“Preparedness Is Key To Risk Reduction”

MICHAEL FRISCHMUTH, head of Asia Desk, Berlin-based INGO Diakonie Katastrophenhilfe, recently visited earthquake affected districts inspecting the work done under the support of his organization. Having worked for long in the disaster sector, FRISCHM

July 7, 2016, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.09,No. 24, July 08,2016, Ashad 24,2073)

How do you see the post disaster scenario?

The government has allocated the fund and the private donors have given money. Your country has now good plans, how and where to spend the money in disaster prone areas. One should know how much money is needed to reserve for reconstruction. The country’s long term disaster management depends upon how much fund you have in your hand. The reconstruction is a long term process and it takes years to complete it.

How do you look at the experiences of Nepal?

Compared to working in other parts of the world, Nepalese are very positive as they have started to rebuild their life soon after the disasters. They manage everything by themselves and they did not wait for others. When we start our work, we demand a certain percentage of contribution from the community. Nepalese are very positive and we don’t need to convince them. People understand this; there is a sense of ownership in the project. People see the work like rehabilitation of road, irrigation and drinking water schemes for them. For the reconstruction of houses, the villagers need to prepare their land. We have very positive experiences in Nepal.

Having worked in conflict and disaster affected areas of different parts of the world, how do you see the state of Nepal?

If disasters cover such big areas, they would create all kinds of scenario. You have to take into account a very difficult terrain and environment in Nepal where altitude, accessibilities and roads are very difficult. Earthquake is the worst case scenario to happen. Nepal is a landlocked country and you don’t have access to sea. You have to depend upon only international airport for relief operations and international support. Despite all these shortcomings, what I can say is that the early relief operation was organized very well. Nepal was fortunate not to see second such disasters. Had there been other big disasters, the relief operation would have been badly affected. People would have suffered more. In general, Nepalese government was very flexible in carrying out the relief operations.

How do you view the disaster management?

When you start a huge relief operation, there is the need of an optimum level of flexibility. We had a very good impression on early relief operations managed by your government. We have the advantage as we worked through Nepali organizations. Nepalese NGOs have been there for many years and they have established relations with the local communities and the local authorities to work and go in the grassroots level. One of the advantages for the local partners is that they speak the local language; they know the vendors and suppliers. We were not in a position to face any problems to respond. We were granted permission to work in earthquake affected areas.

This is about the relief operation. How do you see the reconstruction stage as you have recently visited some districts?

I have seen many disasters like earthquake, Tsunami and floods, which have similar effects. The immediate relief which can be provided is a matter of logistical management. The reconstruction is a much complicated part. It is the costliest, especially if you talk about reconstructing private houses with per capita huge investment. You can give fairly a house which can cost 4000 to 5000 dollars.  This is compared as a higher cost than giving food, clothes and other hygiene matters.

How do you see the building of the houses?

Building houses is a huge investment for a single family which means those families needs to be very carefully selected. There is the need to have a vitally joint approach in the country, not just each agency and what it wants. There is the need to have similar standards. It is not that a family got a house which cost the 10,000.00 dollars, another family got a house cost of 500,000.00 dollars. The objective is the people in need be treated equally. This is one of the main humanitarian principles.

There are a lot of controversies over coordination, who is responsible for the coordination?

The important player to coordinate in this matter is your government. We work according to local laws and regulations. We are guests of this country and we are asked by your government to support in its efforts.  In the end, the government has to rule. My experiences tell us that it takes time as this is not only in Nepal but in places where such disasters occurred before. It is a lengthy process as the government needs to provide policies and programs for all the interested parties.

What has your organization been doing?

We can now just start the reconstruction work. I visited some villages of Kavre district. I have visited one of the villages with a model of newly reconstructed house. We have visited the rehabilitation of irrigation schemes, water supply and school buildings. What I can say now is that in terms of reconstruction we are still now initial stages. As I have already mentioned, we need government approval and permission to move ahead. As you know, the government officials have a lot of projects in their table to approve.

It means you can see people are working?

Yes. Something is moving. We don’t need to see any government officials as we work through the local NGOs and local partners. We met VDC officials as we don’t need to go and see higher level officials. . We actually signed the general agreement with SWC and Project Agreement with NRA, as Project Agreement with SWC is in process.

How do you see the pace of reconstruction?

I met local partners in Kavre and they were saying that there is the need to accelerate the work. I shared my experiences of floods in Germany in 2013 and the reconstruction and rescue work.  There were floods in several states and Germany is a federal state. It took German government to reconstruct the private house almost one year. Setting up such a complex system with so many interests involved including political parties, local community and local bodies is very difficult.

Don’t you think it is too slow?

Of course, it takes time. Disaster is a regular phenomenon for a country like Nepal. As a disaster-prone country, Nepal needs to prepare a good strategy and plan to cope in the future. We have been telling our partners in Nepal to use the present experiences of coping disasters for future. We also request the concerned people to prepare the plan for future disasters. As I mentioned earlier, disasters can occur again as the earth can move and floods can wash out land and houses.

How can Nepal learn from the present disaster?

If Nepal uses the present experiences of disaster, it will reduce the difficulty of victims and help for the better management of future disasters. Nepal should not start again from scratch for big disasters like earthquake. Nepal needs to keep well its experiences to cope with the future disasters. Now Nepal has to start reconstruction from scratch. Similarly, Nepal moved to relief operations, having no such experiences. However, Nepal has now enough experiences to cope with future major disasters. You have already prepared policies and programs for a specific situation. All these are assets for the future. Please tell the people to make use of the experience. You need to do just the fine tuning. With a good document and program, you can launch the future program.

What are the areas you are focusing on?

We are not an agency like some other agencies who may have very specialized field of works. Our approach is to work with the part of local partner organizations because we are working on the strength of local partner organizations. We do not want to impose our approach, but we work under their strength. We have been working in various fields; rehabilitation of livelihood is always amongst them. What we find important is an integrated approach. It does help the family to build back a house. We usually have integrated programs when we go to villages and communities to support the reconstruction work. It has several components with some hardware and some others like distribution of seeds, tools and some soft components of awareness raising regarding hygiene and disaster-related issues. We do always follow an integrated approach.

In how many districts you are working now?

We have been working in Nepal with six different partner organizations. They are all working in different districts and one of them is Kavreplanchwok. Lutheran World Service is our prime partner and they are also working with other local and community based organizations.

Nepal is one of the disaster prone countries. What do you suggest for Nepal to be resilient in future disasters?

There is the need of investment in disaster risk reduction and you have to understand the fact that the risk reduction cannot happen overnight. It needs years and years of continued support in this field. There is the need to be aware at all levels or from president down to the villager. They need to be aware that disasters can happen and they need to be prepared for this. This is the biggest challenge that disasters are avoided with risk reduction at all level. It does not help much if communities and villages are not prepared for a national scale response.

What do you suggest?

The government should set up a structure at the large scale to cope with the future disasters. They need to provide funding. Humanitarian organizations like ours also need to look on this. We are ready to provide our share and we are ready to provide our expertise. Again, the framework needs to be set up by the government. The disaster is a little bit here and there and it will not help much. There is the need to have a nationwide approach for this. There is the need to have institutions which are responsible for this, which gear the whole process. Non-governmental organizations play a vital role because they have the links down to the roots of the community. Disaster risk reduction involves awareness and preparedness.

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