Rights-based reconstruction

  • The National Reconstruction Authority should treat the earthquake victims as rights holders and empower them
- Madhab Regmi

Mar 30, 2016-Natural disasters come with an equal or greater opportunity for development. Around the world, many quake-ravaged places in Japan, Indonesia and Chile have witnessed great development and prosperity after the disaster. Thus, even for Nepal, which was destroyed by the April quake last year, there is an opportunity to make strides in economic and social development through resilient and successful reconstruction. However, development can be sustainable, meaningful and people-centred only if we apply and implement a human rights-based approach (HRBA). That is why the HRBA should be taken into consideration at every step of the reconstruction process to make it effective and sustainable. 

The HRBA to development is the latest development approach which recognises development as a right of the people. The Declaration on the Right to Development has defined development as “a comprehensive economic, social, cultural and political process, which aims at the constant improvement of the well-being of the entire population and of all individuals on the basis of their active, free and meaningful participation in development and in the fair distribution of benefits resulting therefrom.” 

People centric model

The rights-based approach integrates the norms and principles of human rights in disaster management to promote and protect the rights of earthquake-affected people with special attention to women, children, senior citizens, persons with disabilities and marginalised groups. The approach gives priority to the needs and problems of such groups at all stages of disaster management such as rescue, relief, reconstruction and rehabilitation. It promotes equality and non-discrimination during the reconstruction process. The reconstruction process should not discriminate against any individual on the grounds of caste, gender, religion, age and physical, mental and economic status. So the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) should respect, protect and fulfil the rights of all quake victims, regardless of their gender, age, religion, creed, principle, political affiliation or any other status. 

As per this approach, the NRA should provide due consideration to the active and meaningful participation of earthquake-affected people in the planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the reconstruction work. The reconstruction work and its outcome cannot be sustainable without the participation of the victims in the overall process. Their participation can add value to ownership, transparency, accountability and formulation of inclusive plans and policies. So the NRA should hold consultations with the victims to identify their needs and priorities before designing and implementing reconstruction activities at every stage. The approach gives equal importance to both process and achievement. It implies that even if results have been achieved, they are not valid if there has been no due process and participation of the quake-affected people in the reconstruction process. Meaningful participation and active engagement of the affected people will make the reconstruction process more inclusive, participatory, transparent, equitable and sustainable. 

The NRA should treat the earthquake victims as rights holders and empower them to realise and claim their rights, including in the designing of pro-victim policies and programmes. The Authority should develop the capacity of the institutions involved in disaster response to fulfil the rights of the rights holder, that is, the victims. The government should provide a voice to voiceless victims in remote areas so that they can claim their rights and hold the duty bearer answerable for fulfilling their rightful demands. The approach aims to strengthen the capacity of duty bearers to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of rights holders and empower them to exercise those rights. 

Way forward

The NRA may monitor the implementation of its activities as provisioned by law. The reconstruction work can be strengthened if the NRA constantly monitors the effectiveness of its work by enlisting the participation of the victims, civil society and local people in the monitoring process. The victims and civil society may also serve as watchdogs and monitor the transparency and accountability of the work of the NRA and INGOs and NGOs involved in the reconstruction work. The National Human Rights Commission can monitor the effectiveness of every stage of disaster response from a human rights perspective.  

One of the crucial aspects of this approach is making the victims and beneficiaries realise that their necessities are addressed and their rights are protected. The reconstruction plan should be developed based on the actual needs and requirements of the earthquake survivors. If the NRA fails to consider this part and designs a plan without aligning it with the requirements of the victims, the reconstruction and development work will not be meaningful or successful. For example, the 17 different house models proposed by the government to replace the damaged houses do not seem to be suitable in the hilly and mountainous regions. The NRA should also make use of local resources as far as possible to renovate the damage infrastructure which make the reconstruction work more effective and economical. 

Due to the absence of people’s representative at the local level, the disaster management work has been greatly affected. There is no responsible agency at the local level to manage and implement the reconstruction work. Therefore, the government must immediately initiate the process to hold local elections, at least in the severely earthquake-affected districts, to facilitate the process of rebuilding and fortify effectiveness, efficiency, transparency and accountability of the overall reconstruction process. 

In a nutshell, a rights-based approach to reconstruction strengthens transparency, accountability, equality, non-discrimination, participation and inclusion during the reconstruction process. Thus, it is high time that the NRA adopted the approach at every stage of the reconstruction process to safeguard the rights of the earthquake-affected people and ensure sustainable and resilient reconstruction.  

Regmi is a researcher on human rights, justice and social issues

Published: 30-03-2016 08:46

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