2005 was a turbulent year in Nepal. On 1 February, King Gyanendra dissolved the government of Prime Minister Deuba and assumed full executive control, clamping down on the freedom of political parties, the media and local human rights organisations. The death toll in the conflict between the Communist Party of Nepal/ Maoist (CPN/M) and the government rose to almost 13,000 despite a four-month CPN/M unilateral ceasefire.
Protection remained the primary humanitarian concern, with both parties to the conflict guilty of continued violations of International Humanitarian Law and threatening the lives of civilians, including health workers and teachers, leading to significant displacement and suffering among the general population. Assessments conducted during 2005 found alarming levels of malnutrition and a significant deterioration in the coping mechanisms of civilians in remote rural areas, coupled with reduced availability of basic services. Economic decline was tempered only by significant growth in remittances from overseas. Protection of humanitarian space remained challenging, despite the formal acceptance of the Basic Operating Guidelines by both parties to the conflict.
OCHA formally established an office in Kathmandu during the second half of 2005, with two sub offices later opened in Nepalgunj and Biratnagar.
Given the expansion of the OCHA office over the second half of 2005 and strong donor support, the objectives were updated to:
- Provide a consolidated picture of needs and responses to humanitarian and development challenges in Nepal for active communication to partners
- Strengthen existing systems of coordination, decision-making and response for different sectors and target groups
- Increase protection to IDPs by developing a common IDP strategy together with the government, the international community and local NGOs
- Strengthen the UN’s public information messaging with the development of a common UN public information strategy
- Improve UN planning for natural disaster response
OCHA supported the Humanitarian Coordinator, newly appointed in February 2005, to lead a number of inter-agency planning initiatives, including a Contingency Planning exercise and the development of a Common Humanitarian Action Plan, which formed the basis of the Consolidated Appeal (CAP) for the period October 2005 to December 2006. Work was also started on preparedness for disaster management, since the country is very prone to natural disasters.
OCHA facilitated a number of external and interagency assessment missions, including a joint mission for the Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and the Head of the Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division. The office started to conduct systematic assessments, often in partnership with other agencies, to gather information on the protection of civilians, emerging humanitarian needs and the operational environment for humanitarian organisations. The information gathered is now being disseminated to the growing international humanitarian community in Nepal, and being used for increased advocacy.
In partnership with the UNCT, OCHA was instrumental in securing formal recognition and acceptance of the Basic Operating Guidelines by the government and the CPN/M during 2005. Mechanisms were established to monitor and report on adherence to the guidelines, as well as other incidents affecting operational space for humanitarian /development assistance.
An Information Management Unit was established within the office, where a number of coordination tools were developed, including an ‘Information Platform’ website (www.un.org.np) housing a virtual library as well a WWW database. The UNCT benefited from the inputs of two short-term IDP advisors seconded to OCHA from the Norwegian Refugee Council during early 2005.
The information management tools and products developed by OCHA have been well received, with the Nepal Information Platform website regularly receiving several hundred hits per day. UN, donor, international and local NGOs assessments and activities were shared through this forum.
The 2005 CAP and contingency planning exercises were instrumental in bringing together a diverse array of actors to develop common sector-based strategies to address conflict-related needs for the first time. More effort will be required to ensure that general humanitarian and sector coordination forums sustain a collective momentum to bring together UN Agencies, donors, NGOs and the government around these issues on a more regular basis.While OCHA is fully funded, more efforts are needed to attract funds to other humanitarian programmes, which were only 26 percent funded.
IDP-related issues remained contentious. OCHA assisted agencies in clarifying UN Agencies’ role in the application of the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in Nepal. The government continued efforts to develop a national IDP policy, which the UN reviewed and commented upon, with OCHA’s input and support, in draft form, noting concerns about the proposed IDP definition. Local IASC plans to formally elaborate a common IDP strategy were postponed to 2006 to allow the outcomes of a number of planned inter-agency assessments to inform it.
A common UN Public Information Strategy and Crisis Communication Plan for the UN system were developed, resulting in more coherent and common public information. OCHA also led preparations of a number of joint advocacy statements from the UNCT and Basic Operating Guidelines agreed by donors for humanitarian and development activities.
Due to the prevailing complex emergency situation in Nepal and the need to address the situation resulting from the deepening of the crisis, natural disasters preparedness could not be advanced as much as hoped. More work will have to be done on natural disasters preparedness with the government and partners, notably with the preparation of a contingency planning with different earthquake scenarios.