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Nepal: an obvious choice for Western aid

Kevin Evans argues the case for giving aid to worthy causes such as Nepal and not spending it in the wrong places.

Nepal: beautiful and strategically located

In addition to my States-based investigations, over the last few years I have had the opportunity to conduct internal investigations far from home.  Most recently, my adventures have taken me to Afghanistan and India.  After my investigation in India I took a detour to Nepal for R and R, and it is my experiences there,  juxtaposed against those during my other travels, that influenced me to write. 


Misdirected aid


While in Afghanistan (which I visited on two occasions), I had the opportunity to interact with many locals (some with the aid of an interpreter) as well as with those who had spent weeks “in the field.”  I also travelled quite a bit in and around Kabul.  Based on my interactions and observations I formed the conclusion that Western nations are throwing treasure (not to mention blood) down a black hole, partly because, in my opinion, aid to this country has been seriously misdirected - a discussion for another day. 


While for the most part I found that the Afghan people (including those who returned from self-imposed exile following what I fear will be a short-lived ouster of the Taliban) were pro-West, those willing to engage me in such dialogue (and there were many reluctant and unwilling to do so), made it quite plain that they perceived the handwriting to be on the wall. They see a country which will quickly  descend into the quagmire and dark days that preceded the latest Western intervention. 


I could not help but feel their pain as, during my first visit, a new school designed for young girls and built with American tax dollars was gassed on the opening day, sending many young girls and women to the hospital with serious injuries and resulting in the shutdown of the school before it educated its first student.  That is just one such incident that occurred during my time there.  This fact begs the question:  why were Western governments so eager to disregard hundreds of years of history in an effort to transform Afghanistan on the backs of their countries’ taxpayers.


Lack of attention from politicans


My time in India, during which I also made it a point to travel outside the confines of my comfort zone and interact with locals, also left me questioning choices our American politicians have made when it comes to aid.  I learned what I had heard from thousands of miles away:  corruption in India is rampant (as is, I discovered, crime against women; rapes of young girls and women were common news stories in the papers during my time there). 


The juxtaposition of huge new and beautiful skyscrapers at the feet of which are sprawling slums also saddened me. I learned that over 50 per cent of the people in Mumbai, for instance, live in slums. The apparent lack of attention by politicians to even the most basic of infrastructures was troubling.  I lost track of the amount of times I saw people defecating on the sides of roads in New Delhi and Mumbai for lack of an appropriate sanitation system.  If we in the States are to continue aid to such a country, why do we not at least tie some of it to milestones related to improvements in health and education?


An inspiring time in Kathmandu


On the other hand, my time in Kathmandu saw me spending  much time on the streets both in and around the city, including the large Maoist area; I also was fortunate to be able to visit the Tengboche Monastery in the Himalayas) which left me inspired.  The many young and old that I interacted with during this visit were genuinely kind and, when they discovered I was from America, open.  I formed the opinion that with appropriate resources and attention, this nation could prosper and would be able to retain one of its greatest resources – its youth, who often now must travel to Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries in search of employment. 


Aid is badly needed


Aid is badly needed to improve/develop the education and infrastructure system in Nepal. Besides the obvious benefits from a better educated populace, such improvements also would help alleviate the serious smog and pollution problem experienced in Kathmandu. Better roads, for instance, would mean far less dust in the air. Based on my having travelled the streets and flown by helicopter around the city, I can attest that this issue is significant. 


It also should go without saying that to the West, Nepal is strategically located.  With a bit of forethought and planning, good things could be accomplished there that would be a win-win for all involved. I know that as an American taxpayer, I would much prefer to see my nondefense-related tax dollar aid flowing to Nepal as opposed to where much of it has been spent over the last several years, and if we Americans do not wise up, we will lose an opportunity to those (such as Japan, which is beginning to direct aid money to Nepal in a significant way) who have grasped the strategic importance (not to mention the beauty) of this country.


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13 March 2013

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