RAJEEV GOYAL REPORTS FROM THE FIELD
ONE MONTH AFTER THE NEPAL EARTHQUAKE DISASTER RELIEF IN KAVRE. THE FOLLOWING IS A FULL REPORT.
We have crossed one month since the initial earthquake. Our team of Nepali and international volunteers (www.kavreearthquake.org) has distributed more than 12,000 waterproof tarps to about 70,000 people. We have mainly focused on Kavre district, though now also distributed tarps, demolition tools, and mosquito nets to Rasuwa, Dhading, Dolakha, and Kathmandu. Spreadsheet of interventions is attached. By May 31, this acute relief will be finished.
Yesterday our team was in the villages of Devitar and Ugrachandi Nala, where all of the homes are down and there has been loss of life, including children. But people are starting to recover and move on. Even the day after the earthquake women were grazing cattle.
It has gotten hot and humid in Kathmandu. Our concern has been and still is to deliver 15,000 tarps to the hardest hit families before the rains start. This is by no means a substitute for a house but it helps people stay dry and not live so densely or in the livestock shed, until they can reconstruct. The government has been distributing a very thin plastic sheet which is already starting to tear as winds quicken.
Since the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, we have been fortunate to be supported by Karuna Foundation, Celeritas, Phul Maya Foundation, Avaaz, Friends of Nepal and also many individual donors.
Our team is preparing for our contribution to the long term relief which will be to create resource centers and innovative 'tool sheds' for a few villages where we saw need for training/education and also great possibilities. The scale is damage is so big (one-third of Nepal) that we need to focus on just a few communities and going deeply.
NEPAL: SHAKING UP THE STATUS QUO
By BLAIR GLENCORSE and SUJEEV SHAKYA, JUNE 1, 2015
The New York Times features the views of Sujeev Shakya, Himalayan Consensus Executive Board, founder of Nepal Economic Forum, on how youth civil society groups have responded to Nepal's Earthquake under the collective voice "Nepal Rises." Nepal's youth in responding to crisis represent the essence of Himalayan Consensus. Sujeev tells us the story that the mainstream media (almost) forgot:
“Ke garne?” an old lady said to us, tears pouring down her cheeks, as we visited her earthquake-battered village in the Dhading district of Nepal last month: “What to do?” With a history of repeated crises — political, economic and natural — it has become the Nepali way to shrug one’s shoulders and hope for the best.
Since the end of the civil war in 2006, Nepalis have found it impossible to come together around a shared vision for the country, with the failure to agree on a new Constitution leading to continual strikes and violence. But the earthquakes have generated an unprecedented sense of collective responsibility for the future.
Nepal’s youth in particular have shown themselves to be incredibly creative, collaborative and altruistic. The Yellow House and the Association of Youth Organizations of Nepal for example, have mobilized thousands of volunteers to self-finance and distribute aid to even the most remote districts. A young engineer called Bipin Gaire set upBhukampa, a network of more than 350 engineers who are assessing damaged buildings on a pro-bono basis.
Groups organized by Nepal Rises are monitoring social media to identify gaps in the response and sending supplies including tents and food to disaster-hit areas. Talented social entrepreneurs at Abari (the Adobe and Bamboo Research Institute, which reuses traditional materials in contemporary construction practices) and the Himalayan Climate Initiative(a youth-driven group that promotes clean energy) are collaborating with villagers to build earthquake resistant, light-weight houses using locally sourced materials. The list goes on and on.
The walls of social status have crumbled as those with water, toilets and electricity have shared with others in need; and new relationships are emerging across economic and caste lines. In the community of Dhapasi, for example, we saw a displaced Brahmin family sharing a tent and cooking with their Dalit — or “untouchable” — neighbors. This would have been unthinkable in the past.
In the Patan district close to Kathmandu, a group of entrepreneurs fromSmart Paani (a company that designs water-management systems) adapted their off-grid power systems to create a cellphone and laptop charging center, which was used largely by the poor in the days after the first earthquake.
This is not to suggest that Nepali society has suddenly been transformed, but there is a volunteerism, community spirit and social consciousness that is new and very different from before. This can be harnessed in positive ways well beyond post-disaster relief work.
The Nepali people are also demanding to know how aid is being distributed and funds are being spent in their name. Organizations like Bibeksheel Nepali and Quake Relief Updates are setting the tone by publishing all of their donations and expenses online in real time. Websites have popped up to consolidate information on relief efforts, map calls for assistance anddocument aid flows coming into the country.
Accountability Lab and Local Interventions Group have been setting upmobile citizen help desks to help people fix problems and ensure transparency of aid efforts at the local level — and hundreds of young volunteers are signing up to help. During previous crises, like the massacre of the royal family in June 2001, it was the government in Nepal that dictated flows of information, which prevented citizens from asking questions of those in power. Now, social media is allowing Nepalis to push the government towards transparency- and we are seeing the authorities respond.
Since April 25, the day of the first earthquake, the government set up a number of Twitter accounts, including for the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, the National Police and the National Emergency Operations Center. Officials have realized they have to interact with citizens about issues that matter- and have been using these channels to fix problems related to the recovery efforts. The government is also disseminating data on all relief funds collected and disbursed through an Earthquake Relief Portal.
On the ground, we are hoping that local officials will follow the example of the Chief District Officer in Dhading district, who has committed to publishing daily reports of earthquake-related activities online so that citizens can monitor progress.
Over time, this movement towards transparency could become normalized and provide a basis for more open and equal policymaking. Throughout its recent history — from the establishment of democracy in 1990 to the abolition of the monarchy in 2008 — change has come suddenly in Nepal when its people have seized responsibility for their own fate. The recent earthquakes represent another extraordinary chance for Nepalis to collectively forge a future based on national unity, shared responsibility, and accountability of those in power. They must take it.
Blair Glencorse is Executive Director of the Accountability Lab. Sujeev Shakya is chairman of the Nepal Economic Forum.
KUNG FU PANDA SAVES THE PLANET
By Laurence Brahm
When environmentalists, protestors and politicians converged upon the UNFCCC COP21 in Paris during December, nobody expected China with its notorious smut permeated skies, to emerge as the global leader on climate change action. However, it was China that offered a pragmatic path toward renewable energy that could prove a global game changer.
For two decades, China mesmerized institutional investors with its phenomenal growth rates. However, the environmental cost has been devastating. China surpasses even America as the largest producer of green house gasses. China’s new leadership has taken the cost into account. They have decided to reverse this process by creating a new growth trajectory built on environmental economics.
On April 25, 2015, China’s all powerful Communist Party Central Committee and State Council adopted a document entitled, Opinions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council Toward Development of Ecological Civilization (“Ecological Civilization”). Despite its clumsy title, Ecological Civilization represents the single most defining decision of any government toward combatting climate disruption. It mandates a new type of growth built around renewable and efficient energy resource technologies and conservation of water as over-arching national policy. It introduces new measurements of economic and social accomplishment and calls for fresh values that displace consumption with conservation. This document reverses policies of overgrowth that characterized the last decade of China’s development.
I present here an insider perspective on China’s quantum policy shift, having worked as senior advisor to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection throughout the drafting and lobbying process behind Ecological Civilization.
To put this decision in perspective one must understand the industrial growth policies of the last decade. The previous political administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao (2004-2013), adopted the “concept of scientific development,” a view that perceived social and political stability as only maintained through accelerated materialist growth. The official view discarded environmental protection as an inevitable cost of growth. Needless to say, it was not very scientific.
GDP was officially fixed at a minimum of 8 percent, believing this figure could assure broad based employment. Officials were promoted primarily on the basis of GDP. This opened a Pandora’s box of government promoted fixed asset investments in redundant infrastructure and real estate accompanied by plethora of unregulated polluting industries. Social values of wealth accumulation and conspicuous consumption were encouraged as measurements of social success. Life in China became hopelessly corrupt.
The current administration of President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, recognized early on such a growth model was unsustainable. Environmental crisis was sparking social volatility undermining political stability. The trajectory of growth had to shift and evolve a new framework based on renewable and efficient energy, water recycling and conservation systems, with smart urban planning.
Re-gridding China through state infrastructure development for clean energy and water conservation, and the private sector manufacture of every conceivable gadget to get there, will become China’s new employment driver. It will provide jobs not only for blue-collar workers, but also for college, masters and doctoral students whose increasing numbers are changing China’s social structure. A new wave of technology and research re-configured into economics is required to absorb them, requiring educational programs to promote innovation and skills in creating a green, cyclical, and low-carbon development trajectory for China.
To lead the government must invest in students. They will graduate without debt.
Ecological Civilization overturns the last decade’s measurements of economic and social success. Deng Xiaoping’s adage, “to get rich is glorious” is no longer quoted in the China of Xi Jinping. New measurements of social success emphasize conservation, thrift and sustainability, juxtaposing China’s newfound values of conservation against America’s values of overconsumption.
Climate change can no longer be just an excuse for grand airy political speeches in a world demanding credible and pragmatic solutions. In acting decisively on climate change, China may once again set the rules for a new global game. Tragically, America could easily lead by offering our planet the renewable and efficient energy solutions it needs. We have the technological advantage, but lack the political will.
China’s quantum shift to renewable and efficient energy is a global game changer. Technology and manufacturing for new lifestyles of planetary integrity represent a huge business opportunity, not a barrier. A plethora of creative funds and financial instruments will be required to leverage this opportunity to the fullest. While, dysfunctional Washington politics fails to lead us, the financial sector can. The fight against fossil fuels as not about tree hugging. It is the next global business mega-trend about to happen.
Laurence Brahm, international lawyer, mediator and economist, is architect of the Himalayan Consensus economic paradigm. He served as senior advisor to China’s Ministry of Environmental Protection drafting the “Ecological Civilization” policy framework.
Is a New Global Financial Architecture is Emerging?
By Laurence Brahm
We are now living in a complex world of rapidly diminishing resources, worsening environment, widening gaps between rich and poor, with deteriorating global security. Within a mere decade the game has changed and we have entered a new era. It calls for new institutions.
It seems the World Bank, IMF and WTO have had their place and time. Root causes of the 2008 financial crisis have not been addressed – only window dressed. These institutions were established as part of the Breton Woods system after World War II. Their mandate was to ensure global economic stability to prevent the kind of global financial crisis that gave rise to that catastrophic war. But from the 1970s onwards, the very policies of market fundamentalism adhered to by these institutions are partly responsible for the 2008 global financial crisis and the ensuing deterioration of political, economic and social stability worldwide.
Often accused by the developing and underdeveloped nations of constructing a post-colonial order, they have called into question our existing global financial order and the institutions that govern it. Rather than calling for a new Bretton Woods the developed “developing” nations led by China, followed by India and Russia are leading through action. Three institutions -- the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the BRICS Development Bank, and Silk Road Fund – all formally established in 2015 -- represent a new financial architecture that has the potential to rapidly displace the old. China is leading as master architect of this new arrangement.
It all began on March 20, 2012, when leaders of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations meeting in India issued a “Delhi Declaration” calling for a new financial architecture. At the outset this document criticized distortions on the global economy caused by the quantitative easing stimulus of the Federal Reserve (begun during the Bush administration but adhered to throughout the Obama administration). The Delhi Declaration observed:
The build-up of sovereign debt and concerns over medium to long-term fiscal adjustment in advanced countries are creating an uncertain environment for global growth. Further, excessive liquidity from the aggressive policy actions taken by central banks to stabilize their domestic economies have been spilling over into emerging market economies, fostering excessive volatility in capital flows and commodity prices.
The Delhi Declaration then established the principle that an alternative financial architecture is necessary to parallel the old one – in short the democratization of our global financial system.
We therefore call for a more representative international financial architecture, with an increase in the voice and representation of developing countries and the establishment and improvement of a just international monetary system that can serve the interests of all countries and support the development of emerging and developing economies. Moreover, these economies having experienced broad-based growth are now significant contributors to global recovery.
The emergence of new institutions represent a clear challenge to the preeminent position of both the World Bank and IMF. For years the policies of both institutions have been characterized by attaching political conditions to its low-interest loans, a practice detested in developing countries and viewed as ‘neo-colonial’. As a fresh alternative, these new financial institutions may be expected to offer non-conditional loans, but at a higher interest rate – a more business-like approach. They may also fund projects in industries that the World Bank does not, such as biofuels and nuclear power plants. In light of climate disruption and new targets of reducing carbon these are new priorities.
Having stepped out from poverty into prosperity, these newly emerged economies believe that they have the answer to their own challenges. They bring new diversified values and perspectives with their capital. They are also adopting fusion economics (mixing planning and market) instead of adhering to Washington Consensus policies of market fundamentalism. They are stepping from the straight jacket of monolithic globalization (that envisions capital markets as the source generating wealth), instead pioneering new mixtures of diversified localization. Different economic approaches offer newfound pragmatism that continues to evolve, without regard to any particular ideology. As a result, the very political alliances long accepted as status quo, will change with this shift. It heralds a new global consensus.
The old economic assumptions and financial architecture of our post Breton Woods order already are in the process of being replaced. The fast-growing economies of the global “South” come from a different philosophical tradition than the G8. For them, sustainability is nothing new. Rather it is a way of life. The reality of scarcity in their societies will not allow theory to override common sense. These nations have pulled themselves out of poverty. They have no time for theory. Ask yourself, how could an IMF consultant advise an underdeveloped nation’s government on village economics, if that consultant has never spent a night in a village?
The values of these new emerging economic powers have strong traditional roots in a complex overlay of cultures spanning many millennia in a totally different cultural context from that of either Washington or Brussels. Their values are more community and collectively oriented. While obviously greed exists and is sometimes flaunted perversely, it is not recognized as the only factor that motivates people and guides markets, calling for blind financial sector deregulation. Moreover, capital markets in and of them selves, are not the end driver of wealth or healthy economics.
Instead investment into infrastructure and finance for real businesses is viewed as essential in ensuring sustainable communities. Globalization needs to be balanced by a sense of family, identity, and ethnicity. These factors are considered equally important motivations in people’s lives. Therefore certain community protections are recognized as necessary to ensure stability. And the role of government working together alongside the free market as combined forces in tandem represents a more pragmatic and realistic approach to address the challenges we all face today.
Certainly a new consensus seems to have emerged that decisions affecting our planet can no longer be made from a narrow street in New York and a wide boulevard in Washington. These decisions must be made by the nations and people affected by them. And that is what this new financial architecture is really all about.
A wounded economy
· The government’s handling of the blockade will determine long-term economic consequences by Sujeev Shakya
Given the current crisis and the potential disruption of supply chains in the future, when an investor compares Nepal with other options in Asia and Africa, Nepal will cease to be an option at all
Nov 24, 2015- The first thing people notice after an accident is visible bruises. It is only after a while that they know about the internal organ damages. And only after an assessment of the real injury does one figure out the time it will take to recover. The same holds true for the current economic crisis. Currently, judgements are being passed based on what can be observed—serpentine queues at fuel stations, empty shelves in stores, rise in price of food items, desolate restaurants, the smoke from using firewood for cooking, and the stress on people’s faces. The impact of the current crisis in the Tarai compounded by the unofficial Indian blockade that some experts in Delhi opine in private, will not abate in the months to come—even if the Madhes movement diffuses.
Until now, we have only been focusing on the trees; it is now time to look at the forest, ie, the larger impact of blockade on the Nepali economy, already heavily battered by earthquake, for the next three to five years.
Not an option
It is now very clear that the GDP for 2015-16 will be negative, something that did not happen even during the peak of insurgency. This means that Nepal will have to shelve its plans for graduating to a middle-income country by 2030 as this requires an annual growth rate of at least 10 percent plus and investments of $ 6-8 billion each year. Major long-term economic milestones are also likely to be postponed by three to five years.
Nepal is still not credit rated and already has problems in terms of the perceived risk of investment in the country. Given the current crisis and the potential disruption of supply chains in the future, foreign investors are likely to seek political risk insurance to cover themselves against losses that are caused by political disruption. We can recall that even in major hydropower deals, the risk associated with closure was assumed not to exceed 20 days at a stretch. For projects, this would mean that the costs would go up by three to five percent with annual costs increasing at the same level. When an investor compares Nepal with other options in Asia and Africa, Nepal will cease to be an option at all.
Banks and Indian businesses
There are still some questions that need to be answered in regard to the banking community. What will happen to the goods lying at the border that has been paid through a small portion of letter of credits with the major risk borne by the banks? Will the banks be able to recover money from the people who do not settle their Letter of Credits from the guarantees they have taken? What will banks do saddled with goods whose costs have multiplied several times over due to demurrage and other costs? The market is already aware of many importers who have decided to leave Nepal and find new countries to do business in. How will banks recover money from them? When tourism industry was impacted during the insurgency period, banks were saddled with a spate of assets, as was the case when the garment industry nosedived. We are now looking at a similar problem but on a larger scale. Does the government have any plans for bailing out businesses or banks if such a situation were to arise again?
By now, the Indian establishment has also agreed that bilateral relations are at a low ebb, and Indian investments and investors will not be seen in the same manner in Nepal anymore. What will happen to investments committed in hydropower, will they come? What will be the execution risk on the ground? The Budhi Gandaki project has already been earmarked for domestic investments and removed from the list of projects Indians can invest in. Apart from folks in border towns interested in small trading operations and people with long-term relationship with Nepal, Indian investors have already taken Nepal off their foreign direct investment destination map.The current situation only gives them a bigger reason not to come to Nepal. Most international investors are guided by their regional offices in Delhi and given the cold relationship between India and the track record of the Nepali government, even potential plans will be deferred, leave alone making real investments.
The reaction of the international community in Nepal is very clear and it follows the pattern of non-involvement visible since the British left South Asia in 1947. They like to be silent observers even if the events take an extreme turn as demonstrated during China’s annexation of Tibet, and Sikkim’s annexation by India. We will see more donor activity in cottage-industry activities rather than tackling larger issues of economic development or projects that could have a geopolitical impact.
As for the Prime Minister’s address to the nation, it sounded somewhere in between reading an election manifesto and a plan of someone who just got the mandate to be PM for a five-year term. However, the proliferation of informal trade in fuel that is controlled by a state-owned enterprise perhaps indicates the focus on short-term gains. The real actionable long-term view is missing. Worse still, the government is yet to even the bill to form the Reconstruction Authority and is instead seeking to task a policy-making body with implementation of rebuilting works. Further, by annulling the re-appointment of the Chief Executive Officer of the Investment Board—recruited through a competitive process—to pave the way for another political appointment is a clear indication of the governement’s priorities lie.
Blockades generally create short-term impacts; it is the attitude of the government in handling it that results in long-term impacts on an economy.
LEARNING FROM FAILURE - Sujeev Shakya
We need to develop a long-term transportation policy that relies on mass transit using electricity. With research on electric cars taking place at a rapid pace, in another ten years, Nepal can switch to electric vehicles Oct 13, 2015- The discussions currently taking place in Nepal are no different from those that took place after India imposed an embargo on Nepal in 1989. Twenty-six years ago, there were talks about importing petroleum products from China and developing a transit route in the north. There were also talks about Nepal's need to be self-reliant on energy. The then king's advisors and emissaries made ultra-nationalist statements, very similar to the ones made by present day politicians. Hence, more than two decades later, in the face of yet another informal blockade by India, Nepal has nothing new to offer but old statements in new formats-on the social media and as breaking news on television.
In 1989, leaders flaunted their statements carried by government newspapers-The Rising Nepal and Gorkhapatra. Now, leaders take pride in watching themselves on television and on being discussed on Facebook and Twitter. And they think that they have fulfilled their responsibility. The Finance Minister did not make a statement on how the blockade is impacting the economy and his plans to address it. He has been busy tweeting about the multi-purpose hall he inaugurated or the certificates he distributed. Who cares if the economy has incurred losses amounting to $2 billion? Who cares about a nation that continues to face economic hardships after being battered by an earthquake that cost $8 billion? The earthquake followed by the human-induced shortage of fuel and essential goods has cost Nepal close to half of its Gross Domestic Product.
Crisis management plans
After the quake, there were talks about the need for crisis management plans. But even after six months, the Reconstruction Authority is yet to take shape. Supply channels could still be disrupted by natural calamities. Yet no one has a plan B.
Many talk about importing fuel from the northern neighbor, but has anyone studied whether petroleum products in China have octane levels in fuel that is compatible to Nepal? What will it take to make Chinese fuel compatible to automobiles in Nepal based on the Indian octane levels? Where is the nearest supply point in China from where tankers transport oil to Nepal, what is the cost of transportation? Can we lay a pipeline in the north or can railway networks carry oil? What will the long-term impacts of importing fuel from China be for Nepal? Economics is about long-term sustainability, not short-term kneejerk reactions.
In 1989, after the embargo and when an interim government was formed post 1990, energy security became a key political agenda. The government wanted to generate electricity to meet the energy demands of Nepali households as well as the transportation sector. Various legislations and policies relating to hydropower were promulgated. Then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala asked Prabhakar Rana, then Chairman of Soaltee Hotel to take the lead in this sector. Then US Ambassador Julia Chang Bloch arranged a meeting with leading US energy firms and Harza Engineering took the lead to build the Bhote-Koshi Power Project. Nepal became one of the first countries to use electric vehicles for public transportation as it assembled three-wheelers to replace the diesel belching Vikram Tempos. Electric buses went on trial runs and ropeways drew attention in boardrooms. Multiple deliberations have taken place on the strategic storage of petroleum products across the nation to tackle natural and human-induced calamities, but these discussions have not progressed beyond the proceedings report. However, over a period of time, the myopia of the political leaders coupled with a strong automobile lobby-which makes a significant contribution to government revenues-and multiple scams in providing hydropower licenses put an end to Nepal's long-term plan to produce energy and switch to alternative transportation systems.
If two quakes within a span of six months cannot shake a country's policy makers, nothing will. It is high time Nepal focused on being energy and supply secure to ensure that it is no longer affected by supply embargos used as a geopolitical tool. First, hydropower development should be pursued with an objective to fulfill domestic demands. To substitute half of the Liquefied Petroleum Gas demand Nepal needs 1,000 MW just for cooking food. If ropeways, alternative mass transit systems based on railways and electric transport are encourage looking at close to 5,000 to 6,000 MW of domestic demand which is line with average electricity consumption in lower rung middle-income country. Malaysia, which population is equivalent to Nepal's, consumes 28,000 MW.
However, the production of power has to go beyond PowerPoint presentations and materialise into reality. Second, we need to develop a long-term transportation policy that relies on mass transit using electricity. With research on electric cars taking place at a rapid pace and some great products like Tesla and others in the offing, in another ten years, Nepal can switch to using electric vehicles and establish a nationwide network of charging stations. Third, we need to explore options to outsource operations and management of the Nepal Oil Corporation to global energy companies who have the clout to handle governments and supply disruptions. Nepal should call a global tender which can excite Shell, Exxon Mobile and other global companies including those from India and China with experience in managing supply chains in landlocked countries. Finally, we need leaders who can lead Nepal till 2030 or 2040, not people who will be in their afterlife by then. Perhaps, it is a good time to consider contracting out the management of key government functions to young Nepalese. After all, we have a good pool of people in Nepal and the diaspora.
Nepal and California - Shared Problems
An earthquake in the far of Himalayas that has shaken Nepal to pieces may seem far away and unconnected with California’s water crisis and the headaches of Governor Jerry Brown.
In fact, the two issues are intimately connected. The earthquake in Nepal comes at a time when the Himalayan region is on the front edge of the battle against climate change. Melting glaciers have created unprecedented rises in moisture at lower altitudes, desertification at higher altitudes, and the dangers of erosion that comes with it.
The Himalayas is the water shed that supports one third of humanity. The river system that flows from its glaciers includes the Yellow and Yangtze of China, the Salween. Irrawady, and Mekong of South East Asia, the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra of South Asia. As the snowcap disappears, so will these river systems. Glacier lake over flooding or "GLOFs" threaten the entire region, placing undo pressure on the rock and sediment, foundations which are the very substance of the Himalayan range. In short, the earth’s waters are a balance mechanism, a lubricant shock absorbing for the earth’s tectonic plates. You shift the distribution of water, you change the ease with which some of plates adjust and increase the odds of frequent violent interaction. It amounts to a sheering of sorts, no different than the loss of tissue between bones that creates arthritis, which eventually has crippling effects on the body.
In short, water washes away rock and is stronger than rock in that sense. In fact, water is the foundation of this realm not rock. Climate disruption is a national, if not global, security threat, one that is far more serious than any of the threats talked about on our daily news broadcasts.
Sure enough, California which sits right on an earthquake zone, parallel on the other side of the tectonic plates of the Pacific which link directly with the Himalayas, is facing a water crisis for the very same reasons. Eighty percent of the water loss in the valley outside around San Francisco is due to mono-culture, inefficient use of water for crop growing, golf courts and of course the watering of rich people’s front yards. It sounds crazy, but waste in clean water is as much of California’s problem as the shrinking Sierra glacier caps which are melting at the same rate as those in the Himalayas. Don’t you see the connection?
No surprise. Himalaya Consensus as a non-governmental organization is on the front lines of relief efforts in the wake of the Nepal earthquake. It has now also been invited by activists in California to work with the "permaculture" movement, preparing proposals to governor Jerry Brown, drawing upon ancient Native American knowledge, plants species and the need for water catchment and recycling can be applied to save water and produce more food in the state of California, which now have more beggars and street people in San Francisco than does New Delhi (a fact that shocked me on a recent visit to San Francisco).
"Permaculture" meaning specifically permanent culture that is reflecting the native American view that every action we take must be relevant for at least seven generations that will follow us. It is about ways to grow food that are not just sustainable for the planet, but are outright common sense for maintaining the management of water and rock in balance and harmony for this very fragile planet we call earth.
In permaculture, the justaposition of plant species creates far greater food production with less work, less water, and is the natural state of forests and jungles. Whereas mono-culture absorbs vast amount of water, wastes water and also requires GMOs, which in turn require fertilizers because the earth becomes depleted. Remember: nature is naturally bountiful if allowed to do its work. The problem is we don’t allow it to. Mono-culture is driven primarily by the fertilizer industry, which is driven by the capital markets, which is driven by our politicians who are paid by Wall Street.
For this reason, solutions coming from Californians who have solved this problem in their community at the grass-root level are relevant as a statewide policy that can produce food and save water.
Organizations like Daily Act, are mulching over people's front yards and planting juxtapositions of plant life using natural water captured from rain fallen on the roof, turning people’s community front yards into abundant food forests. And guess what? Food is free, which is badly needed for a state which has equally juxtaposed social conditions. Very rich hi-tech venture capital folks have big front lawns and swimming pools wasting a lot of water. Throngs of homeless in downtown cities simply do not have any food to eat at all.
Remember: when somebody asks you what the earthquake in Nepal might have to do with California, the answer is everything.
Laurence Brahm is founder of the Himalayan Consensus Institute and author of "Fusion Economics: How Pragmatism is Changing Our World" by Palgrave Macmillan.
MONGOLIA: CLASH OF NATURE AND MODERNIZATION
by Suren Badral, HC Advisory Board Member
Mongolia is the 18th largest country in the world in terms of the size of its territory. But it is a sparsely populated country. The rural population density is 1 person per square kilometer (excluding 3 major cities).
Mongolia lies at the cross of the Northern Siberian cold and the Southern China warm. it has an extreme continental climate that is unstable and unpredictable.
It inhabits the southernmost tips of the Siberian permafrost and the northernmost ranges of the Gobi deserts.
Therefore, any persistent change in the temperature has a very deep impact on the land and poses severe challenges to human and livestock survival.
Mongolia has experienced an increase in average temperature by 2.07° between 1940 and 2013 and this warming is expected to further accelerate.
Mongolia is fully dependent on climate for animal husbandry which is one of the largest contributors to the economy and the only means for the livelihood of a one-third of the population.
The recent mining boom in Mongolia has greatly exacerbated the worsening of habitat for human and natural life. Uncontrolled and irresponsible mining poses serious threats to the livelihood of many nomadic herders.
The global warming coupled with mining fever has led to a rapid decrease of water resources, a deep degradation of land and soil, a rapid melting of permafrost and glaciers which are the major source of surface water in Mongolia.
That is why the ongoing process of negotiations on a new climate change agreement is crucial to Mongolia.
Mongolia’s position in these negotiations is common with that of the Group of 77 (and China), an umbrella organization of the developing countries at the UN negotiations.
Mongolia stands for upholding the principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR) and for the developed countries’ responsibility and action to provide technology, financial support and capacity-building to the developing nations to tackle the severe impacts of the climate change.
For Mongolia the international efforts are necessary but not sufficient. It is Mongolia and its people who must do much more on coping with the climate change and be prepared for the negative impacts of the global warming.
Lack of good governance, weak rule of law and persisting poverty are among the major domestic factors of a multiplier effect on the deteriorating environment in Mongolia.
The traditional culture of the Mongolians living in harmony with nature has helped keep the pristine nature of the land for centuries. But now it is being seriously eroded by increasing urbanization and modernization. It is now an immense problem how to keep this tradition alive and working and adapted in the new conditions of global warming.
The new economic paradigm advocated by the Himalayan Consensus suggests a far-reaching solution in Mongolia’s dilemma. Its proposal to focus on renewable-efficient energy, water-food security, applying traditional knowledge to present challenges, community empowerment and inclusive finance, points to the policy priorities we should adopt in Mongolia.
What the Himalayan Consensus is advocating is, in essence, to live decently today while following the advice of Mahatma Gandhi: “The earth, the air, the land and the water are not an inheritance from our fore fathers but on loan from our children. So we have to handover to them at least as it was handed over to us.”
It is possible. It is becoming more a must.
 “Mongolia Second Assessment Report on Climate Change – 2014”
Rebuilding Nepal Requires a Long-term Vision
BY SUJEEV SHAKYA
May 16, 2015
It only lasted for 20 seconds, but the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked Nepal at midday on 25 April 2015 has impacted the country on an unprecedented scale. More than 8000 Nepalese were killed. Twice as many were injured. Many people have been left homeless after their houses were destroyed. Others, scared of aftershocks, now sleep under the open sky.
Just over two weeks later, on Tuesday 11 May, another 7.4 magnitude earthquake hit the country. The casualty list continues to grow.
Although the initial quake also hit the capital city of Kathmandu, the worst affected areas are in the adjoining districts — some so remote that it took a week for the first batch of relief materials to arrive. In the capital, the heritage sites of centuries old temples and palaces were razed to the ground and many houses — old and new — collapsed. Pictures of cracked high-rise apartment buildings, the icons of Nepal’s economic progress, flooded social media. Many people believe that the impact would have been a lot more devastating had the earthquake not taken place on a Saturday, when offices and schools were closed.
While the response from the army, police and Nepal’s friendly neighbors were immediate, key government officials, political parties and political civil society have still found responding difficult, and efforts were often made by individuals rather than Nepalese society. The Prime Minister of Bhutan Tshering Tobgay personally delivered a check of US$1 million and a team of 68 people, comprising of doctors and paramedics. Air traffic controllers worked overtime and managed 450 flights on a single day at Tribhuvan, Nepal’s only international airport.
Many arms of the government worked well. The state-owned Nepal Telecom provided free text and phone calls as more international service providers like Skype and Viber joined in to make calls to Nepal free. The electricity grid was restored quickly and some key officials in the government worked non-stop coordinating relief work.
But the major political parties were completely absent from the scene. These parties, who boast of raising hundreds of volunteers at political rallies and enforcing nationwide strikes, could not garner the support needed to deliver relief to the very people who voted them into power. The absence of a national mechanism amongst the coalition government hampered co-ordination and impacted relief efforts. It took the government a week to clarify its position on whether NGOs could receive charity money and goods for relief or be given customs waivers. This lack of clear-cut directives and strategic thinking comes at the cost of forgone donations.
Initial relief efforts were conducted by volunteers who spontaneously gathered to start delivering tents, food and medicines to affected people. These groups were organized through social media to meet demand and supply. They delivered relief at zero cost, paying for their own food, water and fuel.
The political impasse in Nepal — which is blocking progress on finalizing a replacement for the interim constitution in the second Constituent Assembly — does not provide the right backdrop for managing such a disaster. The credibility of the prime minister’s relief fund is continuously questioned. International donors prefer to work through international agencies rather than give cash to the government. The absence of local governments for the past 14 years in the villages and towns has resulted in powerful political syndicates known as All Party Mechanism (APM). These APMs disburse money to party workers in a system that is ridden with corruption. Relief efforts being caught up in the political and bureaucratic system continue to be reported by the media.
As people get back to their lives, the challenge now is how to sustain relief and move to the phase of rehabilitation and reconstruction. Some global organizations are already here and it is important to be cautious that they do not convert this disaster into extended international engagement in Nepal. Resurrecting Nepal will require a long-term vision, but this is unlikely to come from the weak coalition government. India and China have shown keen interest in the redevelopment efforts, but the challenge is how they are seen coordinating efforts rather than competing with each other in helping Nepal.
Even before the earthquake, Nepal required a serious long-term view, especially towards infrastructure development. In preliminary findings, the National Planning Commission has estimated that about US$120–150 billion is required to build the infrastructure needed for Nepal to become a middle income country by 2030. The earthquake has been a setback, but hopefully it provides an opportunity to think of a long-term vision.
by sujeev shakya
May 12, 2015
The politicians are back making statements. Some words that had a two-week hiatus are back again. Political debates are back on social media. We know Nepal is limping back to normal after two weeks. While the elected coalition government was rightly lambasted for its lack of coordination, various government mechanisms worked tirelessly. The Army, Police, and Air Traffic Control displayed their potential; the government telecom and power companies worked relentlessly; and even bureaucrats worked tirelessly round the clock. The quake, thus, provided an opportunity to introspect into what had happened and what is required to get Nepal back on track.
New Age Volunteerism
There were scores of selfless volunteer groups that worked tirelessly. It was really interesting to see volunteers purchase their own food and water, fill up their fuel tanks with their own money, and make zero overhead relief work possible. While there were banner hosting people who were busy taking #Relfies (selfies during relief distribution), most of the volunteerism was a spontaneous networking to get through to the supply chain, demand identification, and get zero overhead delivery right. The processes were transparent, as most of the demand and supply was broadcasted over social media, taking accountability and transparency to the next level.
This really sets the stage for international organisations that have the global expertise of fund raising and delivery to take relief and rebuilding to the next level. Like these volunteer groups active on social media, it will be an opportunity for international organisations to deliver with new levels of transparency and accountability. While everyone understands zero overhead is quite impossible in large-scale operations, the competition will be to see who can deliver the best at the best overhead. Gone are the days where 70 paisa was used to deliver 30 paisa of aid. There will be voluntary groups emerging that will surely keep everyone on their toes. This will also help the government, as it is wary of a post-Haiti-like experience, where a lot was wasted due to a lack of coordination.
New Institutional Mechanism
Despite assurances from key people in government and the bureaucracy on the utilization of the funds from Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, the dismal past experience and the glaring criticism of All-Party Mechanisms (APM) makes people wary of contributing to the fund. International funds are being routed through bilateral and multilateral agencies or international NGOs. If the government wants to break the jinx, then the time is right for an institutional arrangement to be made where independence, continuity, and transparency will be the tablestakes.
There is a leaf of learning from the creation of the Investment Board. A similar institution could be created to manage the funds and engage in rebuilding. This institution’s chief should not change with a change in government.
If the political parties are really serious about rebuilding Nepal and not their party coffers, then they must really push for a mechanism that will last the next 10 years. The private sector, civil society, and international organizations can help through selfless service in this mechanism. This will not only bring in more support to Nepal, but also the investments that are required to accelerate economic growth and development. Prior to the earthquake, it had been identified that $120 to $150 billion is required as investment in Nepal till 2030. Rebuilding efforts will only expedite building a foundation for such future investments.
An Entrepreneurship Focus
Natural calamities bring in a wave of handouts and many a time, countries get complacent and look for more free money, rather than investments. People do not want to learn how to fish and are satisfied with the dole of fish they get from competing agencies. Nepal is a country where a state that can finance smartcard-based driver’s licences through revenues will wait for years for an aid agency to develop and execute a similar project.
It is, thus, time to take entrepreneurship development and creation of jobs more seriously. Heritage site restoration will require thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers who can be paid salaries at par with what they earn in the Middle East. There is also an opportunity here to create institutions that will train these people. Similarly, people need money to restart their lives, be it for building their livestock inventory or a seed bank and agricultural inputs.
Rather than free handouts, there has to be a facilitation of quick and very low interest loans and other funding tools. Similarly, the government can provide tax breaks and investment incentives for large private sector companies willing to invest in industrial facilities in affected areas. These would create jobs that will help people earn and repay the loans they will have to take to rebuild their homes and lives.
The biggest lesson from the quake has been that of unsung heroes. A majority of volunteers did not want a photo-op; they did not sponsor ads on social media on the work they were doing and we don’t know the names of a vast majority of them. The next phase of rebuilding will have to be done in a similar manner. Our obsession with banners and stickers on vehicles while prioritizing media face time may not provide desired results. The new Nepali generation is ready to deliver; we just need to provide them with the framework to feel encouraged to contribute.
Reclaiming the streets
By Laurence Brahm
This is the decade of global protest. As we enter 2015 we are smack in the middle, at the crossroads of what this decade will bring.
People across our planet, fed up with dysfunctional politics and vapid leadership, are expressing it in the streets. Youth strapped with debt to pay for an education that cannot secure them a job, demand a say in a future that belongs to them. Linked by technology and a holistic vision of planet that must sustain generations to come, they are taking the lead through spontaneous protest.
It harks of the 1960s-1970s when our planet underwent another period of convulsion marked by conflict over a stagnant racial and caste hierarchy, a rejection of old values and ideological wars that enriched a few. We have come full circle. I things keep on the current trajectory, the 2016 US presidential election may be marred protest surging into the kind of rioting that we witnessed in 1968.
But for the moment, the belief of all protestors is in Gandhi based civil disobedience. This is still the decade of peaceful revolution.
Youth are demanding a change in the values that underlie those assumptions upon which our economics is based. To a great extent, that is what this decade of protest is all about. And it is global. Starting in 2011 youth-led protests hit the capitals of the Middle East, then Europe. The message: this is not the future we want! Emerging as Occupy Wall Street, protests erupting against Wall Street titans and financial-fossil fuel oligarchs spread from New York City across America -- until cleared from the streets on November 15, 2011, in one coordinated nation-wide Hunger Games style police crackdown that began at midnight and swept from coast to coast.
Guess what? Now they are back!
In the wake of brutal police killings of Trayvon Martin and Eric Gartner, protests have erupted again. The issues are far deeper rooted than racial discrimination. Four out of five adults in America face joblessness, poverty or food stamp dependency, while three fourths of the so-called new jobs created are only part time employment. Promises backed by quantitative stimulus have only sunk America into greater debt without any of it going into the infrastructure required to re-boot the economy, while all of it went into the hands of a handful of banking executives who have enriched themselves on arbitrage and derivative trading. They will certainly fund the next presidential campaigns. Because whichever party wins one thing is assured, the system will not change.
The Obama administration that was elected to right the wrongs of Bush, have only perpetuated them. So people are now expressing outrage against a political system that prejudices the poor and protects the ultra rich, an electoral and a legal system that has been manipulated to assure this status quo won’t change. Without much choice, people are back on the street.
Fed up, people chose to demand change in 2011 by occupying public space, until it was taken from them. In 2014 with no change in site they have reclaimed the streets, decrying a dysfunctional system that has reached a brink. Does our vote really matter when we are stuck with comedian candidates who are only avatars of the banking and fossil fuel oligarchy?
Yes, Occupy is back! But this time, it is Outrage for All. Moreover, the tactics have changed.
At Occupy protestors were trying to occupy space. The idea was by holding public space they could remain relevant, keeping the issues that were driving dissent in the public arena. In retrospect, the virtual worldview was being applied to real physical space, and it did not work.
Now the new tactics are more real. Protestors gather, lie down in public protest, arise and move on to the next location or disappear, only to reassemble again. The hit-and-run approach, more like a flash mob, is working. The police cannot clear the voice of dissent from the streets because the protestors are gone before they can act.
Protest is occurring within the space of regulated traffic flow. It is peaceful. It is on the move. It strikes public attention and then dissipates. It is more effective and can sustain a campaign of civil disobedience that can last up through the next presidential election – when such tactics will be needed the most!
Laurence Brahm is founder of Himalayan Consensus Institute. His latest book is “Fusion Economics: How Pragmatism is Changing the World.”
Zero carbon energy: an opportunity cannot resist business
BY LAURENCE BRAHM
Turbulent blizzards, Everest avalanches, and devastating flooding in Kashmir have brought the Himalayas into the global media spotlight this year. Glacial melt due to rising temperatures caused by increased carbon trajectories, will cause avalanches at high altitudes, flooding downstream, and desertification when the water runs out.
Responding to the climate change crisis is a global priority and also a business opportunity and “fusion economics” is all about merging environmental solutions pioneered by grassroots civil society, with the power of business and finance to scale solutions and reduce costs.
To address climate change in the Himalayan region, scientists recently gathered for a conference convened by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu. The Hindu Kush Himalayan Assessment spearheaded by ICIMOD will arguably be the most complete analysis yet of the threats this delicate region faces. The assessment will offer practical policy recommendations to help government guide business in joining the fight against climate change.
Often called the “third pole” because there is more snow and ice there than anywhere else in the world outside the polar regions, the Himalayas run through Afghanistan, China, and six other countries, all which share tense borders populated by multi-ethnic peoples. This region has possibly the highest concentration of diverse culture and religion on the planet. So if the glaciers melt and water runs out, it is a formula for disaster.
“The Himalayas are a fragile eco-system most affected by climate change. Dangerous glacial lakes can flood some areas, while drought from receding glaciers hits others,” explained ICIMOD director general David Molden who is leading the assessment. “The Himalayas support the lives of nearly 4 billion people. Failure to protect the Himalayas as a shared resource, will lead to more avalanches, floods, droughts, and in turn a crisis of food, water and energy security.”
The problem is down to one word – carbon. Scientists at the conference agreed that current output trajectories predict an increase in global temperatures of 3.7C - 4.8C (38.6F - 40.6F). This would push the planet past what environmentalists call “tipping point” when temperatures are too extreme for habitation as we know it. In street speak humanity is on a fast track toward joining the dinosaurs. The Himalayan consensus response: total carbon output must drop, which means de-carbonisation of the energy supply, or significantly increasing zero and low carbon energy from renewables, nuclear, carbon dioxide capture and storage, or bio-energy. Investments in energy efficiency, insulation and recycling systems for water purification and water resource management are also imperative.
Despite highly publicized joint declaration at the APEC Summit in Beijing by China and American presidents Xi Jinping and Barack Obama on combatting climate change, neither leader offered any concrete policy path that could engage business to shift toward zero carbon solutions. This is the real problem that must be addressed. Speeches are not enough.
An expected a knee jerk reaction of business might be that it is not feasible to achieve these goals. But that is the whole point. The de-carbonisation of energy is practical. It offers a massive opportunity for business, and will possibly become the next engine of global growth in the two decades ahead. This is not about hugging trees but moving markets.
The Himalayan consensus is all about getting businesses to realise that the short-term costs of adopting renewable and efficient energy will be far less than the long term costs of fixing the problem. Moreover this global transition offers the financial sector with a potential plethora of new products to re-invigorate capital markets. The analysts have failed to say what the scientists dared to speak: GDP will be minimally affected by mitigation action through replacement energy innovation, while the cost to business of non-action will rise astronomically in the decades ahead. Expect additional costs to government and business from a global refugee crisis caused by outward migration from those environmental disaster zones we are now creating.
No wonder protestors at United Nations Climate Change talks in New York stormed Wall Street. They knew more clearly than the politicians making vapid speeches within the UN that combatting climate change comes down to business, and ultimately the financial sector that drives it.
Protest however is not enough. It is time to bring business and finance into the equation. That means changing the current mindset and assumptions behind business.
Combatting climate change through new technologies , infrastructure investments, and financing may prove in the self-interest of business. It will cut costs, create jobs, and be the next mega-trend. Himalayan consensus and fusion economics are about convening stakeholders from environmental and social science, grassroots, civil society, business, finance and government, in building pragmatic solutions. In fact these interests have more to gain in working proactively together than viewing each other as being in conflict.
It all comes down to the power of of changing perspectives. In the past business and finance have seen environmental scientists and civil society as “those activists” who block business interests. Actually, they should now be seen as the innovation, research and development teams that can drive the next global growth trend – the de-carbonisation of energy.
Laurence Brahm is founder of the Himalayan Consensus Institute and author of “FUSION ECONOMICS: How Pragmatism is Changing the World.”
LEVERAGING PEACE WITH INVESTMENT
BY LAURENCE BRAHM
The back-to-back timing of two state-level visits to Beijing by Palestinian President Mohammed Abbas (May 5-6) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (May 7-8) were no coincidence. Netanyahu’s Beijing itinerary had been pre-arranged for months. Abbas visit was a snap decision upon receiving an invitation from China at very short notice.
Netanyahu came to Beijing with an unprecedentedly large trade and investment delegation. Israel now facing fiscal deficit seeks economic diversification. As its main economic aid supporter America faces soaring deficits and debt, like so many countries it is turning to China.
China recognizes both Israel and Palestine as separate states, has embassies in both Tel Aviv and Ramallah, and has economic and geo-political interest in securing stability in the Middle East. During recent Beijing talks China committed to the economic construction of a Palestinian state. In turn the Palestinian Authority confirmed China’s role in any future peace settlement mechanism.
There are several reasons why China has chosen to involve itself in this seemingly intractable imbroglio. China itself is the world’s sixteenth largest Muslim nation. It must maintain close relations with other Muslim nations spreading from Southeast Asia, Central Asia, across the Middle East and throughout Africa. They are strategic allies as resource providers and emerging markets for China’s exports. The Islamic world is critical to China’s economic machinery.
According to China's calculation, the Palestinian conflict is at the core of instability in the Middle East. That is why China needs to be seen taking action to address this problem. America’s one-sidedness on this issue has inflamed the Islamic world, in turn deteriorating America’s own security. China has paid careful attention, and learned from this lesson.
Over the past four years, despite promises, eloquent speeches, and even peace prizes, the White House has produced nothing of substance to resolve the Palestinian issue. Palestinians and most Israelis are disappointed and frustrated. China is stepping into a vacuum left by Washington's inability or unwillingness to act.
Many issues between Israel and Palestine come down to sheer economics. China investment to resolve infrastructure imbroglios in the West Bank will represent pragmatic progress improving people’s daily lives in Palestine and this will in turn help stabilize the situation for Israel as well. China as neutral investor can play both sides more evenly.
On a global geo-political level China is assuming a role commensurate with its economic might as core stakeholder in an every evolving new consensus of developing nations, seeking a multi-lateral world system. Mediating through economic leverage can be seen as China's debut onto the world stage. Peacemaking through equity investment may become China’s soft power edge.
I had insight into this process as part of a second track dialogue prior to both state visits to China. Ten days before Abbas arrival, I divided my time between Jerusalem and Jericho as part of two conferences, held separately in both Israel and Palestine. Running back-to-back similar to the recent Beijing talks a pattern was established. Putting aside emotional issues that are beyond discussion, our purpose was to identify points of commonality and suggest practical steps that can actually be taken.
The "Jerusalem Green and Accessible Pilgrimage 2013 Symposium" convened on April 21-24 by Jerusalem Deputy Mayor, Naomi Tsur, was about more than environment. Energy efficiency, water conservancy and waste disposal problems span both Israeli and Palestinian controlled areas. Infrastructure investment to address these problems affecting people’s daily lives requires agreement by both sides. Barriers to travel and accessibility must come down. Confiscation of historic homes and uprooting of traditional olive groves must cease. So the idea of "green, accessible, pilgrimage" represents a framework addressing these issues between cities and civil society, when national governments refuse to talk.
The "International Humanitarian Law and Protection of Civilians and Civilian Objects in Jerusalem," conference was held in Jericho on April 27-28, presided over by Palestine’s Ambassador to China, Ahmed Ramadan. I raised the idea that a two state solution may require recognizing Israel and Palestine as one common market. On the principle of “two states, one common market,” China can use economic leverage. For instance Investments in solar energy will help make Palestine energy self-sufficient instead of relying on Israel. Today the Palestinian Authority faces constant blackouts. Our conference was blacked out nearly ten times in one day.
During my talks in Jerusalem and Jericho I found overridingly most people want peace and co-existence. Only minority extremists on each side are blocking progress. Barriers and security paranoia do not represent a solution and are not economically viable for either side. Israel's economic security can only be assured with peace. Peace requires Palestine's economic security. China investment and trade can leverage both. The meetings in Beijing may not have presented a breakthrough. But certainly, they represented a big step.
Laurence Brahm an international lawyer and observer of human, economic, environmental rights was invited to participate in a second track dialogue in the run-up to both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas recent visits to Beijing. He is based in Beijing.