Sanukaji Awale, 72, a resident of Gwarkhu, in Ward No. 11 of Patan Municipality, lost his three-storey house in the April 2015 earthquake. Ever since, he has been living with his family in a temporary shelter.
“I have nowhere to go. In the name of relief, I received 25,000.00 rupees and a few packets of food and blanket. As I don’t have the capacity to build my home, the government needs to provide me grants to reconstruct my house,” said Awale, the head of a family of four.
Sixty five years old Krishna Awale has a similar story to tell. The government is yet to provide next grants to reconstruct his house. “I don’t understand how we can reconstruct the house in urban areas like Lalitpur with Rs.50,000.00 in the first installment,” asked Awale.
Nanda Devi Shrestha, 35, of Chapagaun of Lalitpur, was denied the first package of reconstruction grant because she did not have the land tenant certificate. “My mother-in-law has three sons and the tenant certificate is in the name of the mother-in-law. We don’t know where to go,” said Shrestha.
Murari Nepali, a resident of Dhaibung Village committee, is landless. The earthquake destroyed his home and the National Reconstruction Authority declined to provide the reconstruction grant as he did not have the land ownership certificate either.
In a big conclave in Lalitpur, each of these people, alongside many others like them, shared their disappointment and feelings in front of the members of Legislature Parliament and civil society organizations.
With a brief procession, marching inside the city of Patan, the victims gathered at Shaugal and spoke aloud about their grievances and trauma with the political and civil society leaders.
Although only half a dozen of people shared their views, these stories speak for thousands of families living under unsafe and uncertain conditions after various disasters.
As coordinator of HAMI Meen Bahadur Shahi read the 12-point Lalitpur Declaration, with a demand to make reconstruction the right of the affected community, victims present as part of the caravan found some relief.
A dignified rehabilitation of disaster survivors requires adequate support to help them revive their livelihoods. Loss of arable lands and businesses after a disaster leaves many families struggling to regain their livelihoods. Many end up taking up menial work, such as crushing stones, to earn some extra income to feed their families. They are also likely to become vulnerable to other forms of exploitation.
The event was organized by Humanitarian Accountability Monitoring Initiative (HAMI), a consortium of human rights and civil society organizations, in partnership with Oxfam in Nepal. The Lalitpur Declaration is the first of its kind, which raises the issues of landless victims without tenant rights and reconstruction after earthquake as the right of that community.
HAMI had also organized similar caravans in Gorkha, Rasuwa, Dhading, Nuwakot, Dolakha and Sindhupalchwok districts, issuing similar declarations.
Highlights of Declaration
In the presence of a large number of victims from different parts of the earthquake affected areas, including workers of relief agencies, NGOs, members of Legislature Parliament and local politicians, the declaration strongly calls on all concerned agencies to provide earthquake victims necessary support to reconstruct their houses and shelters, paving the way for their dignified life.
They declared that the reconstruction after the earthquake is the right of the affected communities. The 12-point declaration urged the government to speed up the reconstruction work.
“We are seriously concerned about the democratic participation of individuals and communities in the reconstruction of earthquake affected regions. We draw the conclusion that the pace of reconstruction is as that of a snail. Thus, we urge the government to use local resources and materials, particularly use the optimum level of local knowledge and skills, in reconstruction process, preserving the culture, habit and practice and creating the conducive environment for speedy reconstruction,” declared the conclave.
“The conference was an attempt to pressurize and draw attention of policy makers, government and different stakeholders to speed up the reconstruction process, formulate and promulgate policies and acts related to disaster management ensuring people’s participation in post reconstruction process,” said Meen Bahadur Shahi, convener of HAMI.
Civil society organizations have stressed the need for an establishment of powerful National Reconstruction Authority. However, the current NRA is a weak entity under the domination of bureaucracy. With the politicization of NRA, there are frequent changes of CEO with the change of government. The civil society organization calls for a powerful Reconstruction Authority to carry out the reconstruction, reaching to the victims and their families. The conclave also said that the NRA failed to work as a coordinating institution.
The declaration also calls on government, political parties and all other stakeholders to hold the election of local level and carry out the reconstruction work through the elected representatives and implement the new constitution.
The declaration also expressed the concern that the budget allocated by the government to reconstruction has not been spent optimally to ensure the rights of earthquake affected communities. The declaration also urges the government to get the affected community involved in the process of ensuring transparency and accountability.
At a time when there are growing complaints about the failure to distribute the first installment of grants to all on the ground of lack of tenant rights, landless and those who lost the land and others, the caravan urged the government to start resettlement for all. The declaration, among others, calls on the government to address the concern and demand of local communities.
In sharing the experiences, what one can see is that the nature of the problem of earthquake victims may be different. However, their problems have remained the same as large numbers of earthquake victims have been denied the relief packages for reconstruction.
“Earthquake victims are suffering a lot. Even after almost 22 months, only a few victims are able to secure the first installment of grant and large numbers of victims are denied the money,” said Meen Bahadur Shahi, coordinator of HAMI. “We will hand over this declaration to the National Reconstruction Authority.”
Although NRA has started signing the grant agreements with the earthquake victims in 14 most quake-affected districts for reconstruction of their houses, it is getting a bit too late.
“There are so many conditions and criteria to fill before securing the first installment of grant. Even those who signed the grant agreements are yet to receive the money. The lists of eligible people are frequently changed and corrected. The whole process is incorrect and lethargic and victims are suffering even after living in two-year-old temporary shelters, in freezing cold winter,” said Shahi.
NRA had published the list of more than half a million people as eligible for grants from Gorkha, Sindhupalchok, Dolakha, Dhading, Kavre, Rasuwa, Nuwakot, Makwanpur, Ramechhap, Sindhuli and Okhaldhunga. But, victims like landless and people having no tenant certificate were not included.
In the first installment, the government will provide each of the victims a grant of Rs 50,000. For this, the victim needs to have the house map designed as per the set criteria and get approval for the same. After foundation laying, the eligible victim will get Rs 70,000 each. They will get Rs 80,000 each in the last phase, for roofing the house. Each victim listed as eligible for grant will have to open a bank account for receiving the grant.
“The NRA’s process has so many flaws. Original inhabitants who lost their houses in old city of Lalitpur, are denied the facilities,” said Prem Lal Maharjan, chairman of Jyapu Society Yel. “The criteria need to change as per the area specifications."
At a time when a large number of victims have been denied the right to resettle and the grant, the Lalitpur Declaration identifies issues, which the victims have been demanding for long, to be solved.