Foreign assistance to help Nepal cope with the pandemic is of course positive (lack of vaccines aside) because the Nepal government has simply been unable to meet demands for oxygen, hospital beds and medical supplies.
Yet, Nepalis know better than anyone that the mutual aid response we are witnessing during Covid-19 is nothing new: family, friends, neighbours, and others, spring to action annually when the monsoon unleashes landslides and floodwaters, and after other disasters like the 2015 earthquakes.
Following flooding in Saptari district in 2017 ‘the response of the western international system (the UN and INGOs) played only a minor role, accounting for around a sixth of the resources that affected households said they received,’ concluded a 2019 report.
‘A third (of aid) came from family, neighbours and landlords, the government, the diaspora or community-based organisations, including in-kind items such as shelter, food, cooking stoves and fuels. Another quarter was from other countries, with China reported as the main source, and Nepali NGOs, particularly the Nepali Red Cross, accounted for a fifth,’ added the study.
That report opened my eyes to the regular outpouring of humanitarian assistance from family, neighbours and governments at all levels, which is exemplified by civil society’s activities during Covid-19, and which happens almost immediately when disasters strike.
Recently I decided to try and open the eyes of others, both inside and outside of Nepal, to this reality. With editor Srawan Shrestha we contacted groups on an unofficial list of Nepali organisations providing Covid relief and asked them to submit video clips of their work—providing hot meals and food packs to the hungry, handing out information flyers, masks and other protective equipment, building quarantine centres, etc.