Although the National Reconstruction Authority claims to have distributed grants to many people affected by the 2015 earthquakes, the money is turning out to mean too little, too late

Jan. 7, 2017, 5:45 p.m. Published in Magazine Issue: Vol.10, No.10, January 06,2017 Poush 22,2073

Shanta Ram Shrestha, a quake survivor of Jitpurphedi, Tarakeshwor Municipality, just 10 kilometers northwest of the capital, has received the first installment to construct his house, which was damaged by the 2015 earthquakes, two weeks ago. The money, however, is not enough to purchase even the raw materials for the foundation work. Under the first installment of the grant agreement, Shrestha received Rs.100, 000.000.

“The amount is so small that it is not enough to purchase cement, bricks, steel and iron,” said Shrestha.

Municipal officials have told him that it was mandatory for him to complete the foundation work for the house before receiving the second installment.

Shrestha is in a dilemma about what to do next. “Cement costs almost Rs. 800.00 per baggage and thousand bricks cost Rs. 6000.00. The wage of mason per person per day is Rs.1,100.00. I don’t know how one can build an earthquake resilient house as per the design suggested by the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA),” said Shrestha.

The provisions of the agreement require Shrestha to present the photographs of the foundation alongside other details to the municipal authorities for him to make a claim for the second installment. “I have waited for such a long time to get the grant money. The grant money that I finally received in first installment is just peanuts. As a grantee, I cannot even apply for concessional loans,” said Shrestha.

Even if he had completed the foundation work, the municipal officials told him, he would have to wait for a new decision to get the next relief amount as the government had not disbursed the second installment to anyone as yet.

Shrestha family, whose members were hoping to shift to the new home at the earliest, has no option but to live in the makeshift shelter through this winter, given the inadequate resources and lengthy wait to secure relief.

To deal with the difficulty, Shrestha, who owns a small amount of land, is considering selling half of it for money and completing the house with it. “Had the government told us that the process would be so long and allowed us to take concessional loan, we would have completed the house a long time ago?

Let Shrestha alone, many others who have completed the ground work of their houses after securing the first installment are also in the waiting list.

The NRA has already distributed the first tranche to 84 per cent of the total 543,107 beneficiary households that have signed grant agreements with local bodies in 14 severely affected districts, including Kathmandu Valley.

Ram Krishna Acharya of Jeetpurphedi has a different story to tell. He has constructed his house with the concessional loan he secured from a commercial bank. Acharya, who completed the construction of a two-storied house, however, is uncertain whether the structure would withstand another earthquake.

Although Tarakeshwor Municipal Authority gave him the design, they never came to inspect the house during the construction period. “I went to the municipality, seeking the technical support for building my house, but no technician visited my site.”

Officials of Tarakeshwor Municipality concede the truth. With six technicians at the office, it is impossible to inspect the massive scale of reconstruction and construction waves going on in the area,” said executive officer of the Municipality.

With the government failing to provide the second installment of the relief amount, construction of over 20,000 houses of the quake victims has been halted for a long time. Due to apathy on the part of the concerned authorities towards their plight, thousands of quake victims have been compelled to continue living under makeshift shelters.

NRA in Move

According to Nepal Reconstruction Authority, 41311 houses have already been built and 17099 houses are under construction. However, the reality is different. Development partners have expressed dissatisfaction with the government’s decision to raise the individual house reconstruction aid without any consultation with them.

“More than 20,000 quake victims have applied for the second installment and we are in the process of releasing the money,” said Chief Executive Officer of National Reconstruction Authority Sushil Gyawali. Gyawali said that the NRA could not distribute the second installment until the cabinet approved the work plan.

 “We will distribute the second tranche once the cabinet approves the work plan,” said Gyawali. “More than 8,000 households in quake hit districts, who have completed the construction of their house, have also applied for the relief amount.”

Ministry of Finance has backed the proposal of the NRA to amend ‘Guidelines on Grant Distribution to Private Houses’, which has proposed to distribute Rs 150,000 and Rs 100,000 as second and final tranche, respectively to households.

However, well past a year after the earthquake, livelihood and reconstruction were at a standstill in many parts of the earthquake devastated areas.

Victims Worry

As it rains, victims like Shrestha find their life in the temporary shelter hard. In freezing temperatures, they can only shiver and wait as they don’t have other option there.

“We have made tremendous success in planning, reconstruction and livelihood. We are giving priority to the construction of private houses,” said Sushil Gyawali, chief executive officer of NRA. “We have also conducted the survey of the people of highly affected14 and less affected 17 districts.

NRA claims that two hundred health posts have already been restored and 169 health posts are under reconstruction. Two hundred school buildings have already been reconstructed and 1200 school buildings are under reconstruction.

“We will complete the reconstruction of all school buildings by November 2017. So far as drinking water is concerned, 297 drinking water projects have already completed and 961 are under reconstruction,” said Gyawali. “We are also developing integrated settlements in various parts of the earthquake affected areas. In Kathmandu valley, heritage sites are under construction."

The move by the government will create an additional burden of over Rs 100 billion immediately while releasing the second tranche of the aid. The government has been preparing to distribute Rs 150,000 in the second tranche.

The new government has raised the individual house reconstruction grant from Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 and has decided to distribute a large chunk of aid or 50 per cent as the second installment.

The amended guideline, which has already been approved by the Ministry of Finance and submitted to the cabinet for its nod, has also provisioned to distribute Rs 100,000 in two installments for the maintenance and retrofitting of individual houses that are fit to live in.

Despite the government claim to provide grants to all the victims by the end of the year for building the earthquake resilient houses, the claim is unlikely to materialize given the present pace and scenario.

With small amounts, people are using low quality materials to construct their houses, which are again going to be vulnerable to earthquakes. Similarly, other houses, which were built by house owners themselves, have neither met the requirements nor are under the technical supervision as required by the present building guidelines.

If an earthquake of the size of Gorkha earthquake occurs, the buildings under construction may not prevent the devastation and destruction. 

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