Forgotten victimsPetty politics is slowing down the reconstruction process and hurting the earthquake survivors
It has been 21 months since the earthquake struck Nepal and killed nearly 9,000 people. But even today, those who survived the disaster are battling freezing temperatures in their tents, partly because the government has failed to distribute the first tranche of Rs50,000 to many of them. It was reported that 602,257 private homes were destroyed by the earthquake in 31 districts affecting 2.8 million people. Due to the government’s lackadaisical performance in distributing grants to the affected families, many people are building their homes by themselves, taking high interest loans from local money lenders.
It is disheartening to see families still living in tarpaulin tents and braving the harsh winter season when they should have built their homes by now. All the while, the much-hyped National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), which has been marred by politics since its establishment, has led the reconstruction drive at a snail’s pace. It has been reported that till now that the government has distributed the first tranche of housing reconstruction aid of Rs50,000 to 450,000 families, more than 41,000 new houses have been built and over 17,000 houses are under construction. Similarly, the government report shows that 200 school buildings have been reconstructed and 12,000 other are being rebuilt. In the last fiscal year, the NRA spent Rs22.5 billion whereas in the first quarter of this fiscal year, it has already spent Rs21 billion. Even though the NRA has posted these rosy details about reconstruction works on its official website, the truth of the matter is that its work is not satisfactory.
The NRA was established amid much fanfare and with high hopes, but it could not live up to its expectations as there was bickering between the Nepali Congress (NC) and the CPN-UML over its formation and the appointment of its Chief Executive Officer (CEO). Initially, the NC appointed Govind Raj Pokharel as the head of the NRA because he was credited with successfully leading the Post Disaster Needs Assessment Report (PDNA) right after the earthquake, and the party wanted him to stay on even after the change in government. But the new Oli-led UML government delayed tabling the ordinance in order to terminate Pokharel ’s appointment—at a time when the earthquake victims were in dire need of help. When the Oli-led government finally appointed little known Sushil Gyewali as the CEO of the NRA, many senior civil servants refused to work under him. As a result, a lack of adequate and competent human resource adversely impacted the reconstruction works in the affected districts.
Then again there was a change in guard and the Maoist Center-led coalition government, of which the NC is partner, sacked Gyewali and reinstated Pokharel. It appears that the Pushpa Kamal Dahal-led government was hell-bent on dismissing Gyewali, whereas the opposition party, the UML, which appointed him, claims that his performance has been hailed by the donors. Moreover, the UML has accused the present government of sabotaging Gyewali’s performance by purposely refusing to provide him with a budget and human resources to carry out his work.
Whatever the reasons might be for Gyewali’s ouster, at a time when the NRA has not yet finalised the list of those eligible for government payouts and more than 200,000 people have complained of their names being omitted, removing him as the CEO will create new problems rather than solve the existing ones.
No more excuses
It is a pity the reconstruction process has been held hostage to partisan politics. Even at the local level, it is reported that cadres of the ruling and the opposition parties exerted pressure on surveyors to list fake earthquake victims, which led to the delay in the vital survey of damaged infrastructure. Even 2,800 engineers deployed to the hardest hit districts were on protest, demanding appointment letters, salaries and allowances. This further delayed the construction of houses.
Additionally, the months-long unofficial border blockade by India slowed down reconstruction and rehabilitation of earthquake victims, as there was a dearth of construction materials. Moreover, Nepal’s difficult terrain posed logistical challenges for reconstruction efforts.
As millions of quake-affected people are still languishing in tarpaulin tents, it is high time the government became action-oriented instead of merely paying lip service to the survivors’ woes. As donors pledged around Rs410 billion in grants and low interest loans during the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, there are adequate funds for reconstruction. But there is a dearth of faith among political actors and lack of coordination between state agencies. It is time to remember the quake-victims as they continue to suffer due to the petty politics played in the name of helping them, and act sincerely.
Kainee is a social activist and freelance writer