Reconstruction Mess

It’s well over two years since the devastating earthquake struck Nepal on April 25, 2015 that killed some 9,000 people and left tens of thousands injured and homeless. A large number of quake survivors have spent three consecutive monsoons and two chilling winters in makeshift tents owing to inordinate delay in the reconstruction drive. The post-quake reconstruction has been unbearably sluggish; out of 626 thousand identified beneficiaries in severely affected 14 districts in the central region of the country, about 80 thousand are just receiving the first instalment of Rs. 50,000 to begin the reconstruction of their houses. Meanwhile, the reconstruction of religious, cultural and historical monuments remains negligible. Take the case of Kasthamandap; a news report in this daily has it that a tussle between the Campaign to Rebuild Kasthamandap (CRK), a group formed by the locals, and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), especially after the newly elected representatives assumed office, has stalled the reconstruction of the historic monument at Kathmandu Durbar Square complex. The CRK had earlier signed an agreement with KMC, National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) and the Department of Archaeology which granted it full authority to lead the reconstruction of the legendary wooden structure. In line with the agreement, it started constructing a shed to cover the excavated foundation of the Kasthamandap ahead of the monsoon but the KMC intervened in the work and took away the keys of the site, which the latter denies, halting the construction and inviting the risk of turning the foundation of the 7th century monument into a ditch during the monsoon rains. The CRK has maintained that its repeated requests to the NRA to convene a meeting of all the parties to the agreement to resolve the problem have gone unheard. Neither has its demand to cover the foundation to prevent its further damage been addressed.
This is a revealing case behind excessive delay in the reconstruction of the houses and heritages damaged by the natural disaster. Unwarranted conflict of interests among various stakeholders and lack of coordination among them has delayed the works indefinitely. Obviously, the major share of blame goes to the political forces. Right at the outset, the conflict between Nepali Congress and UML had delayed the establishment of NRA and appointment of its chief. Then the NRA took several months to launch the survey to assess the damage of the tremor and formulate policies to distribute grant – Rs. 200 thousand - to the victims for the reconstruction of the houses damaged by the quake but there was baffling delay in the release of the amount compelling the victims to languish in makeshift tents during the monsoons and severely cold months. Most victims got the first instalment one and a half years after the earthquake; many said the amount would be of little help to rebuild the house and reportedly used the money to celebrate Dashain festival last year. Those who actually did use the money for the reconstruction of the house are now facing problems to get the second and third instalments. Owing to lack of awareness or access to technicians deployed by the government, they started building houses on their own and now the technicians are refusing to certify that the houses conform to the models prescribed by the government and are quake-resistant, which is a necessary condition to receive further assistance. Meanwhile, there was another change of guard in the government and NRA leadership; the new leadership at the Authority has maintained that it’s doing everything in its capacity to expedite reconstruction but the ground realities indicate quite the opposite. This situation was expected to change in the wake of the local level elections, but the Kasthamandap case lays bare the chance of another round of conflict between the elected bodies and their electorate that might delay the reconstruction further.

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