Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Doing Civil Society-Driven Social Accountability in a Disaster Context: Evidence from Post-Earthquake Nepal

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Abstract:  While accountability has gained significant traction within the contemporary discourse on disaster governance, what it means and takes to be ‘doing accountability’ in promoting democratic governance of disasters remain scantly understood. Using the concept of social accountability and drawing on an ethnographic case study of a civil society-led accountability campaign in post-earthquake Nepal (the Mobile Citizen Help Desk, or MCHD), this article shows how MCHD sought to amplify local voices regarding failures in aid delivery and expanded opportunities for dialogue between disaster-affected communities and local powerholders. It highlights the potential of such initiative in safeguarding and promoting the rights of disaster-affected communities, while also helping overcome the post-disaster environment of mistrust, unfounded allegations and power inequalities. The article also draws attention to the challenges facing such an initiative. It shows that the effectiveness of such efforts in translating citizens’ voices into state response was undermined by: (i) its incorporation into a donor-driven humanitarian accountability initiative, in which generating and reporting feedback to donors proved more pressing than amplifying citizen voice; and (ii) unclear structures of governance at the local level of service delivery, which impeded the civil society actors’ aim to engage with ‘the right authority.’ The article draws attention to the political potential of social accountability in a post-disaster context, while also raising caution that such activism is unlikely to succeed in holding powerholders to account in the absence of supportive national bureaucratic and international aid structures.

Keywords:  accountability; civil society; disaster; earthquake; ethnography; governance; Nepal; voice



© Nimesh Dhungana. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.