Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Is aid killing Nepal?

The following is in response to Emily Troutman's 
First of all, many cheers to Troutman for the insightful coverage of the outrageous situation in Nepal.

Her piece sadly outlines major mistakes (in some cases willful conniving) of an aid industry motivated by high profits and high salaries with huge outlays of resources—the aid industry swooped in after the quakes and has irreversibly shaken Nepal by their mistakes (on top of decades of indefinite aid that has warped society).

The Nepali people by and large know that they are being conned or rather used while they continue to suffer chronic poverty and marginalization and other ill-effects up to the ultimate cost of death for the unwitting (to give them the benefit of the doubt) crimes of an aid cohort in collusion with a dysfunctional status quo.

The people are not blind to the malfeasance of the government and pampered, high-living, high-salaried aid entrepreneurs creating an aftershock of chaos Nepal. The aid industry and ruling class that they abet are benefiting off the weakened backs of a disenfranchised people who are basically on life-support.

It is astonishing that after a valid critique and pointing out massive complications and dilemmas in the aid industry, Troutman then offers a list of suggestions….namely suggestions for giving a green light to the continued aid boondoggle that she has just revealed. That is, she admits deep troubles (troubles that have caused a prolonged suffering, in some cases lethal suffering, for the people), but rather than shut it down, she suggests moving ahead after the fixes.

As far as I can tell, these suggestions are necessary but not implementable. They would require among other things
a) transparency top to bottom from aid agents on the ground up to the decision makers behind the scenes and all people along a tortuous chain of implementation from ideas to implementation
b) honest, Nepal-savvy aid agents and liaisons
c) trustworthy local counterparts and liaisons
d) omniscient oversight 

Without all of the above elements improbably in place, then intervention will not have a chance to be even remotely successful. In other words, the chances are still quite slim to nil given the difficulty in implementing the above, particularly proper oversight.
Even if possible, even under the best case scenario of all of suggestions neatly and cleanly in place (which is a long, long way off from a great proportion of groups trying to effect change in Nepal) aid would have to operate through a dysfunctional status quo to be allowed the permission to attempt to change her---this should be an immediate red flag and show-stopper—that is, going through the very dysfunctional status quo underlying the problems means that aid will itself be distorted no matter how well-intentioned it might be.

Perhaps this is the main concern and take away point that can neither be overlooked nor escaped while operating under a dysfunctional system: aid operates through the governing system no matter how dysfunctional and illegitimate.

That is, by working with and going through a dysfunctional system in order to be given permission to be operational, the aid industry takes an inescapable and unacceptable risk of being part and parcel of the very system causing the problems. Thereby the aid industry becomes associated with those prolonging a deathly suffering as they necessarily abet and collude with  (knowingly and most often unknowingly) the dysfunctional system that allows them to operate in Nepal.

As 2015 Nobel Prizewinner in Economic Sciences Angus Deaton points out:
“Aid undermines what poor people need most: an effective government that works with them for today and tomorrow.”

In other words, "Poverty is not a matter of experts, it's a matter of human rights", according to Economics Professor W. Easterly of New York University. Unfortunately, aid violates both ends of Easterly’s vital message. Aid sends in so called experts (curiously, many are illiterate about  local customs and language) and aid undermines human rights by working with the ruling gang  brutalizing it’s own people--a double whammy that goes against the very poverty that the aid industry is striving to eliminate. The local people are more than capable and talented enough to take care of their own needs and follow their own dreams--if given the chance.

With all due respect, I am a firm believer that the greatest and most important change and perhaps the only change that will ultimately start the momentum in the other direction is that the ruling class get out of the way, in other words, a change in governance. Anything short of that, anything else risks abetting and colluding with continued mal-governance causing the problems that aid attempts to solve. Anything less leads to more of the same and is harmful to the people under the yoke of unethical decision makers of the ruling class and a misguided aid paradigm… not to mention the devastating effects on a swiftly vanishing culture, too. 

I truly believe that the easiest (and paradoxically most difficult) answer might be extraordinarily simple. Would that these aid agents and think tanks simply quit Nepal--they up and left Nepal and Nepalis alone. As Troutman notes in her assessment, the signals are clear and present that quake aid has severe problems. Why isn’t the aid industry aware of and heeding the signals?

Although even if the outsiders did pull out and stop interfering (as Troutman keenly points out, intervening with scant knowledge of the issues, people, language, culture and society that they are attempting to alter), even so, the elite, entitled and empowered ruling class isn't about to cede any power. Still, at least a source of major external funding would dry up and that might be a watershed first step to make the ruling gangsters more answerable to internal forces and entities, namely the people, rather than external entities and forces.

Unfortunately, there is too much money and leverage already woven into the warp and weft of the fabric of the power structure, and the quakes have allowed unethical players to weave an even more entangling pattern. 

When I last was in Nepal in April 2016, it was the worst that I have ever seen it there--from the spirit and morale of the people to infrastructure, state of political and economic activities, the web of political and foreign entanglements and money grubbing interplay…widespread disasters--perhaps the country needs to totally bottom out before going the other direction –dismally, that would mean more deathly suffering as collateral damage to a long suffering, long-disenfranchised people).

The Nepalese people and culture are not forever immune...the cultural ethos may be soon lost if it hasn't been already--the 'bad guys' are winning big at this point which means the people are losing big...not a few of them their health and lives. 

As Economist Dambisa Moyo from Zambia cries out "Let my people go!" in reference to the indefinite aid paradigm that has decimated countries it has touched in Africa. Her data-driven books Dead Aid and How the West Was Lost outline the incriminating evidence.

At any rate, that's the looking glass through which I peer. Perhaps I am a pessimist-- that might be an entirely accurate label of my cloudy outlook. At least I hope to be somewhat of a realist, too. It is a pretty hard outlook regardless.

Cheers for considering this response that is perhaps too long winded—too impassioned about the effects of aid, corruption and exploitation on a country and people whom I love and admire.

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