Best business model: Nepal government mints money out of hungry mouths

Nepal sells rice
Picture: Nayapatrika

Nepal government has devised a winning business model which disaster-prone nations around the world may well give it a go.

The ingenuous model works something likes this.

Disaster hits your country affecting millions in a moment, thousands die and tens of thousands are left barely clinging to life. Children are orphaned in the blink of an eye. And the world responds, millions and millions of hearts around the planet are broken for you. Millions of dollars are raised in the first few hours alone. You tell the world what essentially is true at the time: that you need immediate assistance to help survivors live.

End result: the world responds by sending relief materials by the planeloads. In case of neighbouring Bangladesh, truckloads.

Right that moment, your business instinct kicks in and you order the relevant department to lock away a good cut of the “humanitarian aid”.

Next, you wait.

You wait for a good year or so until an existence of hardship becomes the norm (among survivors). Or, until the government-hoarded rice bags begin to go off.

Then you take the stock out of the warehouses. Now, you finally send it to the original ‘target group’ but with a price-tag – 41 rupees per kilogram. So the disaster victims, who should have received the very same stock for free, would now happily pay for it.

Nepal sells rice sent by Bangladesh
Picture: Nayapatrika

Immediately after the devastating earthquake, Bangladesh had sent 10 million kilograms of rice to Nepal as emergency humanitarian assistance. Out of this, the government distributed approximately 2.2 million only depositing the rest in warehouses of National Food Corporation (NFC), claims Nayapatrika.  The stock was stored at the NFC depot in Jhapa district. Now that the rice is beginning to rot, the country’s supplies ministry recently authorised NFC to sell the humanitarian aid and raise funds.

The government is reportedly planning to sell 4.8 million kilograms of the Bangladeshi rice to consumers in the capital city as well as in various parts of the country. The government aims to raise some 200 million rupees through this sale, the report said.

Ironically, one of the target markets is Gorkha district, the home to the epicentre of the Nepal earthquake. Needless to say, the temblor laid waste to the district. The people in Gorkha would have been the first and foremost beneficiary of the free rice sent by Bangladesh and China. But the government did not give it too them when they needed the most.

Some inexplicable intricacies of governance, so typical to Nepal, stopped the the poor and needy from enjoying the goodwill of the Bangladeshi people.

In a report published last January, NFC explained that it could not deliver the rice to the target group (the shelterless, foodless and hopeless earthquake victims cum survivors) because of bureaucratic red tape. It claimed that the supply was delayed as it was required to follow the Public Procurement Act that seeks appointment of a supplier through competitive bidding.

But should a modern-day democratic state that has just been struck by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake stop from supplying aid to thousands of hungry mouths because of a mere Act? Should the word ’emergency’ not be sufficient to forego the bureaucratic hindrance? Questions of this nature have been raised repeatedly in the local media, without answers.

Interestingly, the Nayapatrika report claimed that there is yet another more pressing reason as to why the government is hastily putting together a plan to sell the rice – Bangladesh is apparently sending another 10 million kilograms of rice to Nepal as part of its humanitarian assistance.

“We are vacating the warehouse in order to make room for the additional supply of rice from Bangladesh,” Nayapatrika quoted Pawan Karki as saying. Mr Karki is the spokesperson of the NFC. He added that the funds generated from sale will not be used by the NFC but will be deposited into the government’s disaster fund.

Whereas it is true that food is not as big a question today as it was in the immediate aftermath of the April 25 earthquake, there are still thousands (specially in the high altitude areas) who would be grateful for the free rice. Moreover, in a perfect world, they have complete right over that rice; it was sent for them in the first place. The government’s argument that there is ‘no demand’ for the aid rice has been flayed by WFP, a recent report published by Channel News Asia shows.

Pippa Bradford, the Nepal country director for the World Food Program, told the media outlet, ”Significant pockets of food insecurity remain. Those worst affected – who lost the most – were those least able to recover, such as female-headed households and marginalised indigenous and ethnic groups.”

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