Fr. Pius Perumana, Caritas Nepal director, centre, gives instructions to staff at Assumption Catholic Church in Lalitpur May 1. CNS photo/Anto Akkara

Caritas expertise key in Nepal rebuild

By 
  • June 6, 2015

TORONTO - Nepalese are busy rebuilding their country a month 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, who currently works at Humber College consulting and teaching international development.

Since Nepal was hit with a magnitude 7.8 earthquake April 25 then a magnitude 7.3 aftershock May 12, Caritas has reached more than 100,000 people, distributing shelter kits, water and food aid. 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 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. 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.”

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

Bishop Paul Simick had to intervene in mid-May when police in Kathmandu stopped a group of Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa’s order, from delivering relief supplies to mountain communities near the capital. Chief District Officer Yadav Prasad Koirala let the group get on its way but warned that, in the future, the missionaries should leave relief distribution to the government, reported Anto Akkara for the Catholic News 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.

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