1,000 wasted days

Published On: July 7, 2016 01:00 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

World Bank project fails
It’s an ingenious concept; sounds good, too. In the words of the World Bank, “nutrition experts worldwide have determined that the window of opportunity for improving nutrition is small, i.e., the first 1,000 days from the first day of pregnancy through the first two years of life”. It is in order to prevent “extensive and largely irreversible” damage that might occur due to inadequate nutrition during this vital period that the bank launched its Sunaula Hazar Din (“golden 1,000 days”) project in Nepal. The focus of this project, says the bank, is to “accelerate the reduction of maternal and child under-nutrition, as measured by anemia among pregnant women, low birth rate and young child stunting”. These are all noble goals no doubt. But has the project been able to achieve these goals in the past three years of its implementation? The bank’s latest ‘Implementation Status and Results Report’ of the project says progress on it has been “moderately unsatisfactory”. In plain-speak, the project has failed.

Predictably, the blame-game for the failure of the US $40 million project that covers 292 Village Development Committees (VDCs) across 15 districts is in full swing. Officials at the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development that Republica contacted said they were not given enough time to correct systemic flaws as the project commenced late, in 2014 instead of 2012 as was initially planned. Other culprits flagged for poor implementation included absence of local elected representatives and there being far too many such VDC-level projects so as to make it practically impossible for individual VDCs to correctly prioritize. When contacted, the Nepal office of World Bank resorted to Evasion 101. “The government uses its own system to implement the project financed by the World Bank,” it replied to a query. Apparently, the bank’s obligation is limited to ensuring that “the fund is used for the intended purpose”. If only it was as straightforward.

The bank says it has “zero tolerance” for fraud and corruption. But there is now some evidence of at least part of the money for the Sunaula Hazar Din being misused. There have been reports of blatant misuse of project funds in the districts of Siraha and Saptari. In case of Siraha, some public complaints are now being investigated by CIAA, the country’s chief anti-corruption watchdog. In Saptari, the pregnant women and new mothers Republica contacted, and who are supposedly covered by the nutrition project, either said that they were unaware of the project or that they had not received any kind of help. All these incidents contradict World Bank’s claim of zero tolerance for fraud and corruption. In our view this is a clear case of dereliction of duty: both by the project funders (the World Bank) as well as the implementing agencies (the local affairs ministry and the VDCs). The failure of Sunaula Hazar Din shows that having good intentions is not enough if you also don’t have the will to rigorously track the progress of the project and the mechanisms to promptly correct flaws. This is unfortunately yet another project where the World Bank’s do-goodery has come to nothing in Nepal, partly as a result of its own mistakes.

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