State Secretary Tore Hattrem's speech at the Nepal-network's seminar in Oslo 25 April on Nepal as a priority country for Norwegian development aid.
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Ladies and gentlemen,
First, I would like to thank the Nepal-network for their invitation to attend this seminar. Nepal is a country that is close to my heart, after having worked in the region for several years.
We are here today not only to mark the one-year anniversary of the earthquake. More importantly we are here to remember and commemorate the lives lost, and to gather hope for the families and communities still affected by the devastation.
The earthquakes that struck Nepal in April and May last year affected 14 of the country's 75 districts. It caused over 9 000 deaths and left 500 000 families homeless.
The Norwegian Government reacted quickly. We provided NOK 30 million in emergency relief on the very day the disaster struck. Norway's total funding to Nepal after the earthquake amounted to NOK 230 million, making us the second largest bilateral donor, after the US.
We supported the humanitarian efforts in Nepal though the UN emergency fund, the International Red Cross fund and the Asian Development Bank's Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project. We are fortunate to have these mechanisms in place, as they ensure a coordinated and tailored approach to each context.
The earthquake also highlighted the importance of disaster prevention and preparedness. I would like to thank both Norwegian civil society and your partners for your hard work in this area.
You continue to be our closest allies in the field, and we truly appreciate your contributions and efforts.
This said, the reconstruction process is moving slowly. Very few of the 800,000 buildings destroyed by the quake have been rebuilt. The lack of progress is worse in the countryside, where whole villages are still shattered and broken.
The National Reconstruction Authority, which is supposed to be leading and coordinating the reconstruction process, is not yet fully operative due to political disagreements, as well as practical and technical difficulties. The government wants to be in charge of the funds pledged by the international community, but the slow implementation has prevented the reconstruction.
Many of the INGOs have also been forced to ask for 'non-costs extensions' as they have not been able to use the resources as planned.
Further, Nepal's new constitution was ratified 20 September 2015, and this led to protests in the border areas between India and Nepal. The fuel and supply crisis that followed also had a negative effect on the reconstruction efforts.
Although we recognize that Nepal's authorities want to have full control of the reconstruction efforts, we are worried about the slow progress and lack of implementation. It is troublesome that the Nepalese authorities have taken this long to organise themselves.
At this point in time, we need to find a balance between the reconstruction and the need for the continuation of the long-term development efforts.
From the Norwegian side, we now therefore give priority to the resumption of our regular development programmes, which will be further adapted to the reconstruction efforts.
Let me therefore turn to Norway's long-term development efforts in the country.
Nepal was designated a priority country for Norwegian development aid in 2013.
Norway has been a development partner with Nepal since 1996, where the focus has been poverty reduction, Nepal being one of Asia's poorest countries.
Norway also facilitated the peace process between the Maoists and the government, which ended with a peace agreement in 2006. Since the signing of the agreement, we have tailored our development support in order to further a positive democratic development.
Being a priority country means that aid will be maintained at a high level and continue to cover a wide range of areas, with particular focus on education, good governance and energy.
We have a solid presence in Nepal. This enables close contact and a continuous, solutions-oriented dialogue with the government.
In addition, the crosscutting themes of gender equality, anti-corruption and the environment are included in all initiatives.
In 2015, our regular bilateral aid amounted to NOK 262 million.
We also provided NOK 230 million in humanitarian aid.
This means that our total support to Nepal in 2015 amounted to NOK 492 million. The main sectors were energy, education and good governance.
Energy will be an important driver of economic growth and development in Nepal. Hydropower remains the most important renewable energy source for the country, yet only 1-2 % of its hydropower potential is being utilised at this point.
Norway's energy cooperation with Nepal dates back many years, and we aim to use our aid funding strategically to improve both national development and regional cooperation on water resources.
The main focus of our energy cooperation in 2015 was on rural energy programmes. These include clean cooking stoves, and two transmission line programmes, which will strengthen the country's energy infrastructure.
We also support competence-building in Nepal's hydropower sector.
Furthermore, we support the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development in its efforts to promote knowledge about the causes and effects of climate change in the region.
Several Norwegian partners are involved, including CICERO, Statkraft, Grid Arendal, and NVE (Norwegian Water Resources and Energy Directorate). So too is the Arctic Council.
Norway is also supporting Nepal with the challenges it faces when it comes to good governance.
This is why we support the Government's Local Governance and Community Development Programme, which aims to improve local participation and the inclusion of marginalised groups in rural institution-building processes.
We also support the Strengthening the Rule of Law and Human Rights Protection System in Nepal Programme, in cooperation with UNDP.
The Electoral Support Project, several anti-corruption initiatives, and the Nepalese Office of the Auditor General, are other beneficiaries.
Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015. This was an important step towards bringing the peace process to a successful conclusion.
The constitution will improve society in many ways, particularly with regard to the rights of women, minorities and the LGBTI community.
I understand that there is still disagreement on some important issues like boundaries of new states, electoral representation and 'affirmative action', and citizenship-related issues.
Further, local elections have not been held in Nepal since 1997. This has created a considerable democratic gap, which is an obstacle to good governance and national consolidation.
In order to avoid further tension, the Nepalese Government, political parties and minority groups need to find constructive ways to address both constitutional disagreements and underlying disputes.
Norway is following these governance challenges closely. We are promoting institutional reform, democratic elections, public investment management and the fight against corruption.
As many of you will know, education is a key priority for Norway. We have been an active partner in Nepal's education sector since 2009.
89 % of Nepalese children complete the first year of primary education. Still, many children do not complete their schooling, mostly due to early marriage or finding paid work at a young age.
More than one million children do not have adequate access to education.
The earthquakes hit the education sector hard. More than 3500 classrooms were partly or completely destroyed.
Norway responded by providing NOK 50 million to the Nepalese Government's sector programme for education. Here, funds have been earmarked for reconstruction of schools.
2015 was also a challenging year for the human rights agenda in Nepal.
The slow progress reflects the fact that Nepal is still in a post-conflict situation, with limited capacity to follow up human rights issues.
The earthquakes further increased the vulnerability of already marginalised groups.
Discrimination and abuse of women and children are among Nepal's most serious human rights issues. At the same time, many men have left their families to find work, leaving the women with the burden of looking after entire households.
Internally displaced people and children who lost their parents under the quakes are particularly vulnerable.
Many children have experienced setbacks at school because of the earthquakes and political instability. Since the quakes, the police have reported a doubling in cases of child trafficking.
We are also very concerned about the conditions for Nepalese migrant workers.
Over 2 million Nepalis work abroad – in India, Malaysia and the Gulf States. Here, they face dangerous working conditions and frequent human rights abuses.
In March, Nepal's human rights situation was examined under the UN's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. Both the Human Rights Commission of Nepal and civil society actors participated actively.
Nepal has ratified all the major human rights conventions, but implementation remains a challenge.
Norway is a strong supporter of efforts to promote women's rights and gender equality in Nepal.
In particular, we focus on the implementation of Nepal's action plan for women, peace and security.
We seek to integrate the gender dimension into all our development programmes. This work also includes strengthening the rights of sexual minorities, and increasing the inclusion and participation of women in politics.
This said, development aid is not enough on its own. The difficult political situation in the country is holding back economic development.
According to recent figures from the Asian Development Bank, Nepal's gross domestic product (GDP) fell to 3 % in 2015, and is expected to drop to 1.5 % in 2016. This the lowest for 14 years.
Again, we note that the Ministry of Finance still has unspent financial resources as the current budget year draws to a close.
This reminds us that it is not so much a lack of funding, but a lack of implementation capacity that is Nepal's greatest challenge ahead.
Nepal is now at an important crossroads, facing political, social and economic challenges. At the same time, the country has great potential.
The Government of Nepal has the primary responsibility for unleashing this great potential through sound policies.
Our role as donor, and yours as civil society and NGOs, is to support and guide the Nepali Government in its efforts.
It is important that we continue to work together. We must take a coherent, resilient and sustainable approach to building back a country that has undergone such great hardship.
Again, thank you for the important work you do, and for the invitation to this seminar today.