Ambassador Wendy J Chamberlin, before taking up her present position as the USAID's Assistant Administrator for Asia and the Near East was ambassador to Pakistan (a position she gave up because of the pressures of being a single mother). She served earlier in Zaire, Malaysia, Laos and Afghanistan among others. Nepali Times spoke to her last week during her visit to Nepal.
Nepali Times: What is the USAID's own self-evaluation of its activities in Nepal since 1950?
Wendy J Chamberlin: What we have learnt in our long association here is about what really works in development. As you know USAID has been here since 1951 and the US government, through USAID, invested nearly $700 million in Nepal and it has been, for the most part, wildly successful. What has worked is when the Nepali people have participated in their own development, with our aid program acting as an enabler. For example, in the forestry field, we have assisted villagers invest their personal efforts in managing the forests. In the beginning, many people were doubtful about whether erosion and deforestation could be arrested, but it could. And the key has been Nepali villagers themselves. Another impressive example is with the women health volunteers all over the country, in all 75 districts, where again USAID has only been an enabler. The success of the Vitamin A program is a case in point.
What about the problems plaguing Nepali politics?
To achieve success you really need to involve all the forces, all the players, and they have to work together for the common good. To the extent there is a political gridlock today in Kathmandu, among the different players, it presents a grave danger to Nepal and the future of Nepali democracy. It undermines true democratic forces and, perhaps most dangerously, it emboldens those that practice violence and terrorism.
How has USAID's own development agenda in Nepal evolved over the decades?
In the 1950s we were involved in malaria eradication, among others. In the 1960s, we were deeply involved in training Nepal's first generation of technical specialists in the public sector and education. At one point in the 1970s, we were in agriculture and we moved on to public health. We have also worked in energy, water resources basically, in the last 12 years.
Have you moved away from development of infrastructure?
That's true, we go where the needs are. You had taken some strides in your infrastructure. That's why I am particularly concerned for the Nepali people when the terrorists destroy the infrastructure, which is a step back and is not in the people's interest.
Does the USAID also take some of the blame that is being heaped on a lot of Nepali actors for the lack of development in Nepal? More than any aid agency, USAID Nepal has been here for our entire modern era starting in the 1950s.
Ultimately it is up to the Nepali people and the government. You need a government that is accountable to the people in every sector. Now what USAID can do is to assist and to enable as a partner. But, the decision of how you develop is that of the Nepali people.
USAID's public profile in Nepal has dipped considerably over the years. Why is this so?
That's a misperception. Last year the levels of our assistance spiked. It is now $38 million, up from $24 million the previous year. There has thus been a dramatic increase in assistance, and this is not counting military aid. It's the highest that it has ever been, and you have to understand that this is in the context of funds required for Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Where does the military assistance from the US fall within that matrix?
Let's also be very clear that real peace is based on state security and in fact real development for the people throughout the country is based on the extent that the state can provide security for them. So, having a strong, responsible, accountable military providing security for all the people, that respects their human rights, is very much the foundation for an accountable political system and potential for economic growth. That's where we are supporting.
One thing I would like to stress is that we are fully supportive of the peace talks that are going on because we believe that there is no military solution to this problem. We would also like to point out, and this should not be lost on anybody around the world, that President Bush has taken a very strong position against terrorists and those who practice terrorist methods. So, our position is to very clearly encourage progress at the peace table.
How was it that the Maoists arose from the very area where the Rapti Project supported by USAID was active for such a long time?
The reason why we got involved in the Rapti region was because we recognised that this was the one of the most disadvantaged parts of the country, with severe problems of exclusion. Perhaps there was some correlation with our presence in that USAID programs caused people to think differently. It broadened their horizons and people started to [question] why things are the way they are. It is very good when people question the status quo and start thinking differently with a broadened horizon. I do not think we should make any apology for our work in Rapti. I think it was appropriate at the time. One wishes, however, that the people who did ask questions had stayed on the side of peace rather than going for violence because violence is very corrupting.
Is there any impact on lives of Nepali women due to Washington's anti-abortion stance that began in the Reagan era and has continued?
The USAID is a US government program, and it has to reflect the values and policies of our government. This is also a policy that has Congressional support. But, we still have very active and successful family planning programs and we have got some active HIV/AIDS programs in Nepal. Our anti-trafficking support is also aimed at improving the lives of Nepali women and it brings a great deal of effective assistance to the Nepali people.
Where is USAID when it comes to education?
We have not been doing very much in education in Nepal over the last few years, but we are interested in getting reinvolved. And this is not Nepal-specific. Throughout the world we moved away from the education sector to put emphasis on other areas. Under Andrew Nadsios [USAID chief] and more specifically President Bush, there is much greater interest in channelling more of our support to education.