MOFA & Home Ministry say they are not aware of the visits
KATHMANDU, June 4: At a time when the nationwide lockdown enforced by the government to contain the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to be in place, heads, deputy heads, and senior staff of various United Nations (UN) agencies in Nepal have started making trips to all the provinces, starting this week.
Sources said they are making visits to the headquarters of seven provinces in separate chartered flights for what they describe as 'monitoring the situation and coordinating' on the ground. Those making the trips include senior most staff from UN Women, ILO, UNRC, UNDP, UNICEF, WFP, UNFPA and IOM. James McQuen Patterson, deputy country representative at UNICEF Nepal, is already on the field, on his way to Surkhet today, after a stop in Nepalgunj.
In an email to the heads of UN agencies in Kathmandu, Valerie Julliand, the UN resident coordinator, wrote that “if several people from Kathmandu would like to visit a certain province, [they] can combine the travel”.
While the travel logistics is being coordinated by the Word Food Program (WFP) country office in Nepal, the entire visit of the UN agencies is being coordinated by the UN Resident Coordinator's office. Sources familiar with the development said the trip is set to cost more than Rs 10 million rupees. A chartered flight of Tara Air left for Nepalgunj and Surkhet today morning. The flight was chartered by WFP.
“The WFP and other UN agencies are feeding migrant workers returning at this time,” said a UN official. “The situation in Nepal has reached a critical humanitarian stage, and we are trying to help the government at all levels, without burdening them. Moreover, we have also raised money for the country, which directly goes to the government,” Valerie Julliand, the UN resident coordinator, told Republica.
Home Ministry spokesperson Kedar Nath Sharma said that he is unaware of the planned visit of various UN agencies representatives."Nobody is managing or facilitating the trip on behalf of the ministry," Sharma told Republica online, adding, "Ministry of Foreign Affairs is responsible for the UN agencies visit."
Senior officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) said that they were not aware of such ongoing/planned visits. “Since the central COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC) and the federal Ministry of Health and Population are coordinating all the COVID-19-related tasks, the heads of UN agencies must be coordinating with them,” a top official at the MoFA told Republica Online requesting anonymity.
The official, however, said that the UN agencies could help the Nepal government in its battle against COVID-19 since the COVID-19 pandemic is also a humanitarian crisis. “To my understanding, the UN agencies could have been more proactive in overcoming challenges in Nepal at this hour of crisis. But, they look almost inactive (except WHO) here since we went into nationwide lockdown on March 24,” he added.
During a meeting held at the Chhauni-based CCMC three days ago, the heads of UN agencies had expressed their intention to visit the coronavirus-hit areas, according to Bigyan Dev Pandey, the spokesperson for the Nepal Army. “However, I am not aware of all the details of what was discussed in the meeting since I was not present there,” Pandey said.
Responding to Republica questions, Tania Dhakhwa, chief of communication at UNICEF Nepal, said that “the UN (including UNICEF) has been supporting the COVID-19 response for the past few months through colleagues both in Kathmandu and colleagues based in the provinces. UN humanitarian staff involved in the COVID-19 response are considered as part of the professional groups/personnel essential to the emergency/humanitarian response that have been granted exceptional government approval to move. The UN has confirmed that essential UN staff are allowed to move to support the COVID 19 response even during the lock-down.”
She further claimed that the UN agencies have been “supporting the COVID 19 response across various sectors (health, WASH, risk communication, protection, education etc.)”.
Meanwhile, it has been learnt that a visit planned by the World Bank Nepal Office to ‘monitor a health-related project’ in the far west was cancelled at the last minute recently following the Home Ministry’s rejection to provide permission to their vehicles.
Many have described the visit as 'ill-timed' as almost all parts of the country are witnessing a sharp rise in the cases of COVID-19. Sources said the Office of Chief Minister in Province 5 Shanker Pokharel had earlier expressed displeasure when a similar visit was made by Patterson, deputy country representative at UNICEF Nepal, during the lockdown period.
Nepal enforced a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 on March 24. The lockdown has been extended until June 14 as there has been a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases .The visit of senior UN officials in Nepal to provincial headquarters come in the wake of most provincial and local level governments are facing acute shortage of essential medical supplies to fight against COVID-19 pandemic. “They could have provided us with a few PPEs and other essentials, instead of spending millions on unnecessary visits. I had to meet them on their insistence while I am very occupied in managing quarantine facilities,” said a local elected official who recently met a visiting UN team.
Various Nordic countries, the European Union and the UK are among the major donors of the UN agencies in Nepal. A number of bilateral donor agencies, including DFID, USAID, and others, make huge contributions to the UN offices here in Nepal. The UN country offices seem oblivious to the ground realities even as the UN Secretary General has called for reforms in the way UN is operated in view of the global pandemic.