The numbers keep changingThe reconstruction process is stymied by lack of reliable data on earthquake survivors.
The fourth anniversary of the devastating 2015 Gorkha earthquake was marked by an outpouring of mixed feelings on various media platforms. But none of them pointed to the inadequate ability of the Nepal government to properly maintain statistics of the earthquake victims that would have helped immensely in the implementation of the reconstruction process. Some expressed joy at the near completion of the reconstruction of some private houses while others pointed to the plight of the rest. Most of them claimed that 80-90 percent of the destroyed homes had been rebuilt, based on primary information provided by local authorities.
Others, citing National Reconstruction Authority data, said that only about 40 percent of the houses had been completed. In fact, there was no uniform figure of the exact number of earthquake survivors who have not reconstructed their houses. If this kind of confusion continues, we will never be able to complete the reconstruction process or we will have to declare arbitrarily that it has ended. The end of the reconstruction process can only be declared by scrutinising the earthquake data seriously.
There are several factors contributing to the uncertainty regarding the end of the reconstruction process. One of them is having inconsistent data of the actual number of eligible earthquake survivors. Data plays a pivotal role, yet its importance is neglected, giving room for manipulation and irregularities. This is currently one of the bottlenecks of the current process. In these four years since the disaster, several rounds of assessments were conducted, and the data was adjusted and readjusted frequently.
In March 2016, the Central Bureau of Statistics completed its survey and concluded that there were 423,118 households who were eligible earthquake survivors. This figure had almost doubled to 825,439 households as of April-end. Even after four years of the devastating earthquake, there is no agreement on the final figure. The grievance list is yet to be compiled, and the collection process was going on till March.
Apart from the national statistics, local authorities are clueless about the number of eligible households. The re-assessment figures of 62,951 households in Dolakha and 59,523 households in Gorkha, which were compiled during the winter of 2016, have increased to 69,608 and 65,686 respectively till date. The total eligible figure increased significantly after the local elected bodies took office. Though it is good to include those that have been left out and are vulnerable, no proper data is maintained at the local level. In many cases, three-four members of the same family have been declared eligible. This is inconsistent with the initial assessment criteria of the victim survey. The initial criteria primarily had household as its basis for being eligible which later even included family members living separately, resulting in a massive rise in the number of eligible beneficiaries.
While genuine victims who are alone, poor and vulnerable may have been left out, those with clever and unjust motives have taken advantage and become included in the government data. If things continue in this manner, there will be a large difference between the ward/municipality level data and the data with the National Reconstruction Authority. It will be difficult to find a midpoint between the actual and inflated numbers. Many got themselves enlisted to receive government funds. Such issues are not documented properly at the local level, which creates chaos in determining the actual number of eligible households and estimating the completion date of the reconstruction process.
The National Reconstruction Authority uses the Earthquake Housing Reconstruction Project Management Information System (EHRP-MIS) web-based software for data collection, but the mechanism alone doesn’t accomplish the purpose. Data management is equally essential. The collected figures are not reliable and they change frequently. Besides, the data collection mechanism was never vigorous enough to set a fine-tuned target and execute the plan. When the target is fluctuating, it is tough to obtain results. It for this reason that the authorities and ascendant entities are unable to give a clear answer about ending the current reconstruction process.
The National Reconstruction Authority’s current data management system will also have spillover effects on other areas of national data, such as family size, budget allocation, planning and much more. Therefore, it is advisable that the government stops integrating further data. If it takes four years to establish conclusively the number of earthquake survivors, how will it put together complex data to transform it into development realities? The government must come up with alternative ways to include the actual vulnerable households that have been left out instead of continuously extending the current reconstruction target. It is high time the government settled on a number and acted swiftly.
Magar is a visiting faculty member at the Kathmandu University School of Arts