NRA shifts goalpost as victims wait

- Bhadra Sharma, Kathmandu
While the Post Disaster Needs Assessment has put the number of earthquake-affected houses at 498,852, the Nepal Reconstruction Authority has surveyed only 150,000 households so far

Mar 7, 2016- Even as earthquake victims desperately wait for government announced housing reconstruction aid, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) continues to chop and change its timeline to begin aid distribution aimed at rebuilding houses destroyed by earthquake in April last year. 

The body responsible for overall coordination of reconstruction projects had initially announced to start the aid distribution on February 24, but shifted it to March 4 after its Chief Executive Sushil Gyewali left for India as a member of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli-led delegation. But even the second deadline has passed without any results.
The ongoing Nepali Congress General Convention and bureaucratic red tape in releasing government provided Rs 65 billion rupees to local bodies were cited as major reasons for the delay. Tens of thousands of quake victims, who hardly survived monsoon and extreme cold, are still clueless on how long they have to wait for aid. 
Amidst confusion, Gyewali on Sunday announced yet another deadline for aid distribution. “We will begin distribution of aid to people by the end of this month,” he said in his first address to journalists since being appointed the chief of the reconstruction body on December 26 last year. 
If this announcement goes well as planned, quake victims from Singati in Dolakha will get the aid from March 12 in three instalments. Although the government has announced to provide Rs200,000 in addition to subsidised bank loan to each family rendered homeless, only Rs50,000 will be provided to the victims in the first lot, according to the NRA. The second instalment of Rs80,000 will be provided after the approval of their housing design and the remaining Rs70,000 upon the completion of the reconstruction works. 
The post-quake reconstruction, delayed initially due to wrangling among major parties over the choice of NRA chief executive, was pushed back further after questions were raised over the authenticity of quake victims during assessments of damages at local level. 
Only 150,000 households have been surveyed so far, while the Post Disaster Needs Assessment had put the number of quake-affected houses at 498,852 (private houses). The detailed damage assessment has yet to begin in three districts of Kathmandu 
Valley where the maximum numbers of houses were destroyed by the quake.
The NRA has set the target of completing the assessments by April 5 target and begin housing reconstruction in all villages by April 25 when the country marks the first anniversary of the devastating quake. 
But the slow progress means meeting the target will be an uphill battle. 
“Some technical glitches have emerged in updating data due to problem in connectivity,” said Gyewali. 
Over 1,500 households in Dolakha have already opened bank accounts there. An NRA team led by executive committee members Chandra Bahadur Shrestha and Dhruba Sharma is busy making technical preparations to begin aid distribution in Singati. Trained engineers deployed as surveyors have indentified 5,789 households as beneficiaries in six Village Development Committees there. “The aid distribution will begin once the authority finally endorses beneficiaries,” says an NRA official. 
Observers, however, harbour doubts if the earthquake victims could begin reconstruction before monsoon. “The way things are moving so far, victims have no other options but to spent days under tent in upcoming monsoon,” said Min Bahadur Shahi, coordinator for Humanitarian Accountability Initiatives, an organisation involved in monitoring post-earthquake reconstruction. 
According to Shahi, NRA’s inefficiency, and delay in finalising earthquake-resilient housing design and support has affected the entire reconstruction project. “People can begin reconstruction on their own if the government gives go ahead with technical support for rebuilding earthquake-resilient houses. But I don’t know why the authority is delaying,” he said. 
Meanwhile, the quake victims say the government announced aid may not be adequate to rebuild houses. Given the situation, they will have to resort to bank loans. Although the government has announced a maximum of Rs2.5 million in loan to each household rendered homeless, the Nepal Rastra Bank has yet to finalise details depriving victims of access to the loan scheme.   
“We have already decided to provide loans for victims. Nepal Rastra Bank will finalise guidelines soon,” said Gyewali. 
The housing reconstruction in Singati has been initiated as the pilot project. But the absence of officials has affected the NRA in establishing seven-regional offices as proposed in its structure aimed at coordinating between the reconstruction headquarters and local bodies. 
The Prime Minister’s Office has estimated 208 staffers, including 17 joint secretaries and 36 under secretaries, are required for the authority. 
“The NRA has only 51 staffers now. The government has deputed 41 staffers, but only three of them have joined the office. And it is difficult to retain them in office,” said NRA Spokesperson Suresh Adhikari. The authority recently announced 100 percent incentives in a bid to retain its workforce. “But we still have human resource crunch which has affected reconstruction works,” said Adhikari.

Published: 07-03-2016 07:55

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