Reconstruction With Equity : Dr Gyan Basnet
The deadly earthquake of a few months ago and its subsequent aftershocks have left the country devastated. Thousands have been killed, and many more have been seriously injured. Millions have been displaced and are homeless. During the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction the government promised to implement reconstruction and resettlement projects. After months of delay, planning is finally under way, and the government has recently appointed a project chief executive. The donor community and development partners have pledged over 4.4 billion dollars to rebuild public properties and help the victims. The success of the disaster reconstruction project is absolutely vital for the nation. The government and every stakeholder must take it extremely seriously.
The manner of implementation will be every bit as important as the result. We need to develop proper strategies, plans and programmes to make optimum use of the reconstruction to achieve the desired outcome. The needy have to be consulted, and planning has to be transparent. Many questions must be asked today. Is the disaster reconstruction and resettlement project indeed to be inclusive and participatory? Is it to be human rights-based? Will it consider the needs of the victims and of society as a whole? Will it be based on equity and fairness for all? Will it help to heal the social and economic disparities that have existed in our country for centuries? I wish to make a few suggestions for all of us to think about while adopting norms for the whole reconstruction project.
Firstly, the victims should be treated with dignity and respect. They are not beggars. The State has a primary duty and responsibility to provide assistance to every person who is affected by disaster and to protect his or her human rights. The right to receive assistance is a fundamental humanitarian principle that applies to every citizen in equal manner, and it is the major duty of the government and national authorities to comply. Otherwise what is the point of having a state and government?
Countless people are currently in need of relief. Their houses have been damaged, and they no longer have a water supply. According to recent figures, 500,000 people have been measurably displaced by the disaster. Is it intended that the reconstruction project will apply to each of them or will it just cover the rebuilding of public properties? Disaster relief and reconstruction is not a charity but an entitlement, and the claim rights of victims and of society as a whole need to be recognised. Where otherwise is respect of the dignity of the victims?
Secondly, the aims of national reconstruction and resettlement planning should be promoted by duty-bearers operating in line with international human rights’ standards of equity, justice and fair distribution. The State has the primary obligation to protect, fulfill, respect and promote all the human rights of its people. If the State fails to fulfill the needs of its disaster victims in a timely and effective manner we may ask the question: what is the point of having the State as protector, promoter and guardian?
The adoption of the human rights approach to reconstruction planning is also paramount to making stakeholders and the government accountable and responsible. Natural disaster affects civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights. During reconstruction, those rights of the affected population should be protected against all kinds of discrimination on the basis of race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion. If humanitarian assistance and reconstruction policies are not based on a human rights framework, there is a risk that the focus will be too narrow, and the basic needs of the victims and of the people as a whole will not be integrated in a comprehensive manner. Have we, our policymakers and the government even given thought to these considerations?
hirdly, it is vital that reconstruction planning is conducted in a participatory manner. It has to be inclusive. The State and policymakers must identify relevant measures to ensure that affected persons and their communities are fully consulted and can actively and meaningfully participate in all stages of the disaster response. The reconstruction policies and plans must aim for social, cultural, and political development and economic growth that will benefit all. This should apply especially in relation to the disadvantaged and vulnerable rather than merely to those who are near and dear to party leaders or who have loud voices.
Reconstruction planning needs a bottom-up approach with ordinary people having a chance to be involved in the decision-making. The needs of the locals must seriously be taken into account. We must ensure that every individual is consulted and can participate in the very process of reconstruction. Such norms encourage continuous dialogue, argumentation and persuasion, and they promote critical engagement.
Finally, the post-disaster reconstruction project must be undertaken in a transparent manner. All members of affected communities should be provided with equal access to information regarding the adopted recovery strategy. So far transparency and accountability in governance appear to be totally lacking. Rampant corruption within our system is a huge obstacle to achieving any positive outcome. Such corruption negates the rights of disaster victims, depriving them of their right to be informed and to participate, and denying them access to economic and social welfare.
To tackle this corruption, strong monitoring mechanisms are needed to assess the progress of each reconstruction and resettlement project. It is essential to establish effective monitoring mechanisms, benchmarks and indicators to ensure that the protection of the human rights of those affected by this tragedy, notably the displaced, is effectively implemented.
People at centre of project
The process and outcome of reconstruction and resettlement must be inclusive and fair, and our people must be at the centre of the project. We must set short- and long-term goals to rebuild the nation. Respect for the norms and values of human rights will be vital at every stage of recovery and reconstruction, and the process that we adopt should be participatory, accountable and transparent with equity in decision-making while maintaining respect for civil and political rights. The reconstruction project must herald a new era for our country. It must focus on establishing a just and fair society based on equity and must come to represent a quantum shift in our development thinking.
(Dr Basnet holds a PhD in human rights from Lancaster University, UK and is an advocate and researcher.)