Print Edition - 2015-05-11  |  Free the Words

Rebuilding trust

  • Building back better in Nepal after the quake must be first about rebuilding trust and investing in local leadership
Rebuilding trust

May 9, 2015-

Almost two weeks have passed since the 7.9 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal. As families grieve for loved ones and communities struggle to survive, the Government of Nepal must focus both on getting vital humanitarian assistance to disaster-affected communities and on putting in place the right institutional arrangements and leadership for the long recovery process ahead. The journey will be a difficult one, but Nepal must remember that in the face of catastrophe, societies can sometimes emerge stronger and more resilient, such as in the case of Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. If Nepal makes the right decisions now about how it governs the recovery process, the earthquake response could one day be looked back upon as a regional and international model for disaster recovery. 

Building confidence

Billions of dollars will be needed for Nepal’s recovery and reconstruction. Much of this will come from the international community, including bilateral donors, development banks, and the global public, who are giving generously. In short, sustained international support will be required. However, barely a week after the earthquake, the government has already come under fire from the international community, the global media, and some grassroots relief groups for allegedly declaring that all funds would be routed to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund. Clarification and assurances were later given that the policy did not apply to international organisations or existing local organisations, only to entities set up after April 25. Suspicions, however, remain that the government was attempting to take control of aid efforts entirely. Others pointed out that this inappropriate measure was a symptom of institutional weakness, inexperience, and a lack of capacity. In a recent blog, economist Chandan Sapkota, who survived the earthquake, observed that the national response “bears the hallmark of a weak bureaucracy, fractured political system and a deep rooted institutional inadequacy and incapacity to manage logistics and large-scale operations.” Such analysis reveals a deep lack of confidence in the current political bureaucracy, which does not bode well for recovery from this devastating disaster.

The government must work quickly to address the trust deficit and build confidence in its willingness and ability to engage a wide range of partners in what will clearly be a complex relief, recovery, and reconstruction process over many years. The most important task facing the Nepali government at this moment is to establish a credible, transparent, accountable, and effective governance system to facilitate relief and recovery efforts. This is critical, both for the people of Nepal as well as for international donors and agencies who will be key partners in the recovery process. 

Investing in local leadership

The government must not doubt that the international community stands ready to support it, from relief through recovery and reconstruction, and recognises that the Government of Nepal must be in the lead. However, it is important that the government also shows that it is committed to the right kind of leadership, one that understands that the role of government in the aftermath of a disaster is not to control aid, but to facilitate it, to do whatever it takes to cut bureaucratic red tape and speed up the delivery of relief and save lives under very difficult logistical circumstances. It must be a leadership that recognises that the most central actor in recovery are the people of Nepal, especially communities directly affected by the disaster, and they should be invested in to lead their own initiatives for recovery. Support must be given to Nepal’s dynamic local organisations—including community organisations, youth networks, women’s organisations, and religious foundations—who are already actively mobilising relief, including in some of the most difficult-to-reach areas. National leadership should work to bring all partners, national and international, together to further build the capacity of local communities in recovery and in developing resilience to future disasters. ‘Building back better’, then, in the context of Nepal must be first and foremost about rebuilding trust and investing in local leadership. 

New ways of working

Innovative approaches and financing must be adopted to ensure that recovery resources reach affected communities directly, that recovery is equitable and inclusive, and that the highest levels of accountability are adhered to at every level. The government must work with the international community to establish credible financial mechanisms that can accommodate and track funding from different sources—national government, bilateral donors, multi-donor funds, private sector—to deliver support to and work in partnership with local communities. Not all funds will go through the government, but the government must have oversight of recovery projects and ensure that they are aligned to a common plan and vision that is shared by the people of Nepal. Robust anti-corruption measures must be put in place within government institutions and audits must be conducted with full transparency. Innovative delivery mechanisms tailored to Nepal’s particular social and economic context should also be developed. Nepal relies more heavily on remittances than any country in the world; contemplating cash transfers, then, is a logical way to support local networks already in place and bolster local recovery power. Finally, even as relief efforts continue for many months, planning for recovery must begin now, and recovery itself must be leveraged as a platform for longer-term development as well as institutional reform. 

There are experiences in the region that Nepal can learn from, including that of Indonesia’s leadership of the recovery and reconstruction process for Aceh and Nias following the 2004 earthquake and tsunami, or the experience of Pakistan in leading reconstruction after the 2005 Kashmir earthquake. Both countries faced enormous challenges, but, thanks to decisive and competent leadership, are today, both regarded as models in government leadership over large-scale disaster recovery operations. Nepal may also, years from now, be looked back upon as a model recovery effort. But for that to happen, it must begin the hard task of recovery on the right foundation. 


Sabandar is a senior official with the Government of Indonesia, who served from 2005-2009 as Director for Nias in the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency; Fan is a research associate with the Humanitarian Policy

Group at the London-based Overseas Development Institute


Published: 11-05-2015 13:44

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