Caritas staff from Poland and Nepal check earthquake relief material packets at Assumption Catholic Church in Lalitpur, Nepal, May 7.

CNS PHOTO | ANTO AKKARA

Caritas staff from Poland and Nepal check earthquake relief material packets at Assumption Catholic Church in Lalitpur, Nepal, May 7.

June 15, 2015
MICHAEL SWAN
THE CATHOLIC REGISTER

TORONTO – Nepalese are busy rebuilding their country nearly two months after the first of two devastating earthquakes.

But the mountainous Asian nation got its practice in disaster recovery putting communities back together during more than a decade of civil war between Maoist rebels and government forces – a war that set individual communities in violent opposition to one another.

The Catholic Caritas network was on the frontlines of the battle for peace and reconciliation through the 1990s right up to the 2006 agreement which ended the war.

Throughout that period Caritas developed deep connections in isolated communities throughout 36 of Nepal's 75 districts, said a former Caritas Nepal co-ordinator now living in Toronto.

Mukti Suvedi spent nine years working for Caritas Nepal, and today he sees a successful recovery effort that rests on the network Caritas built up during the war.

"Caritas' strength is always the NGOs working in the grassroots. These NGOs have different communities working with them. We need that," said Suvedi.

Since Nepal was hit with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake April 25 followed by a magnitude 7.3 aftershock May 12, Caritas distributed shelter kits, water and food aid to more than 100,000 people.

The Catholic agency with worldwide connections has been effective despite the fact Christians are less than two per cent of Nepal's population.

Religion is no barrier and Caritas is a trusted agency because it works with local partner agencies, Suvedi said.

While the civil war may be over, with former Maoist fighters integrated into Nepal's army since 2012, the mountain kingdom's transition from a constitutional monarchy to a republic has been stalled since 2008.

POLITICAL DEADLOCK

The political leadership in Kathmandu has been unable to agree on a constitution, and Suvedi worries the political deadlock may eventually get in the way of disaster recovery.

"The resilience of the people is really appreciated, whether it's during the conflict or with what's happening now with the earthquake," Suvedi said.

But Nepal's political division has the potential to slow down recovery efforts.

"Political parties are trying to form a coalition government at this moment to come up with a substantial recovery and rebuilding project," he said. "But it's not meaningful at this point."

POLITICIZED CIVIL SERVICE

Frequent, rapid changes in government has left Nepal without much long-term planning ability and politicized much of its civil service.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has raised $3.5 million for its Caritas partner in Nepal. Almost all of that will be eligible for federal government matching funds.