for change. Thus, the most difficult challenge is to translate development aid policies and strategies into concrete actions that can address the societal needs and daily challenges of the people in need.
Foreign aid is not an automatic passport to high growth, inclusive democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Does the huge investment in ‘software’ such as seminars and hotel-based discussions have much relevance when a section of the population face crisis of basic education, employment, health and infrastructure deficit?
Foreign aid is not an automatic passport to high growth, inclusive democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Does the huge investment in ‘software’ such as seminars and hotel-based discussions have much relevance when a section of the population face crisis of basic education, employment, health and infrastructure deficit? It has thus produced a large number of young people who contribute almost nothing toward economic growth.
This ‘software’-centered aid policy in Nepal seems to be suicidal and has produced just the opposite of what is intended. It also kills traditional practices and intellectuality for local development. The same readymade persons are found moving around every seminar, which ends with delicious dining and cocktail while people in need struggle for life without food.
Linking aid to poverty reduction requires ensuring societies utilize their own indigenous resources, values and norms. Utilizing natural resources and indigenous potentiality could be the first step to reducing poverty and minimizing conflicts. The weakness of the existing development policy is that it does not address the need of the society through available indigenous resources such as hydropower, tourism, herbs, agriculture, knowledge and skills. Donors like pet projects that harp about rule of law because it seems to easily fit into a blueprint, but the last decade of global experience has shown that blueprints don’t work on their own.
Their isolationist approach to strengthen rule of law, democracy and human rights through technical and international definition remains far from real local politics. This technocratic and de-contextualized emphasis is unfit, especially given the political, caste, gender, ethnic and other divisions of Nepali society at different levels. The egalitarian objectives of classical social democracy are no longer politically realizable under a regime of globalization. Therefore, the aid effectiveness in a feudal society simply requires a shift from egalitarianism to inclusionary reform that requires overcoming all the legacies of social discrimination, class domination, ideological hegemony and structural power-relationship.
Presently, we are in the midst of the three-year interim plan and the eleventh periodic national plan. In this context, it is high time for all development stakeholders, including the National Planning Commission and the Ministry of Finance, to lead a process of national dialogue for reviewing the development approach and development aid to the country. How we can transform ‘politically-motivated’ foreign aid to address local needs and make them more transparent and corruption-free is a critical challenge. It is not only a question of channeling development aid through the national budget or through non-governmental sector but about prioritizing the national needs, establishing ownership and leadership, and putting in place proper mechanisms that reach out to the poor and marginalized people.
The present trend of human capital flight and loss of traditional methods of local development are two crucial issues related to the cause of suicidal development in our country. Leading columnist CK Lal says that today’s educated youths either join INGOs or run NGO. The second category of youths try to go abroad for further study or better jobs followed by the third category who move into the ‘dangerous zones’ of the world to eke out a meager living. The fourth kind of youths either join politics or engage in criminal activities. There is a very limited number of youths engaged in local development. Similarly, so-called modern development has already killed many of our traditional approaches to deal with local issues, including local development skills. Local skills are also vanishing from the community resulting in an increased dependency on outsiders and the elites.
All these have created scarcity of local resources and increased unrest, criminality and violence in the society. What the development praxis brought to us is just a different way of committing suicide.