Two monsoonsThe govt should stop making excuses and accord highest priority to reconstruction
In two months, it will be a year since the Great Earthquake struck the country. It is a matter of national shame that thousands of Nepalis who survived the worst calamity in living memory were then left to fend for themselves under makeshift tents during a difficult monsoon and a harsh winter. Not all made it through; many died of exposure.
What is even more shocking is that it is now almost certain earthquake victims will have to endure yet another monsoon out in the open. Sushil Gyewali, the Chief Executive of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), said on Monday that the reconstruction of earthquake-ravaged houses would not be completed before the monsoon.
Gyewali cited delay in staff recruitment at the NRA and reassessment to finalise “genuine” earthquake victims as major reasons. He said little to explain why these processes were being delayed, except that his appointment took long and that post-earthquake reconstruction is a time-consuming process.
These are not reasonable explanations—at least not after almost 11 months of the tragedy. There is a pattern to this. From the outset, officials have been making one excuse after another for failing to start reconstruction works.
First they said the monsoon last year made it difficult to reach remote areas. Then the task of constitution drafting diverted attention away from reconstruction. After that came the blockade, which led to a dearth of essential supplies. The official explanations conveniently mask the underlying incompetence. The government took eight months to even get the NRA off the ground—Gyewali was appointed on December 26 last year—simply because the political parties could not agree on who would lead it. Still, the reconstruction body has not shown the urgency that the calamity demands.
The NRA had earlier set February 24 as the date for starting aid distribution in Singati, Dolakha, one of the worst-hit districts, but moved it to March 4 as Gyewali left the country as part of PM Oli’s delegation to India. There have been deeply entrenched systemic problems too. The aid distribution process has not been finalised and the NRA has missed a second deadline. This time new reasons were cited—the Nepali Congress convention and red tape in releasing the government fund of Rs65 billion for local bodies. The pretexts that officials keep cooking up are ridiculous. It will not be surprising if they once again cite the upcoming monsoon as reasons for further delays.
Quake victims are desperately awaiting government approval to start rebuilding their houses. Many of them would have done so before the winter but for the rigid government policy that denied the assistance of Rs200,000 per household to those who constructed their houses before the official commencement of the reconstruction works—apparently to ensure standards for building safety.
The frustration of earthquake survivors over the never-ending delay is mounting, as mentioned in a report based on a survey of 14 quake-affected districts. The report ‘Nepal Earthquake 2015: Building Resilience, Rebuilding Lives’ by Humanitarian Accountability Monitoring Initiative, a consortium of various civil society organisations, warns of health risks if survivors continued living in temporary shelters for a prolonged period. It is imperative that the government stop inventing pretexts and accord the highest national priority to reconstruction.