By Emma Fingler, MAGG Graduate (2018)
I arrived in Kathmandu at night in the middle of a thunderstorm after 26 hours of travel. Needless to say, I was not able to see much of the city, as most streets do not have streetlights. But my walk to work the next morning was amazing. Having never been to Nepal – or Asia for that matter – it was a truly invigorating experience – from the small shops placed every few meters along the ground floors of buildings to the cars honking incessantly. And of course, the pollution was intense. That morning there was a pile of garbage burning in the middle of the street. I later learned, that these fires will become more common as the days get colder.
I do not think I could have joined my office at a more productive time. On my first day, I attended a team strategy meeting where I learned about the goals, objectives, mandates, and responsibilities of the team as a whole, and of each individual team member. It was the perfect crash-course introduction to the office. I learned that fifty percent of my time will be devoted to a project that focuses on “community perception and feedback,” of humanitarian assistance. Formed after the 2015 earthquakes, the project also encompasses the 2017 flood recovery efforts. The aim of the project is to enhance coordination and efficiency at all levels, and to create two-way communication pathways between those assisting and those affected.
The other fifty percent of my time has been working with the humanitarian coordination side of the office. A few weeks before I arrived in Kathmandu, a large portion of the country was hit with the heaviest rainfall in 60 years, resulting in large-scale flooding across most of the southern border that affected an estimated 2.7 million people. The UN Resident Coordinator’s Office, where I work, is in charge of coordinating the response to those floods. Because we are in the relatively early stages of response, there is little I can assist with. However, the next steps will be to create bi-weekly reports on the recovery and reconstruction phases, which I will be a part of. I will also be attending the upcoming Humanitarian Country Team meetings and have helped to compile two Situation Reports. Most of my time thus far has gone into drafting a report about Nepal’s progress in meeting its commitments to “The Grand Bargain,” a list of shared commitments between donor and recipient countries to improve humanitarian assistance that was agreed to at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016. Our office will create an annual report that tracks Nepal’s progress, and my role will be to coordinate a survey and conduct key informant interviews.
Nepal is an amazing country. It is vibrant and so full of life. Yet remnants of the 2015 earthquakes are almost everywhere. While I cannot compare life to before the earthquake, reading people’s responses to the perception feedback surveys demonstrate just how much has changed in people’s lives since then. On the streets, buildings are in various states of disrepair, temples are covered in scaling, and sidewalks are caved in. But there remains a happiness in the air. On my first night in my new apartment, my key got stuck in the gate and locked me out. Within minutes a Nepali neighbor, perhaps 30 pounds less and four inches shorter than me, offered to boost me over the six-foot-tall gate. While I demurred, it made me smile that this elderly man was willing to help a foreign stranger. I constantly hear that people come back to Nepal for the people, and I know this will be true for me too. While I am only three weeks into my placement, the next week is the holiday of Dashain, so I will be giving trekking a go, and hiking Annapurna Base Camp for eight days. There’s always something exciting to do in Nepal!