Internations Development Select Committee visit to Nepal 2015
Visit to Nepal 4th - 12th February 2015
International Aid provided by the United Kingdom government provides vital support for third world countries. The government pledged to raise the aid provided to a level equivalent to 0.7% of Gross National Income and this amounts to approximately £11billion or the equivalent of about £137 per person in the UK. (See background in Guardian article published in March 2013). This expenditure does attract some criticism from some political quarters. It is therefore very important that UK members of parliament scrutinise the way that the money is used to ensure that it leads to the greater well being of the people in the countries to which it is provided. This work is done by members of the International Development Select Committee of which Fabian has served as a member during the present parliament.
The delegation comprised: Sir Malcolm Bruce (Liberal Democrat Committee Chair , Sir Hugh Bayley (Labour), Sir Peter Luff (Conservative), Ms Pauline Latham OBE (Conservative), Ms Fiona Bruce (Conservative), Mr Jeremy Lefroy (Conservative and Fabian Hamilton (Labour).
Nepal receives approximately £106 Million from the UK. It is a predominantly mountainous country containing the highest peaks in the Himalayas including Mt. Everest. For this reason the majority of the population of 27 Million live in the southern lowland regions (the Terai) which borders India. The country is listed about 98th in the ranking of countries by wealth. 90% of the population are Hindu and 8% are Buddhist. Its recent history has been coloured by the struggle between monarchists and communists but since 2007 the country has operated as a fully democratic republic. In 2013, Fabian visited the country as an international observer to verify that elections were held properly. He was impressed then by the way that the country had developed a civil service that could ensure a continuation of services and the rule of law during a period when there was not a functioning government.
There has been a long association between the United Kingdom and Nepal. In the struggle between the powerful East India Company the Nepalese distinguished themselves as fighters and this subsequently led to the reputation of the Gurkha soldiers which form an established and cherished part of the British Army. The peace treaty of 1816 led to Nepal receiving a guarantee from the UK that it would not subsequently be colonised or invaded and thus began a 200 year old relationship between Nepal and the UK. Our country is held in great esteem.
Thanks to foreign aid, (of which the UK is the main donor), mortality among infants and their mothers has rapidly decreased following the investment in clinics, midwifery and the introduction of healthy birth practices. Fabian was able to see how aid provided to Nepal was very effective in improving lives as the people themselves have a culture of striving for self help and also offering help freely to all sections of the community. Also evident was the commitment to sustainable development especially in the upland forest areas where government land is now run by village communities using ecological farming techniques to grow crops such as avocados (Fabian planted a tree), and to turn crops such as nettles into a linen-like cloth for bags.
Woodland cut for fuel is replanted and even the rotting material is utilised for the cultivation of mushrooms. In Nepal there are now some 3000 of these village-run farms. 30 years ago some 29% of the land area of Nepal was covered by forests. This proportion has now been extended to 40% thus reducing soil erosion and flooding, increasing carbon capture and promoting greater precipitation. UK support in these communities provides shelter, saplings for planting and funding for the drilling of wells for clean water.
The delegation from Westminster visited both Kathmandu, the capital and the town of Pokhara at the foot of Mount Anapurna. At Pokhara the delegation was taken to a shanty town made of breeze blocks and corrugated iron. Aid from the UK, supplemented by local help enabled the construction of a bridge significantly easing communication for the community.
A UK funded Gurkha welfare project has installed a water distribution network to a village of some 600 people through the provision of supplies to 102 households, 102 latrines and some 105 outside taps.
While in Nepal the delegation met the Nepalese government Foreign Minsiter and the Finance Minister. Both main political parties at Westminster support the continuation of aid to Nepal but require the assurance from select committee visits that money given is used wisely.
Reflecting on his experience after his return to the UK, Fabian said,
“I am more than ever convinced that a wealthy country like the UK has a moral and human commitment to give aid and encourage development in the poorer countries of the world. We are confined in one small planet and economic failure, starvation, joblessness, scarcity of resources and perhaps simply envy are the seeds from which quickly sprout human misery and wars. It is particularly encouraging to see how aid is making such a difference in Nepal and realising the importance of local initiative and endeavour that can add so much value to the help we can give. Nepal is a model for other countries to follow and I trust that will be a key factor in helping UK governments decide where to target overseas aid in future years."