Walk the talkNC, Maoists were critical of UML’s politicisation of the reconstruction process. Are they better?
The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has made progress in distributing funds to earthquake victims for rebuilding their destroyed homes. Around 270,000 people in 11 of the worst quake-affected districts have now received the first tranche of funding, consisting of Rs 50,000 each.
It appears that the new government has expedited the process. Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had pledged on August 4 to provide aid within 45 days to 531,964 households that had lost homes. Nonetheless, the new government cannot take all the credit for the development, as it is overseeing a process that was established under the previous government.
More importantly, there is still a long way to go. Around 50 percent of listed households are yet to receive the first instalment of the money. And of course, there are subsequent tranches of money that remain to be distributed. Moreover, there are numerous other tasks that the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has to complete in the near future. In addition, there are thousands of households that were not included in the list. Their members routinely express dismay that the government has failed to provide funds to them. It is crucial that such households are listed and provided with necessary aid as soon as possible.
To look at a larger picture, the singular focus on the distribution of funds for rebuilding homes has distracted attention from other crucial issues confronting the reconstruction process. Many of these tasks are much more difficult than simply distributing money. A major task is to relocate people whose villages became unlivable after the earthquake. The NRA states that it has studied 117 locations rendered uninhabitable after the disaster and is looking at 56 areas for the relocation of earthquake victims. This process needs to be speeded up. Many of the survivors are living in extremely precarious conditions and long-term and safe habitation needs to be found for them as soon as possible.
Other crucial tasks include the rebuilding of damaged archaeological sites, schools and community buildings. Reconstruction of some archaeological sites has started and a few agreements have been reached on the rebuilding of schools. However, a degree of controversy has already arisen over the work of the contractors who have been given specific rebuilding tasks. For example, the archaeological authorities have complained that the reconstruction of Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu has been conducted in a haphazard manner, not befitting its status as an important historical site. The government needs to formulate ways to closely monitor and control the quality of the work of contractors involved in rebuilding historical sites and schools.
The government has to approach reconstruction as a much broader process than just distributing grants and resources. Under the CPN-UML led government, reconstruction was heavily politicised, and the politically unconnected found it difficult to gain access to the resources. The current ruling parties, especially the Nepali Congress, had complained about this fact in the past. It should now take firm steps to ensure that all the earthquake victims receive their due, regardless of their connection to the political parties.