15-21 May 2015 #758

The four-fold path

Could a stronger and more picturesque country emerge?
Pradumna B Rana
Nearly three weeks after the 25 April earthquake and the massive aftershock on 12 May, Nepal is entering the second phase of its recovery and reconstruction.

The government has established a National Reconstruction Fund to which it has allocated $200 million, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has pledged another $300 million and Japan has proposed to convene a donor group meeting. Despite this generous support from the outside world, the country’s recovery will take many years.

If the country’s governance were to improve and appropriate policies adopted, a stronger and a more picturesque Nepal could emerge from the crisis. This is a tall order given the poor track-record of the government in delivery of services, mismanagement, and coordination, but there is no harm in hoping. Policy actions are required immediately on four fronts:

1.  Since the government lacks credibility, there must be monitoring systems to oversee the newly-established National Reconstruction Fund. Watchdog bodies and community–based organisations should be in place to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of resources. Nepal has been in political transition since 2006 and the end of the conflict. Local government elections have not been held since 1999: instead, civil servants run the system from the capital. Corruption is pervasive at all levels. The Prime Minister’s speech to the nation a few days after the quake disappointed many, and several top political leaders were conspicuous by their absence in the early days of the crisis.

Could this disaster lead to improved governance in Nepal? Sometimes devastating disasters can shake up a society so much that seemingly intractable problems can be resolved.

  2. To rebuild the 600,000 damaged and destroyed homes innovative solutions like the Habitat Building System developed by the Bangkok-based Asian Institute of Technology and others could be considered. These houses should be designed to complement and blend with the village scenery in Nepal, which attracts over 800,000 tourists every year.

  3. Nepal has become one of the most remittance-dependent economies in the world. Before the earthquake 1,500 able-bodied workers left the country everyday for jobs abroad. This flow has now ebbed and some have, in fact, returned home to help out their families. Without jobs in the country to keep them in Nepal, they will surely leave again, perhaps in even larger numbers.   Innovative income-generating schemes like the ‘cash for work’ programs which were used by Mercy Corps in Aceh after the tsunami and in the Philippines after Super Typhoon Hainan. Essentially it means reconstruction itself creates jobs in rebuilding schools and infrastructure. Simply doling out money for rehabilitation is not a good idea as it will have adverse budgetary and monetary impacts.

4. Finally, in a study prepared for the ADB last year, a co-author and I have argued that Nepal should strive to become a land link between China and India, as it was centuries before  by improving connectivity both within the country as well as cross-border. Such a strategy would result in a more balanced development of the country. Nepal’s founding member status in the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and its support of China’s Silk Road Economic Belt policy are steps in the right direction.

Nepal experiences a major earthquake every 100 years or so. The government had legislated a new building code in 1996 but the code was poorly implemented because of poverty and poor governance. An important lesson for other countries prone to natural disasters from Nepal’s experience is that there is no option but to be prepared. It is not good enough just to have laws and codes, they should be enforced.

Pradumna B. Rana is associate professor and coordinator of the International Political Economy Program in the Centre for Multilateralism Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Read also:

A state in aftershock, Victor Rana

Learning from disasters

A more responsive state, David Seddon

Earning back the people’s trust, Tsering Dolker Gurung

Preparing to be prepared, Kunda Dixit

Aftershocks in a migrant economy, Mallika Aryal

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