Power without Institutional capacity: Local governments’ struggles to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in Nepal

Authors: Dil B. Khatri*, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Nepal, Hemant R. Ojha, University of Canberra, Australia, Gyanu Maskey, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Nepal, Kaustuv R. Neupane, Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Nepal, Andrea J. Nightingale, University of Oslo, Norway and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden
Topics: Development, Cultural and Political Ecology, Natural Resources
Keywords: Decentralized power, disaster responses, institutional capability, Nepal
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 17
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper argues that the devolution of power is important but not sufficient for effective disaster response at the local level. Strengthening the institutional capability of decentralized institutions is crucial. At a time when Nepal is decentralising its state power, the COVID-19 pandemic creates an unprecedented disruption to the way disaster responses are organized at the local level. An analysis of evidence from eight municipalities in Nepal shows that such a highly decentralized system of local governance is not functioning as expected due to the lack of institutional capability. We reviewed the authority entrusted to the newly formed local governments, followed by an examination of the extent to which such authority has been exercised to make decisions. We analyse institutional capability in terms of human and financial resources as well as organisational mechanisms needed to deliver risk management actions. Overall, the analysis covers three interrelated aspects of local disaster governance - the authority to make a decision, the effectiveness of disaster response, and the institutional capability of decentralized institutions. This paper advances a theoretical understanding of the efficacy of decentralized power in disaster management. We draw on virtual interviews with Palika authorities, an analysis of media content (including social media) related to local government response, and a review of the local government’s program and budget. The real time pandemic response captured through our interactive engagement with the local governments and a webinar series organised by the authors also form an important part of the evidence.

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