With eight of the world's 14 highest mountain peaks, Nepal attracts more than 10,000 Canadian visitors every year. More than two weeks ago, a powerful earthquake followed by more than 40 aftershocks rocked this beautiful nation.
Though the region has experienced earthquakes in the past, this one, measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, was Nepal's most powerful quake since 1934.
The death toll from the earthquake is more than 8,000 people and this number is expected to exceed 10,000 over time.
Those fortunate enough to survive the earthquake left their homes with empty hands and psychological trauma. According to the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 3.5 million people are in dire need of immediate food assistance due to the displacement and destruction of agricultural assets caused by the Nepal earthquake.
The long-term food security of the nation is also in jeopardy as farmland has become unusable for the upcoming crop season due to the collapse of hand-built mountainside terraces, water-lifting infrastructure, irrigation channels and lack of timely access to seeds. Meanwhile, many Nepalese male breadwinners who rushed home from jobs in the Middle East, Eastern Asia and India are unable to return to their workplaces for several months or more. They will have to stay home to look after injured and vulnerable family members, which will deprive affected families of much-needed sources of income.
Nepal needs enormous support from private and public organizations in order to revive the small-scale agriculture and rural infrastructure its people depend on. The Canadian state and people are known for their generosity in helping those who suffer misfortunes from Mother Nature.
After Haiti's 2010 earthquake, the federal government spent close to $1 billion to help the Haitian people. Nepal is comparable to Haiti when it comes to development indicators such as per capita GDP, literacy, food security and unemployment rates. Yet the humanitarian response of the Canadian government to Nepal's earthquake has been very slow compared to its reaction to the Haitian earthquake. So far, the government has pledged only $10 million to Nepal in humanitarian aid. An additional $1.5 million has come from provincial governments, including $200,000 from Manitoba.
The current federal government deserves recognition for having untied all development aid as of 2012. But at the same time, it has introduced new thematic priorities and a geographical focus to reinforce Canadian national interests. In keeping with private-sector priorities, Canadian aid has increasingly shifted toward developing countries with good governance and established markets. Unfortunately, neither Nepal's markets nor its government (transitioning from a constitutional monarchy to a full parliamentary democracy) rank highly under the criteria used by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development (DFATD) for investing development aid.
According to statistics available from the OECD secretariat, Nepal has received less than 0.25 per cent ($86 million during 2006-2013) of total Canadian aid distributed since the Conservative government came to power in 2006.
Haiti shared a similarly low percentage of Canadian aid in the past, but this changed significantly after 2006, thanks to the influence of a powerful Haitian diaspora in Canada. According to DFATD, Haiti has received $1.4 billion in aid since 2006, of which nearly $1 billion went toward post-earthquake rehabilitation.
The recent earthquake may have prompted the Nepalese diaspora in Canada to organize itself, but it lacks the numbers and political influence to increase the volume and pace of Canadian aid flowing to Nepal.
Nepal's tragedy is still very fresh, and one expects more rehabilitation aid from the Canadian government will be forthcoming. However, there is little evidence so far to suggest this will happen. Indeed, all Canadian political parties need to uphold Canadian values by showing global leadership in this crisis.
Nepal has excellent local NGOs with international reputations that will ensure effective use of Canadian aid. By providing generous development aid, our political leaders will enable Canadians to work with Nepalese development organizations that have the expertise and experience needed for Nepal's recovery: promoting small-scale agriculture, restoring seeds and crop biodiversity, improving soil and water conservation, promoting microcredit and self-help groups, and providing long-term medical aid in treating the physical and psychological trauma caused by natural disasters.
The Nepalese Sherpas who risk their lives every year to help Canadians climb Mount Everest are looking for a reciprocal gesture from the Sherpas of the Canadian development sector. Before the media turns its attention from this international crisis to the next, Canadians should urge their political representatives to persuade leadership in Ottawa to include Nepal in its list of development-priority countries for the next 10 years and generously increase development aid for medium- and long-term projects. If we miss this opportunity to actively participate in rebuilding Nepal, the view beneath the summit of Mount Everest may become more traumatic and less inspiring for future Canadian adventurers.
Kirit Patel is a professor of international development studies at Menno Simons College, affiliated with Canadian Mennonite University and the University of Winnipeg.