Slow and unsteady
Time supposedly flies, at least for those whose life is easier than that of 57-year-old Bikaman Thami of Barhabise, Sindhupalchowk. On the third anniversary of the Gorkha earthquake, Thami and his family of 10 continue to live in a ramshackle tent. The first installment of Rs 50,000 in post-quake rebuilding aid for the construction of his new home was spent on basic necessities of his large family. Broke, Thami is now worried that government officials will ask him to return the money that was meant for laying the foundation of his new home.
Nepal’s reconstruction efforts are in some ways Thami’s plight writ large. The government did not have the resources to rebuild over 767,000 partially or completely destroyed homes, so it decided to give the quake-affected people money to do it themselves. But identifying the right quake victims and taking the money to them via the right banking channels proved to be hard. When some people did finally get some money, it was a case of too little too late.
Reconstruction of other vital infrastructures has been as slow. Of the over 7,500 schools that were destroyed across 14 most-affected districts, just over 3,100 have been rebuilt satisfactorily. Likewise, less than half of the 1,200 health centers destroyed are up and running again. When it comes to rebuilding the private homes of those who lost it all like Thami, just one-seventh of the target has been met.
With an unclear mandate and constant political meddling, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) set up in 2015 to expedite the process was hobbled from the start. Then, reconstruction was virtually put on hold as the country’s attention shifted to the three tiers of elections. Also, for various reasons, the donors who made tall promises during the international donor conference held in June 2015 failed to follow through. As the public memory of the horrors of 2015 faded, it seems, so did the compassion for the quake victims.
PM Oli said all the right things on the third anniversary of the quake on April 25, even pledging to personally contribute labor for rebuilding. He need not do that. What he needs to do is provide strong leadership. He will have done plenty if he can ensure that the NRA is given enough autonomy and resources. Another big achievement would be convincing the donors to honor their pledges. But Oli should hurry. At stake are the lives of hundreds of thousands of people like Thami who are bracing for yet another nasty monsoon.
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