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Post-disaster rebuilding of Nepal requires forward-thinking

By Kedar Neupane

“Nepal has lurched ground like a ship on the high seas”. The headline of the Tribune de Genève after the second major earthquake of 7.3 magnitude rocked Nepal on May 12 said it all.

By Kedar Neupane

This could mean another powerful jolt is possible by the turn of the century. Therefore, future planning for human settlements should strictly adhere to the seismic-resistant buildings throughout Nepal.

Continuing series of shockwaves have created an unprecedented scale of humanitarian tragedies and developmental challenges not witnessed in Nepal since the great earthquake of January 15, 1934, which caused extensive damage to infrastructure in Nepal and India. It is imperative Nepal carefully reassess its general approach to building infrastructures.

The colossal damage inflicted by the recent earthquakes was so gigantic that the embattled government of Nepal may struggle with the reconstruction process no matter how hard it tries to convince the people of Nepal, because government institutions are weak and inept.

Bureaucratic challenges

The mounting emergency needs of millions of Nepalese can be overwhelming because the government’s disaster response capabilities are cracking and its inability to respond to many in devastated and inaccessible areas outside Kathmandu valley are coming to the fore.

At times, the response has appeared inadequate and misplaced, adding further misfortune to vulnerable people. There is a danger of overreaction from the government, which is struggling with a continuing political debacle and bureaucratic challenges. This is unlikely to abate and could prove disastrous, leading to existential threat, compounded by further loss of life and property.

If the situation continues, millions of people will end-up living in tented shelters for years, not months.

Everything must be built from scratch. Rebuilding tasks will be arduous because economic gains have either disappeared or been reversed by the extensive destruction. Hundreds of homes, schools, hospitals, bridges, roads and other infrastructure must be rebuilt; economic opportunities must be created and sustained.

This requires money, takes time and needs appropriate technology. One early guestimate suggests Nepal’s economy may have lost the equivalent of years of national GDP and the rebuilding cost may go as high as $20 billion (CHF18.8 billion). This is a staggering figure and a tall order for economically poor Nepal since it cannot finance it through domestically generated revenue resources.

The overwhelming sympathy and solidarity displayed by the international community for Nepal must not be missed by the government. It should be considering a programme for reconstruction and rebuilding almost like that of the European Recovery Plan after the Second World War, known as the Marshall Plan, which was to rebuild the economy making Europe prosperous.

This plan must address all obstacles to post-disaster recovery and the government of Nepal should look towards the future and focus on destruction caused by natural calamities.

Nepal Marshall Plan

Nepal is geographically isolated and is sandwiched between China and India. Both countries were also hit by earthquakes and suffered losses. They are Nepal’s closest friends and largest trading partners. Nepal should involve both nations in the rebuilding effort and solicit the full cooperation of China and India for the rebuilding programme.

Nepal’s political parties should leave aside their differences and must overcome individual compunction. Pursuing over-confident and isolationist tendencies will not help, for Nepal faces stellar tasks and a crisis of confidence among the population and international donors.

Building a new nation is not a partisan issue nor can it be business-as-usual. The UN General Assembly has endorsed the flash appeal for $415 million issued last month by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Geneva. This is a welcome endorsement. However, many Nepal observers believe the rebuilding costs would be many times higher than the initial emergency aid.

The government of Nepal should, in collaboration with China and India, follow up with an awareness-raising resolution at the UN Security Council for additional support for a Marshall Plan for rebuilding Nepal.

This is to re-energise the world community calling for financial and technical assistance aimed at restoring a third of Nepal’s population, who are at serious risk of survival and deprived of means of livelihood.

In parallel, the government should also reinforce its resolve to address the political and bureaucratic challenges with an open-door policy for foreign governments’ active partnership. To lead the process, the government should consider a new consortium of friends of Nepal co-chaired by members from major donors, trading partners and philanthropist advocates of Nepal.

Previous poor reaction

The suggested approach is timely because Nepal would not want to stagger like other countries which faced large disasters.

Lessons from unsatisfactory responses and weak coordination during Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines should guide the response to the crisis. The poor response to Hurricane Katrina and Typhoon Haiyan were largely attributed to political inaction from the centre of power.

Haiti, as a failed state, stumbled because no one appeared to be coordinating the complicated and diverse relief work, causing delays in aid distribution. According to Refugee International, the aid agencies were dysfunctional and the humanitarian response appeared paralysed. Oxfam also noted that relief and recovery were at a standstill due to government inaction and poor donor response.

Doesn’t it sound familiar? It is worrying that Nepal, a fragile state, may also quickly descend into similar chaos.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of swissinfo.ch. 

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