Learn from Lanka

- Dipendra Jha
Learn from Lanka

Jun 1, 2015-

The devastating quake of April 25 killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed thousands of houses across the country, with 14 hill districts, including Gorkha, Kathmandu, Bhaktapur, Lalitpur, Sindhupalchok, Kavre, and Dolakha, suffering the most. The relief and rehabilitation process initiated by the government post-quake is in full swing right now. But this will come to an end in a couple of weeks’ time. After that, it will have to start carrying out recovery and reconstruction.

Now that we have the firsthand knowledge of the scale of disaster in the event of a major earthquake, rebuilding and reconstruction efforts should be carried out in such a way so as to prevent large-scale damages in case the disaster repeats itself in the future.

To achieve this, the Nepali government needs to frame comprehensive guiding principles for the recovery and reconstruction process before it actually sets out to do so.  

In Sri Lanka

It is not that our legal system completely lacks such a provision. The Natural Disaster Relief Act 1982 is there to act as a guiding principle in times like these. But the act, which is more than 30 years old, is outdated and lacking in many ways when it comes to dealing with natural disasters now and in the future. The government has announced that it will issue an ordinance, but the proposed ordinance mainly talks about setting up various bodies at the central, regional, and local levels to deal with natural calamities.

Guiding principles help a country respond to post-disaster scenarios in a fair, organised, accountable, and well-coordinated manner. In the aftermath of the tsunami that struck countries along the Indian Ocean on December 26, 2004, Sri Lanka, one of the worst-hit countries, adopted the Guiding Principles of the Recovery and Reconstruction Strategy. These principles were then incorporated into the Preliminary Damage and Needs Assessment of the Asian Development Bank, the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, and the World Bank. Eventually, they played a crucial role in rebuilding devastated communities and infrastructures and helped the speedy recovery of the country.

The Sri Lankan principles state that the recovery strategy must first and foremost be seen as a revival of communities—a restoration of lives, livelihoods, and social networks—which the reconstruction of physical assets and infrastructure will support. They also say that the complexity of the reconstruction task—which involves ensuring that millions of dollars spent on relief and reconstruction translate into appropriate benefits for every affected individual—demands that adequate attention is paid upfront to implementation mechanisms and processes.

Further, their experience shows that the allocation of resources, both domestic and international, should be strictly guided by identified needs and local priorities, without discrimination on the basis of political, religious, ethnic, or gender considerations.

Nepal’s reconstruction strategy should thus be build by drawing elements from the disaster-management and reconstruction experiences of countries like Sri Lanka. The strategy should be based on the principle of subsidiary meaning and each reconstruction activity should be designed and implemented at the lowest competent tier of government.

Respect local ways

UCPN (Maoist) Chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal was probably the first leader to say that reconstruction efforts should respect local cultures and traditions. This is especially important with respect to policies related to shelter and relocation, which should not proceed without full consultation. In the aftermath of the disaster, some people have started saying that some localities from the worst-hit hill districts should be relocated to the plain areas. In an extreme case, one cannot rule out such a scenario, but the government’s first and foremost priority should be to assist the quake-affected people to return to their original homes as swiftly as possible, since their livelihood, economy, and cultural aspects are deeply connected with their original habitat. This is something the communities might be deprived of, if they are relocated somewhere else.

Recovery and reconstruction efforts in Sri Lanka went smoothly and became successful also because the country understood that in order to maximise the speed of recovery, local capacities should be harnessed as far as possible.

Strategy for the future

Although a high-level parliamentary monitoring panel in Nepal has been formed to oversee relief and rehabilitation

efforts, what is more important is that the mechanisms to ensure transparency in resource use and comprehensive accounting are enhanced at the aggregate, programme, and beneficiary levels. All agencies—governmental and non-governmental—involved in recovery and reconstruction efforts should reaffirm their policy of zero tolerance against corruption in this joint effort.

Newspaper reports suggest that the government has requested donor agencies and foreign countries to waive their loans given to the country in the past. If debt relief is granted to Nepal as part of the financing package, it will be an added pressure on the government to use the resources meant to pay debt in a transparent way for the benefit of victims.

Of course, even after the principles are laid out, its implementation needs to be closely monitored. In my view, this could be done with mixed teams of Constituent Assembly members, representatives of donor organisations, various NGOs, and civil society. But right now, it is imperative that we come up with the right strategy to handle reconstruction efforts.

Jha is an advocate at the Supreme Court

Published: 02-06-2015 07:20

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