MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
Nepali Times: A Nepal Risk Reduction Consortium had been formed in your initiative. Why is this significant?
Robert Piper: It is an important breakthrough. For the first time, we have brought together in one team both emergency response actors (such as the Red Cross and the UN's Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA) as well as long-term development investors (such as the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and UNDP). This way, we will strike a better balance between investing in preparedness which has been the focus of most efforts so far and concrete actions aimed at reducing the potential number of casualties to future disasters. We need long-term infrastructure and capacity building, and, frankly, fairly deep pockets. The US Government and European Commission have also joined the consortium and we hope others will, too. This means we can be ambitious in scaling up the risk reduction effort.
What has been the government's response so far?
The Consortium has worked from Day One with the government, and the Ministry of Home Affairs in particular. Its five flagship programs are deliberately aligned with the new national strategy for disaster risk management. The Home Ministry leads the Steering Committee. There is a palpable increase in the level of engagement in this issue over the last two years. We need to harness this new energy while it lasts. We are aiming to raise over $100 million for programs like school and hospital retrofitting, emergency preparedness measures, community preparedness across the most vulnerable VDCs over the coming year.
What are the hurdles to passing the act in parliament for the setting up of a National Authority to address earthquake preparedness?
I suppose the same hurdles that have brought us 16 rounds of unsuccessful elections for a PM … the draft legislation is not at parliament yet, but when it gets there soon it will be joining a sizeable backlog of legislative decisions. This critical issue must not become another victim of politics. Haiti lost more than 250,000 souls in about 40 seconds and the threat here is arguably even greater. What could be more worthy of bipartisan support than an act to help strengthen the government's ability to respond to, and mitigate, such a threat?
Sadly, many lessons can be drawn from Haiti. The lack of enforcement of a building code in Haiti is mirrored in Nepal, only we have many more people and buildings in the Valley than did Port-au-Prince. A key lesson is the need for planning in advance on how to take care of large numbers of displaced persons seeking shelter and other basic needs. We are working with the government to identify sites in the Valley that could serve this purpose and these rare open spaces will need to be protected from encroachment. Even more important, many will keep moving to seek shelter with relatives and friends in villages outside the Valley. In Haiti the response effort failed to reach those families effectively, leading to large numbers of people returning to Port-au-Prince to seek help when it would have been much better to keep them out of the city, and staying with their relatives.
Do you get the feeling the seriousness of the crisis Nepal faces is now sinking in?
To be honest, we still have a long way to go. It isn't easy to find a balance in getting people to worry about this issue. We don't want to terrify everyone. We don't want to scare the tourists away. People have to get used to the idea of living with risk in Nepal. The message that has to sink in, is that the threat is very real, but we can do something about it. And the best time to do it is now, before the next disaster, not looking back with regret after the next one at our failure to act on the knowledge we possessed.