Out-going US Ambassador to Nepal Randy Berry speaks to Nepali Times about his four-year tenure which was marked by the Covid-19 pandemic, the rancorous debate about the US-backed MCC project, and American support for human rights, press freedom and democracy. Excerpts:
Nepali Times: What were your expectations about your second tour of duty in Nepal, and were they met?
Ambassador Randy Berry: My hope in becoming US Ambassador to Nepal was simple: to deepen the friendship between the United States and Nepal. Although our countries might be far apart geographically, we share democratic values and aspirations for a better world, one that respects human rights, is well educated, healthy, combats corruption, fights climate change, and has inclusive economic growth.
Each day that I’ve been here, I’ve worked on advancing these principles. We’ve partnered extensively with the Nepali government through USAID, which has promoted good governance, sustainable economic growth, health, nutrition, and education programs.
We’ve supported civil society in advancing human rights – including the rights of women and girls and the LGBTQI+ community. We’ve helped build resilience to climate change and both of our countries have furthered our commitments to abating the climate crisis and strengthening our democracies.
The MCC-Nepal grant will mean more jobs, roads, and reliable electricity for Nepalis in the coming years. And we continue to strengthen people-to-people ties. We send over 100 Nepalis to the United States on exchange programs for leaders and professionals yearly, and Nepal ranks 12th worldwide for the number of undergraduate and graduate students studying in the United States each year.
So, when I came as US Ambassador my hope was to deepen the US-Nepal relationship and I’m lucky to see that happening every day.
The last four years were largely overshadowed by the Covid crisis. What would your analysis be of the way both our countries handled the pandemic?
Nepal did remarkably well. The government took swift action against Covid-19 in the beginning. Almost immediately, the US government partnered with the Ministry of Health to support Nepal’s response to the pandemic. Through USAID and our Department of Defense, we provided oxygen tanks, breathing devises, PPE, testing kits, and other supplies that continue today. To date, we’ve spent over Rs16 billion on Covid assistance in Nepal, excluding vaccines.
One of the things I’m most proud of, of course, is we were able to donate 13 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to Nepal, including 8,385,200 pediatric doses. Notably, Nepal has a much higher vaccination rate than my own country today.
That must not have been easy — to secure the doses for Nepal when there was so much demand from other countries under the COVAX arrangement.
When President Biden announced that the United States intended to be a world supplier of Covid-19 vaccines, they had already been at work with experts to figure out how they were going to get the greatest number of vaccines to the countries with the greatest need. Through our partnership with COVAX alliance, particularly UNICEF as the delivery partner, we’ve been able to do just that. COVAX helps us deliver the vaccines, so they get to the places that need them the most.