By Ram Khatry
13 May 2015 11:15 PM AEST: As Australia debated the federal budget on Tuesday, a country far beyond Australia’s strategic interests was laid to waste by Mother Nature, the second time in less than two weeks. Coincidentally, instead of receiving more to rebuild and rehabilitate, Nepal lost $7.1 million on the same tragic day.
Australia’s non-disaster relief aid to Nepal now stands at $26.8 million only, down from $33.9 million. However, Vanuatu will receive $60 million in overall aid during the same period of time to rebuild the island nation which was devastated by a recent cyclone. This is understandable given the fact that the South Pacific island nation is a close neighbour of Australia but similar goodwill should have been accorded to Nepal too, argue Australians of Nepali origin.
Whereas the lost aid of $7.1 million will not go a long way in reconstructing the quake-ravaged nation, the Australian government’s move has angered the members of the Nepali diaspora. They did not expect any cut in Nepal’s aid given the sheer enormity of the problems it faces, they say. Australia would not have been a poorer country overnight by not slashing the much-needed aid of a Third-World country in distress, if not increase it.
Rudra Nepal, Nepal’s ambassador to Australia, told southasia.com.au that although he was aware of the speculations of a possible cut in foreign aid, he had expected consideration of his country’s ‘special needs’.
Nepal needs the assistance of its development partners not only because of the current catastrophic situation but also because his country is working towards graduating from a least developed country in 8 years time, the diplomat said. “Because Nepal is set to graduate from a least developed country by 2022 plus the special circumstances we are in, we were hoping that the aid to Nepal would be spared. But it appears it did not happen that way,” the envoy remarked.
Mr Nepal has received no official intimation of the development and knew only through the public domain, it is understood.
Citing examples of Indonesia and other countries that also have had their aid budgets slashed, he clarified that he understood the same has happened ‘across the board’ and expressed his appreciation of the initial 20 million package that the Commonwealth announced as ‘immediate relief’ following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake on April 25, not to mention the rescue and relief operations undertaken by the Royal Australian Air Force.
Bharat Pokharel, secretary of Non-Resident Nepali Association Australia, observed that foreign aid becomes a natural target every time there is talk of a budget surplus. “But the timing of this has been bad,” the advocate cum CPA from Sydney’s Pitt Street lamented. He argued that at a time when the wider Australian communities are doing everything they can to see Nepal through the catastrophe, the government did not reflect the same level of generosity.
Deepa Rai, the fundraising coordinator for Victoria Stand Together for Nepal, also strongly opposed the cut. The Melbourne-based activist of Nepali origin said, “I do not mind burning a few holes in our pockets to keep supporting the humanitarian aid support – there is no point being a developed country with no moral values. That’s pretty much saying we will only look after our interest and happy to fail our duties as global citizens!”
Bharat Raj Poudel, a PhD candidate on Media Framing of Emergency & Natural Disaster at Queensland University of Technology, however, said it was a weakness on the part of Nepal’s foreign and finance ministries to train their ambassadors across the world to engage in effective economic diplomacy. He went on to say that there is a negligible number of Nepalis in the community who could create pressure on the local government or assist the embassy to engage in effective economic diplomacy.
Nepal is not the only country to have its Australian aid slashed. Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh also stand to lose by 40 per cent. The biggest cuts however are for programmes in Africa which will face a budget cut of 70%. Similarly, funding to NGOs will be down to $176 million from $203.9 million.
This article has been edited. May 13, 11.47 PM AEST