Dr Hemant Ojha, Principal Advisor of IFSD presented his research titled Power without Capacity? Understanding Local Government Responses to COVID-19 in Nepal at the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) conference on 27 March , 2021. Other contributors for the research are Dil Khatri, Gyanu Maskey, Kaustuv Neupane from the Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies (SIAS) and Andrea Nightingale from the University of Oslo. 

 The promulgation of the new constitution in 2015, restructured Nepal into a federal republic now providing proper authority regarding decision making to the local government. With this, municipalities could now formulate acts and strategies related to disaster risk reduction. Over the years following the 2015 Nepal earthquake, the public have been curious about how the local government system is functioning as part of the larger federal system of governance. Following this context, the research aimed to focus on the core question: How capable are Nepal’s local governments in managing disaster risks in the evolving federal system?  

The research took a qualitative comparative analysis approach by including case studies from 8 municipalities – Dharan, Diktel, Likhu Tamakhoshi, Gokulganga, Dhulikhel, Shankarapur, Bidur, and Budiganga. COVID-19 pandemic was considered as the disaster to understand how local governments respond during disasters. Through interviews with deputy mayors, it was found that despite efforts being made at the local level to contain the spread of the virus, they still lack proper institutional capacity to execute effective strategies. Other main problems include: Lack of financial resources, clearly defined roles between the levels of government and poor infrastructure.  

Dr Ojha concluded by indicating the need for a multi-hazard response framework along with the proper development of rapid action-based learning capacity. The latter can be achieved by bringing together locally engaged expert groups with a new group of engaged research that can possibly help catalyze more effective planning, governance, and capacity building.