Sluggish Reconstruction

 

Kushal Pokharel

Observing the second anniversary of the disastrous twin earthquakes of April and May 2015 this week was more distressing than a sigh of relief for the Nepalese. Killing more than 9,000 people and toppling homes of nearly a million people across the nation, the unprecedented earthquake shook this nation inflicting heavy damage on social and physical infrastructures, economic activities thereby bringing the entire nation to a grinding halt.

Foreign support

In an attempt to expedite relief and reconstruction activities, the government had made several commitments to heal the trauma of common people, but unfortunately most of them remains unfulfilled so far. Holding a conference of donors in the capital, Nepal was able to garner a remarkable support of the international community in gearing up the reconstruction and rehabilitation processes. Two years down the lane, foreign aid of $4.2 billion has poured in, but the socio-economic status of the earthquake victims still remains miserable.

Although the establishment of National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), which was mired in political controversy for a very long time before coming into inception, was touted as a major breakthrough in expediting the reconstruction processes, its performance has remained dismal.

 In fact,  politicisation of this issue has frustrated the ordinary citizens further deteriorating their faith in the political establishment. In the absence of effective implementation of the activities it had envisaged, its credibility has become questionable. Whether it’s a matter of dispersing funds to allow people to rebuild their house or the government’s ability to spend the aid money, the pace has remained rather sluggish. Only 3.5 per cent of the total damaged houses have been rebuilt till now.

Perhaps, the major issue has been the bureaucratic and administrative hassles often created than real by the local government offices in the release of the money to rebuild the demolished houses. With an accountable and transparent local government missing in the country for more than two decades, relief delivery mechanism has been problematic further compounded by the problem of nepotism and corruption.

Although the government planned to provide such money on the installment basis as per the progress made towards the construction, many homeless people have not even received the first installment of the pledged grant of Rs 300,000. Particularly the vulnerable sections of the society including the landless, indigenous groups, Dalits and Janjatis have been hard hit owing to their inability to produce land ownership certificate of the plot on which they were living when the earthquake struck. In this way, the state has failed to realise the historic reality of land tenure security in Nepal which is inherently unequal and biased towards the downtrodden people. 

It is interesting to note that the reconstruction initiatives under the management of NGO/INGOs  have become more successful than that of the government even though the working style of the donor agencies bypassing the regular government mechanism is controversial. This is evidenced by the fact that the rebuilding of houses in the quake hit districts has gained momentum with the support of these agencies.

More importantly, individual initiatives at the ground level without seeking the government support have become crucial in the post-earthquake rebuilding. By now, every Nepali is well acquainted with the pure and valiant effort of Dhurmus-Suntali, two popular comedian actors in Nepal’s contemporary television industry towards reconstructing the quake hit society. Handing over 67 reconstructed houses within just six months after their construction had begun in Giranchaur of Sindhupalchowk district by mobilising individual’s money, the comedy duo set a laudable example.

Continuing their exemplary philanthropic work, they recently handed over their third model earthquake-resistant integrated settlement to the Musahar community in Bardibas of Mahottari district, offering lessons for the entire nation to embark on a practical rebuilding initiative. While a few other individual initiations have started coming into public notice recently, collectively strengthening such attempts will be a key to the success towards post earthquake recovery.

 

 

Moving ahead

Living up to the promise of completing the reconstruction works within five years of time with an additional one year as mentioned in the PDNA report of 2015 will be almost impossible going by the current standard of work NRA is performing. Working in close co-ordination with the civil society and donor agencies should be the major strategy of the government to accomplish the larger goal of national recovery. To this extent, overhauling the existing structure and institutional apparatus of NRA increasing its functional autonomy might serve better.

Improving public access to the government’s relief packages will require a change in the mindset as well as administrative process of service delivery. Likewise, monitoring and supervision of the use of funds of the non-state entities will be pivotal. It is high time the government devised an effective financial management system with provisions of auditing expenses and ensuring accountability measures to correct the course of action.

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