The Opportunity of Building Back Better

There is a huge need to rebuild houses since more than 800,000 homes were completely destroyed or damaged in the affected districts.

Feb. 6, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol 09,No14,February 06,2016 (Magh 22,2072)

The Building Back Better means more than making houses safer than they were before the earthquake hit. It represents an opportunity for growth and change if we can break the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability by carefully linking relief and development.

Nine months on, we have entered into the recovery phase. There is a huge need to rebuild houses since more than 800,000 homes were completely destroyed or damaged in the affected districts. Building back better concept is being used or overused by different organizations to build permanent durable housing. Perhaps we practically mean building back safer settlement and shelter. If we really support building back better approach, we should go beyond making safer houses. Alongside, we should address early recovery, capacity-building, disaster risk reduction, livelihoods and inclusive development.

There is a vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability in Nepal. People in poverty are more vulnerable to disaster as they live and work in areas exposed to potential hazards.  And they have less resources to cope with, resist or recover when a disaster strikes.The earthquake has exposed many of the vulnerabilities within and beyond our system and society. Now there is an opportunity to implement building back better approach to address underlying causes of poverty and vulnerability by leveraging growthin the economy and change in the society. There is USD 4.1 billion pledged by donors for reconstruction and it would take 5 to 10 years for reconstruction activities. There will be more resources to come.

I would like to offer some of my perspectives for building back better:

•        Move from housing to human settlement that includesboth safer housing and livelihood opportunities that build an active and engaged citizenry in the recovery. We should emphasize on building houses in light of providing access to resources, public services and market opportunities. While we support construction of “model” houses and it’s important that we also include land-use planning and management, local economic development, health and education, and public transportation.

•        Use housing provision as a major job creation strategy that includes conscious policy in housing construction to support more job creation and training opportunities for unemployed youths. There are long-term opportunities for people with appropriate masonry, carpentry and plumbing skills for safe building of houses, school buildings, hospitals and roads.

•        Build on local knowledge and practicesthat include natural resource management, disaster risk reduction, and climate change adaptation for community resilience. There are several evidences that local knowledge examples that local knowledge and practices can improve disaster preparedness and response. This will further help identifying and addressing interrelated human, social and cultural factors that influence vulnerability associated with disaster risks.

•        Ensure that the mostvulnerable people are not left behind that include the most vulnerable members of society, through prioritization of recovery programs and through adjustment of programs to the specific needs of vulnerable groups and settlements. Women, children, senior citizens and people with disability are most vulnerable and most affected by the earthquake, and they need to be prioritized.

We need to act now for the opportunity of building back better. Recovery phase is critical for growth and change.Let us work through coherent plan, possibly developed by the government.

Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached


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