On Saturday Rajesh Khanal reported in the Kathmandu Post on the “logistical nightmare” that is causing deadly delays in resupplying remote areas hit hardest by the April 25 quake. Instead of summarizing or cherry-picking quotes, I encourage reading the full report.
I will provide some context:
The “worst affected” area shown above is roughly comparable to Washington DC to New York east of Interstate 81. This encompasses very rugged terrain. Kathmandu sits at 4900 feet above sea level. Many of the most remote villages are at 10,000 feet or higher. Of the 3.5 million survivors in need of sustained support, roughly 20 percent (perhaps more) are not directly connected to commercial centers by all-weather roads.
The earthquake hit areas and populations that are typically not food sufficient and depend on supplies of grain, especially rice, from the Nepal Food Corporation (NFC). This is a government owned and controlled entity that buys and sells food commodities with the aim of providing affordable foodstocks to the most vulnerable populations in Nepal. Before the earthquake, roughly 15-to-20 percent of Nepali’s were considered “food insecure.”
According to Ansu Tumbahangfe’s 2010 thesis at Erasmus University,
Once the grains are procured, they along with food aid supplied by donor countries are stored amongst the 155 godowns or storehouses owned by the NFC. In total these godowns have a capacity of 94,770 MT . From there, the grains are then transported through via private transport operators to various parts of the country, through various modes such as air lifting, roads and even mules . For remote areas, which have been classified as “inaccessible” by the GoN, transport subsidies are provided.
The report in the Kathmandu Post suggests the NFC was ill-prepared for a disaster of this scope and scale. Structural reforms of the NFC since 1999 may have undermined the capacity of the organization in a disaster. The organization is also criticized for a lack of creativity and urgency since the earthquake.
I will also note that as I have tried to monitor OCHA, Logistics Cluster, and NGO response documentation (Examples: Logistics Cluster, May 8 minutes and the USAID 5/8 SitRep), I have not seen any mention of coordination or collaboration with the Nepal Food Corporation. Perhaps it is a sufficiently dysfunctional organization that it is wise to avoid it. Even more likely, my modest efforts at a distance have missed what is going on. But it is also my observation that too often disaster logistics is organized to replace — rather than restore and reinforce — existing supply chains. Supplementation is typically needed. But full-replacement is — it seems to me — mostly an expediency that serves the interests of external parties more than survivors and an expediency that can suppress effective long-term recovery.
That’s not — yet — a conclusion related to the situation in Nepal. It is a hypothesis to test.