A YEAR AFTER EARTHQUAKESlow Revival

Although a year has already passed since major earthquakes shook Nepal in April and May, causing huge physical damage and human loss, not much improvement has been seen in the livelihood of an overwhelming majority of affected people, who lost their

April 21, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.9 No 19, April 22,2016 (Baisakh 10,2073)

Brinda Adhikari, 61, a resident of Jeetpurphedi, just six kilometers north of capital Kathmandu, does not know when she will get a concessional loan or assistance from the government.

Living in a temporary tunnel constructed by local NGOs, Brinda Adhikari has spent the last winter and monsoon there. Given the present situation, it is certain that she has to live in the temporary shelter throughout this summer even if the NRA sanctioned he concessional loan now.

“I am tired of visiting banks with valid documents and municipality approved building sketches seeking  concessional loan for an earthquake resilient two-story home. However, the banks are asking me to wait until they receive the policy directives from their headquarters,” said Adhikari.

Living in an extended family of five with two sons and two daughter-in-laws and grandchildren, Adhikari, whose husband was killed in the last earthquake, does not know when her despair will end.

The situation of  Nuhuchhe Krishna  Maharjan,76, of Thaib, 8 kilometers south of Kathmandu, has a different story to tell.  Holding a small land, Nuhuchhe and his family of four do not know what to do. As he owns a small piece of land encroached by the house,he doesn’t have anything to give to the banks as collateral. The grant money of Rs. 200,000.00 announced by the government is not enough to build a house.

“I don’t know what to do,” said Maharjan, who is living in a temporary shelter in Harishhidhi. “We lived in old ancestral house surviving on day-to-day wages. The earthquake destroyed our small house and we have nothing left except a small land.”

If the state of Adhikari and Maharjan, who live near the capital city, is difficult and unpredictable, one can easily imagine what would be the situation in the rest of the remote parts affected by the earthquakes.

Forget about remote areas, many old peripheral towns like Sankhu, Jeetpurfedi, Bhaktapur, and Harisiddhi of Kathmandu Valley are yet to see the rubbles and cracked houses managed. For a newcomer, the city looks as if the disaster that destroyed 14 districts of Nepal struck only a week ago.

In urban centers and remote rural areas across Nepal, the places remain covered by rubble and quake-victims living in tents and temporary tunnels. Almost all victims faced the last monsoon and freezing winter in their temporary housing. As the Nepal Reconstruction Authority is yet to drive the reconstruction move faster, thousands remain vulnerable as the country prepares for another set of monsoon rainstorms this summer.  A year on from the big quakes, there is little sign of any rebuilding.

Following the all-out criticism, Nepal Reconstruction Authority has started the distribution of first installment of Rs.200,000.00 as subsidies. As the procedure is so complicated and lengthy, it takes not a month but a decade to reach all the owners of 600,000 houses fully and partially damaged by the earthquake.

A German parliamentary delegation, which recently visited the earthquake affected victims, is surprised to see only a little recovery had been done over the course of year.

Large numbers of people were living in makeshift tents in many areas near the Kathmandu Valley including Bhaktapur. Nepal’s development partners including two neighbors India and China are requesting the government of Nepal to make efforts to accelerate the reconstruction drive.

The situation beyond the capital is more frustrating. “There wasn’t much headway in fixing up the damage. In some places, the rubble had been pushed aside and building materials were stacked and ready to be used in rebuilding homes. But there was little activity.”

According to the government estimate, over 8 million people are living in 31 districts across Nepal that were affected by the disaster. From the hills of Sindhupalchok and Dolakha, where 90% of homes were destroyed, to remote villages such as Barpak that was at the epicenter of the April quake, the total  economic loss and damage is estimated to be USD 7,065 million.

“I am not satisfied with the current state of reconstruction. We must accelerate the reconstruction work,” said Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, addressing the country on the Nepalese New Year. “We cannot ask people to wait any longer. We need action.”

At the direction of the prime minister, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), constituted with the sole objective to drive the reconstruction in a fast track, changed its working procedures so that earthquake victims can receive the incentives in a timely fashion.

“Although the NRA has already amended the regulations and working procedures, it is unlikely that all the people can receive the money within a year,” said Sushil Gyawali, CEO of the authority.

International Support

The support given by the international community, including Nepal’s two neighbors India and China, is highly significant. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promptly responded to the earthquake victims of Nepal sending a huge team for rescue with necessary equipment. China responded the next day with a setup team for relief operation. 

The United States, UK, Japan, Germany, EU and UN announced big packages of support, sending rescue experts and machineries to save people. Even Israel sent  big rescue teams with medical facility to help the victims of earthquake.

Nepal hosted an International Conference for Reconstruction in June when the development partners pledged 4.1 billion dollars of support.  However, Nepal failed to bring appropriate programs to use the money in rebuilding the houses. As political leaders of the four parties agreed to issue the new constitution, their decision triggered violent protests in Madhesh, southern parts of Nepal, under the aegis of some Madhesh-based parties.

Their protests, that led to a blockade of the border, ran for 135 days until the new constitution was amended earlier this year. Nepal blamed India for abetting the protestors, New Delhi denied the charges.

Controversy

Nepal’s post-earthquake work landed in controversy from the beginning. The decision of then government headed by Nepali Congress leader Sushil Koirala’s statement delayed the flow of distribution. Issuing directives, the government asked all concerned stakeholders to use the resources through Prime Minister's Relief Fund. This decision pushed many institutions to withdraw their work.

Nepal also failed to handle the whole process diplomatically. Had Nepal hosted the International Conference for Nepal’s Reconstruction place in Tokyo, London, Berlin or New York, the support would have been much higher.

Nepal failed to use the generosity shown by Indian prime minister Narendra Modi to support Nepal’s rebuilding process. It was reported that Nepalese turned down the request of India to host Nepal’s international conference in New Delhi. Instead, Nepal hosted the conference in Nepal. Had Nepal responded to India’s proposal using it in Nepal’s own interest, Nepal’s reconstruction drive would have moved very fast.

Nepal’s diplomatic blunder did not end here. The Nepalese prime minister responded in a cold way to the offer of the United Kingdom. As Nepal allowed the helicopters from different countries to carry out the rescue missions, it did not allow British helicopters to take part in these missions.

Despite such a cold response of the government, the United Kingdom, Nepal’s oldest friend with two hundred years of bilateral relations, supported Nepal in all areas in the post-earthquake programs.

British Prince Harry  stayed for a week in Nepal working in school rebuilding in Gorkha district, visiting earthquake victims of Bhaktapur and renovating heritage sites in Patan.

Victims Suffer

For earthquake victims, the result was an almost complete stop in the rebuilding efforts. Many analysts fear further turmoil, warning that the constitutional amendments didn’t fully address the grievances of the protestors.

Some victims, with financial capability, have rebuilt their homes in urban areas like Kathmandu and some other parts. One can see some private reconstruction work here and there. According to estimates, around 15 percent of the people might have started the reconstruction on their own. However, there were few signs of progress since last year in most parts forcing people to continue living among the rubble of their old houses.

Despite all these, the suffering of a large number of victims living in different parts of the country continues. Although the government has already started the distribution of the first installment of 200,000.00 subsidy money for the victims, it will likely to take decades to reach all the victims.

Private Sector and NGOs

At a time when the pace of government work is slow, some NGOs, INGOs and private sector organizations have done a great deal in supporting the local people to build the temporary shelters.

With support from INGOs which collected the donations from various parts of the world, local NGOs are helping the government in its efforts to rebuild the country. Initially, the NRA created the confusion over the role of INGOs and NGOs in reconstruction. But, NRA has now changed the stance and agreed to allow INGOs and NGOs in the work.

The private sector has also shown that it can make a difference. Chaudhary Group, a leading industrial house, also launched a nationwide campaign to rebuild temporary shelters for the victims. According to Chaudhary Group, it has already constructed over 40,000 temporary shelters.

Despite all this, things are not moving in the right direction. If the process of reconstruction does not accelerate, it is likely to take a decade for all the affected people to get the real help. As Nepal lies in an active seismic zone, it will need to develop its own capability for reconstruction in case of any similar devastation from future quakes.

 

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