Owning up

  • Relief and reconstruction efforts must be Nepal-led if they are to be sustainable
Owning up

Apr 30, 2015-

Six days since the Great Earthquake, Nepal is now transitioning from search-and-rescue to relief-and-rehabilitation mode. The first 72 hours after a disaster are held to be critical, as that is when the prospects of people trapped under debris being rescued alive are greater. After this initial ‘golden hour’, the chances of rescuing people alive decrease significantly. Certainly, rescue attempts must continue as humans often reveal a surprising resilience, as with the 15-year-old boy who was rescued on Thursday after 132 hours from underneath a collapsed guesthouse in Gongabu in Kathmandu. But the focus must now become the survivors and providing them with relief and rehabilitation.

While the intensity of continuing aftershocks seems to be on the wane, there is another potential crisis in the making. Many internally-displaced people are still camped out under tents in open areas. Living in such close quarters with little access to proper sanitation and clean drinking water, there is a possibility of disease outbreaks. While the propensity for such outbreaks is not as dire as often portrayed in the media, it is still a significant danger that must be confronted. There are grave lessons to be learned from the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake, where a cholera outbreak killed more than 9,000 people. To prevent such a situation from arising, proper sanitation measures need to be instituted at shelters and camps.

Relief packages have arrived from a great many countries and through our own internal resources, and they are being disbursed by the concerned authorities. But there are also numerous settlements hit hard by the quake that have yet to see any relief. Parts of Sindhupalchowk, just a few hours from the Capital, and Gorkha, the epicenter of the Saturday quake, complain of having seen hide nor hair of the government. In the absence of coordinated and effective relief programmes by the central government, private bodies have taken it upon themselves to deliver aid where they see fit.

The post-search and rescue phase is one that requires an active government presence. One important lesson from Haiti is that for sustainable rehabilitation and reconstruction, the presence of the government is critical. For donors, relying too heavily on private groups and NGOs can induce local dependency in the long run and lead to a crisis in governance, as argued by reporter Jonathan Katz in his book about the post-Haiti earthquake humanitarian response, The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster.

Nepal’s government, however dysfunctional, is stronger than Haiti’s was in 2010. Thus, donors need to work with the government even as the government itself needs to take charge of the relief effort by coordinating among the myriad agencies that are currently active and seeking a role in Nepal. The relief effort must be Nepal-led and it must be seen to be Nepal-led. This will foster resilience among Nepal’s domestic institutions, which is critical if relief, rehabilitation, and reconstruction efforts are to be sustainable.

Published: 01-05-2015 09:18

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