Welcome foreign aidReconstruction of quake-hit districts should be assigned to different countries
More than a year after the great earthquake that killed thousands, left hundreds of thousands homeless and flattened many World Heritage Sites consisting of historic monuments and temples, the affected people have not been able to rebuild their homes due to confusion and the ineptness and inefficiency of the authorities handling the situation. International funding agencies have committed adequate financial resources. However, not much has been achieved as of today.
Immediately after the disaster, national and international relief agencies rushed to assist the victims. After a couple of weeks, the government announced that no more foreign help would be required as it could handle the situation on its own. This dampened the spirit and enthusiasm of the international agencies. As a matter of fact, reconstruction is the responsibility of all, and not just the government. There should have been a joint effort involving the government, INGOs, NGOs, communities and the private sector. If one is not capable of undertaking any enterprise, it should be outsourced.
I had an opportunity to work in Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. Like in Nepal, there were lots of commitments from international and national agencies for funds for reconstruction. But there was total ineptness and non-cooperation from the government. A Korean Christian organisation had brought medicines worth $1 million. However, it was unable to get it out of the customs office as the officials there did not cooperate with the agencies and demanded favours. An American private agency had donated 280 generators to be given to the camps; however, the INGO where I was working could not clear them through customs. There was a donor from the US who had committed $200,000 to build a Women’s Development Centre; but the process of acquiring land for a cause was so cumbersome, it never materialised.
The government exists to serve the people; but in the developing countries, it needs to be served first before the people. First and foremost, the mindset and attitude of the authorities should change in the sense that at the time of such a national crisis, they should put the people first and themselves after. Immediately after the earthquake in Nepal, many countries like China, India, the US, Germany and Japan came forward to assist the reconstruction process. With the negative attitude of the authorities, many backed out. We have to remind ourselves that all this financial assistance was grants, unlike the aid obtained from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank which has to be repaid.
A better way out
There is a maxim in English which says, “Strike the iron while it is hot.” At that time, all those who had pledged to provide assistance should have been made to unite, and the work should have been allocated according to district. China should have been given the responsibility of rebuilding the infrastructure in Sindhupalchok district where the maximum destruction happened. This should be a concerted effort of all the agencies irrespective of colour, caste, politics or race. An enabling environment which is absolutely free from political interference should be created. At the same time, the communities should be honest and sincere when selecting the sites for reconstruction. And only those who have lost their property in the disaster should be entitled to get assistance. Likewise, India should have been given the responsibility of reconstructing Dhading district.
In this way, the reconstruction of affected districts should have been assigned to different countries. An atmosphere of competition among the donors should have been created. The National Reconstruction Authority should have performed the role of monitoring, evaluating, facilitating and coordinating the tasks carried out by different agencies by dispatching representatives to each district to act as facilitators. There is a notion among the authorities that international agencies bring money in the name of development and take back a major portion of it. As long as the communities benefit and the work is completed, we should be satisfied. However, the quality of the work should not be comprised. We need people in development with more ethics and integrity. Only then can the country make progress.
No more delays
With inflation reaching sky-high, the aid amount of Rs200,000 per household is definitely not adequate to rebuild a house. However, it is some relief to those who have lost all their physical and financial assets. It is commendable that the government has come out with various designs that are earthquake-resistant. And it is time to implement these designs without delay. In order to move ahead, the beneficiaries should provide labour for reconstruction, the government should provide free wood from the forest and the aid agencies should provide building materials like cement.
A committee comprising of some 10 beneficiaries should be formed in each village, and all should assist each other in the rebuilding process with the decision taken by themselves. While riding in a taxi in Kathmandu, the driver narrated a story of how some overseas personnel from an INGO had assisted a village in Dhading to clear debris and remove carcasses of animals that had perished during the great quake. The INGO had planned to build 1,600 houses for the villagers. However, due to the decision of the government not to allow foreigners to participate in reconstruction, their dreams of owning new houses were shattered. The driver was cursing the then government for not allowing the INGOs to build them and taking the matter into their hands. Such is the situation in the country.
Malla is a development consultant who has worked in reconstruction in several countries after natural disasters