Post-quake Reconstruction: An Exigent Task Ahead : Uttam Maharjan

Nepal has been in a state of turmoil since the major earthquake of April 25. The earthquake and its aftershocks ravaged the country to its foundation, causing untold loss of life and property. The earthquake claimed the life of over 8,800 people, injured over 22,000 people and displaced millions of people. And property worth around 700 billion rupees was destroyed in the earthquake. Now, there is a great challenge before the country: reconstruction. It is estimated that around Rs. 670 billion is required to carry out the reconstruction works in the country as per the post-disaster needs assessment prepared by the government.

Concessional loans

The reconstruction drive will cover the reconstruction or renovation of government buildings, educational institutions, health facilities, roads, temples, shrines, monuments, historical sites and the like. For the renovation or reconstruction of private houses or buildings, the government has provided, or will provide, the quake victims with financial assistance. The government has also made provision for a concessional loan for reconstruction of the houses or buildings ravaged by the earthquake.

The destruction wrought by the earthquake is quite mind-boggling. But it is not the time for crying over spilt milk. The earthquake has given us an opportunity to rebuild the nation. It has also offered us several lessons on construction and settlement.

Engineers are of the view that haphazard construction of structures was to blame for the massive damage to or destruction of the structures built in the country. The building code is there, but its implementation is so weak that it is hardly followed by the people. Neither the concerned government authorities nor engineers/architects nor house-owners bother about the building code.

The other Achilles heel exposed by the earthquake is lack of a soil test. Perhaps, such a test is something unheard of till the earthquake struck the country. When many houses or buildings were shaken to their foundation, it dawned on the engineers that lack of a geological test was one of the culprits for the widespread destruction of the structures.

here are scattered settlements in the hills. The earthquake damaged or destroyed settlement after settlement in the hills. As such, experts have suggested that there should be clustered settlements in the hills as such settlements can resist the shocks of an earthquake better than their scattered counterparts. It is high time the government introduced a clustered settlement policy for the hilly region.

Now, the country should move ahead with rehabilitation and reconstruction works. The rehabilitation task has already begun but it will take time to rehabilitate all the people displaced by the earthquake. On the other hand, the reconstruction task will continue for years, and it will entail a huge sum of money.

Internal resources will not be enough to mobilise the funds required for the reconstruction task. So, financial assistance from friendly countries, development partners and donor agencies is forthcoming. With this in view, a donors’ conference, officially dubbed the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction (ICNR), was successfully held in Kathmandu on June 25, 2015. The conference was attended by over 350 delegates representing various friendly countries, development partners and donor agencies.

During the conference, the government put forward the picture of devastation caused to the country by the earthquake and its aftershocks and the funds required for rebuilding the country. The vividly heart-wrenching picture impressed the delegates to a great extent, and they pledged 4.4 billion US dollars, which is two thirds of the total budget requirement for reconstruction. The amount will be made available to the country in a half-and-half mix of loans and grants. The government says that the remaining funds will be mobilised through internal resources.

During the conference, the delegates suggested that the funds to be contributed by the friendly countries, development partners and donor agencies be spent in a transparent manner. Their suggestion should not be taken otherwise given that the country is highly corrupt. One of the reasons for the country remaining underdeveloped despite the flow of a huge sum of foreign aid year after year is the high level of corruption prevalent in every sector of the country.       

The government should now formulate guidelines on spending the funds on reconstruction works. It is speculated that there may be huge irregularities in the spending of the funds. The government must be cautious towards preventing such possible irregularities. A stringent law needs to be in place so that the perpetrators will get the harshest punishment should they indulge in irregularities of any kind.

Choice

The example of Haiti is there for everybody to see. Haiti suffered a 7-magnitude earthquake in 2010. During the reconstruction phase, there were widespread irregularities in the use of the funds meant for rehabilitation and reconstruction. The legacy of the irregularities is still haunting the earthquake victims in the country. That thousands of   victims are living in tents even to this day is testimony to this.

On the other hand, we have the example of Japan. Despite so many natural calamities and even the atomic bombings, Japan has made progress on an unprecedented scale. As a result, it has been able to establish itself as the third largest economy in the world at present. Japan has thus set an example that if the government and people have the determination and perseverance to forge ahead, no force can block them from achieving economic prosperity.

In a sense, it can be said that Nepal has also achieved an unprecedented opportunity to move ahead on the path to economic development and prosperity. With the open-hearted commitments made by the international community to assist the country in its reconstruction drive, it is expected that there will be no dearth of funds. The only thing that should be cherished is how to go ahead with the reconstruction works so that the works can be carried on in a fair and transparent manner. It is up to the government and the concerned stakeholders whether to go the Haiti way or the Japan way as far as the conduct of the reconstruction works is concerned.  

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