Tired of waitingSurvivors of the killer earthquake of 2015 have already spent two monsoons and winters in temporary shelters, and yet there is no sign of their homes being rebuilt.
Survivors of the killer earthquake of 2015 have already spent two monsoons and winters in temporary shelters, and yet there is no sign of their homes being rebuilt. Where and how have recovery and reconstruction efforts gone wrong? The major political parties, namely the Nepali Congress, CPN-UML and CPN (Maoist Centre), all promised to give first priority to rebuilding infrastructure destroyed by the earthquake. The government’s Post-Disaster Needs Assessment was commendable, and it also secured aid pledges totalling billions during the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction held immediately after the disaster.
Sharing the blame
Thereafter, reconstruction efforts floundered mainly due to the vested interest of political parties and their leaders. A bill to form a National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was delayed interminably, and it took eight months just to appoint a CEO. There were some key challenges and limitations that made the NRA slow and ineffective in achieving its objectives. The most important one was obviously a lack of experience and expertise in dealing with a disaster of such magnitude. The NRA had to rely on external support to draft the framework and modality of reconstruction and grant distribution procedures.
Another critical issue was lack of human resources and funding. The NRA did not receive any money for a long time despite repeated requests by the prime minister to the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of General Administration and Ministry of Local Development and Federal Affairs. To compound the NRA’s problem, bureaucrats weren’t very cooperative. Some public officials were not happy that external technical experts were designing most of the frameworks, procedures and guidelines that were mainly related to grant distribution under the Rural Housing Reconstruction Programme. The NRA also had a hard time obtaining data and information about destroyed homes and a list of beneficiaries from the Central Bureau of Statistics. Indifference and even non-cooperation was clearly evident during the grant enrolment process.
Another major reason behind the delay in reconstruction is the requirements and procedures related to obtaining grants and subsidised loans. Donors wanted to ensure safer and resilient houses, and so decided to issue the grants in three instalments. But the beneficiaries could not be sure if the money would be enough to rebuild their homes, so they did not start reconstruction. Similarly, a year-long delay by the government in approving the procedures to provide the second and third instalments to those fulfilling the requirements was another reason behind reconstruction being held up.
The NRA and state agencies are often blamed for the reconstruction fiasco, but the political leadership, civil society and the media must also share the blame. If the political leadership and civil society had kept up constant pressure, reconstruction would have made much headway by now. Many politicians were engaged in politics as usual while the country needed their support like never before. Members of Parliament rarely visited the NRA to get updates on reconstruction issues. The appointment of a new CEO at the NRA further delayed the reconstruction process as time passed while the new chief got acquainted with the situation.
It wouldn’t be wrong to say that civil society in general and Kathmandu-based civil society in particular failed miserably. Civil society failed to reignite and regain public legitimacy by remaining silent about issues of recovery and reconstruction. Advocacy groups and organisations supporting marginalised and disadvantaged groups including women Members of Parliament, who are supposed to be fighting for inclusion and representation, were often busy writing proposals to donors for relief support. They did not care much about their inclusion and representation in various committees of the NRA. This is shown by the issues included in the Post-Disaster Recovery Framework.
Likewise, anyone who has been closely associated with the NRA and its activities and those who have been reading the news since its establishment would have clearly noticed that. The Nepali media grossly failed to make the related stakeholders accountable and disseminate accurate information about the laws, procedures and requirements for grants and reconstruction. It also failed to mention the roles and responsibilities of the NRA. The media could have published some research-based news and information. This would have been beneficial to the public.
We promised to build back better, and make Nepal’s reconstruction efforts a role model for the world. But lessons and evidence have proven that such a plan is utterly impractical and near impossible. Now that we have elected local representatives in most earthquake affected districts, it would be effective to delegate authority and resources to local authorities. The NRA and related ministries should only provide technical, personnel and legal support. There is a heightened need for mobilisation of civil and political societies at the local level. This will be in favour of all: the quake victims, government, NRA and donors.
Baniya holds a PhD in political science from the University of Oslo and is associated with Social Science Baha