14-20 August 2015 #771

The authority to rebuild

Do we have the political will to save time and money to fuse the long-pending Disaster Management Authority with the Reconstruction Authority?

BIKRAM RAI

How soon the earthquake has been forgotten, and the country has drifted back to politics as usual. The constitution is finally taking shape, but the attempt by the four top parties to ram through boundaries of six provinces in the draft last week set off a political earthquake. Aftershocks are still being felt, especially in western Nepal.

The delineation of boundaries was ad hoc, haphazard and arbitrary. If this is what we had to fight and die for in a ten-year war and suffer another decade of peace, then we might as well just have stuck to the five north-south development zones and devolved political power to them. We would have saved 17,000 Nepali lives, time, money, and a lot of heartache.

However, the 25 April earthquake did give Nepal’s politics a mighty jolt and woke up our rulers from their slumber. The public’s disillusionment with politicians was so great they had to try to hurriedly pass the constitution and use that as an excuse for regime change. Hence the 16-point accord. The opposition, including Pushpa Kamal Dahal of the UCPN(M) and Bijay Gachhadar of the MJF(L), are so desperate to get on board the unity government that they are trying their best to quickly quell the anger in the west and the grievances of the Tharu people to move ahead with the constitution.

Since the government of Prime Minister Sushil Koirala is not known for multi-tasking what has fallen by the wayside in all this is the formation of the Reconstruction Authority and the delay in the appointment of its head. The lives and livelihoods of three million people in 14 districts affected by the earthquake depend on it.

As our coverage graphically illustrates nearly 2,000 widows are still waiting for help four months after the quake. More than two million people are living in tents and tin shelters. Two months after successfully concluding the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction (ICNR) and getting a pledge of $4.4 billion, the government has gone back to sleep.

The appointment of the CEO to the Reconstruction Authority has been deadlocked because of a tussle between the ruling NC and the UML over their party candidates – obviously because the agency’s head has ministerial rank, a powerful mandate and control over a huge budget. Nothing new after all. But it is costing us our recovery.  

As our analysis shows, the earthquake was stark proof of our lack of disaster preparedness, which in turn was a result of political and governance failure over the past ten years. We were fortunate that the earthquake spared much of the densely-populated areas of Central Nepal the catastrophic destruction that seismologists had been predicting. But better readiness would have saved many of the lives that were lost.

For the past seven years, an international consortium of donors including the United States, Australia, Japan, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank had been trying to alert the Nepal government about the need to set up a Disaster Management Authority to oversee preparedness, contingency planning as well as coordinate rescue, relief and rehabilitation when the earthquake did strike.

Of course, nothing was done. The bill to set up the authority has been in limbo in parliament – another casualty of the lack of political will. If that Authority had been in place, not only would we have been much more prepared but the rescue and relief would also have been speedier and smoother.

Despite the government’s lapses on many fronts, it was admittedly overwhelmed by the scale of the destruction: more than 700,000 buildings destroyed, 30,000 classrooms in ruins. However, there were very few instances of people dying due to lack of emergency medical care, 3,000 injured were airlifted and nearly all got free treatment. The logistics of food and medicines has been relatively well managed. Despite the turf battle at national level, CDOs coordinated aid well. Local bodies would have performed even better if there had been elected VDC, DDC and municipality councils

Since the Reconstruction Authority with a mandate for rehabilitation over the next five years has still not been set up, our suggestion would be to fuse it with the proposed Disaster Management Authority. We need something more credible, and a little more permanent. After all, we are sure to have floods, landslides (and God forbid) another earthquake somewhere in Nepal in the next five years. The new head of the Authority, therefore, can then work on rehabilitation of this disaster so that it serves a model for earthquake preparedness for the rest of the country as well.

In fact, that is one of the most significant points in the draft Reconstruction Policy drawn up by the National Planning Commission (NPC): to scale up nationwide the reconstruction process in the 14 affected districts. The policy also favours job creation and use of local resources while at the same time encouraging the use of better quality reconstruction material and earthquake resistant designs. The theme is to coordinate centrally, but implement locally. And that may as well be our national motto.

Read also:

Better build back, Sonia Awale

Strategy for recovery, Sonia Awale

Jump-starting the economy, Sarthak Mani Sharma

Ruin in the rain, Sahina Shrestha

Deconstruction before reconstruction, Editorial

Earning back the people’s trust, Tsering Dolker Gurung

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