Disaster resilience after Bara’s rainstormThe government needs to understand the importance of socio-cultural identity when planning reconstruction.
The word resilience may come with different meanings to different people from myraid disciplines. In general, resilience is approached from a materialistic point of view where housing, food, medical care etc for the displaced are provided as per the nature of the disaster. In case of the rainstorm that battered Bara some two months ago, providing housing for the displaced has been a top priority of the government. For this, the federal government had allocated Rs846.90 million. While addressing their materialistic needs is imperative, relief and reconstruction in the name of resilience in such a way that compromises on the identity of the displaced community is quite calamitous.
The Nepal Army has been tasked with reconstructing the houses in the aftermath of displacement till the end of July. The houses to be constructed will include two rooms, a kitchen and a toilet, all under a tin roof. Altogether, the Nepal Army will be constructing 1,453 houses. The houses will be reconstructed in line with the government’s People’s Housing Programme. While this is a good initiative, the question is how convenient these new houses will be for the people living in a hot climatic zone. The proposed structure does seem to do much for the affected. Living under a tin roof without insulation in the summers is unimaginable. What’s more, tin roofs are not durable during the storms either.
The local people of the affected communities have traditionally lived in houses made of mud and clay. Such houses are suitable for the region, given the unrelenting sun and heat. The communities hit by the rainstorm fear losing their century-old traditions, heritage and culture through the process of reconstruction. Similarly, the proposed design is not functional from the community’s viewpoint. In my recent visit to Bara after the storm, where I met a few community members of Pheta, they believed the proposed design is impractical because the space provided is too small. Speaking to me about the reconstruction, one of the community members said, ‘Although we didn’t have modern houses before, it was enough to accommodate our cattle and store our grains and other grazing materials. The new design has no space for all these. The design is urbane and sophisticated and focused on physical resilience but it limits our socio-cultural lifestyle.’ The people of Bara are feeling a strong sense of displacement—in a cultural sense. So, rather than designing the houses from the government’s point of view, it would have been better to design them including indigenous knowledge, technique and skills.
In scrutinising resilience, a question arises: Even though the people of Bara will begin to live in the new houses, will their life return to normal? Along with the houses, the people of Bara have lost their loved ones, relationships, and the network that completes an individual as a member of that community. This is the state that the journalist and activist Naomi Klein calls the perfect condition of ‘shock’. This state of shock, of loss, has broken down the victims into tears on a regular basis. One woman from Bara told to me, ‘Even though the government is going to rebuild the houses for us; it will not be the same for me. I lost my child and my husband and I am not going to get them back again’. The government’s efforts of reconstruction are one part of the resilience process, but it’s not the only aspect to consider to alleviate post-disaster trauma. There are trauma and crisis in the families who have lost their single bread earner and their means of production, without which it will be difficult for them to resume a normal life. Their livelihood has been affected. In such conditions, there must be some strategy from the government in establishing their livelihoods, particularly if possible on the basis of their cultural practices in order to reduce the vulnerability.
Though the specific focus is given to address the material loss of the community in Bara not much has been emphasised on building resilience from a livelihood standpoint. The model and concept are designed and guided by the implementers, thus compromising and undermining the self-esteem of the community. But it is imperative to understand that resilience also involves the psychological state of an individual to act and cope efficiently with the adversity. The government should pay heed to this factor as well.
Tiwari is working as a research officer for the Nepal Madhesh Foundation (NEMAF).