Nepal is still coming to terms after the devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Immediate relief effort has finally started to reach remote areas. With government, security forces, independent groups, international governments and organizations continuing their extra-ordinary work in the relief efforts, I would like to draw attention to simultaneously thinking about the long-term recovery process. The recovery process includes debris removal, post-earthquake health sector co-ordination, restoration of public utilities, and resettlement/reconstruction/ rehabilitation.
Recovery will be long and arduous. Although it is too early to assess the full cost of the catastrophic earthquake, an initial estimate by U.S. Geological Service reckons damages of $1 to $10 billion. An economist with IHS forecasts the cost of reconstruction to be around $5 billion.
Even though many may not agree, with the significance of damage and recovery needed, the only effective way will be mobilizing recovery efforts through government. Independent organizations can only provide support to a small, isolated region. The Nepalese government has been slow in responding to the immediate relief efforts. However, I sincerely hope that the government comes up with appropriate short, medium and long-term recovery plans after thoroughly assessing the extent of damage. And this is where international organizations can help government with their technical and financial capacities.
Community engagement and involvement
There is widespread skepticism that the Nepalese government will misuse recovery funds. One way to mitigate this problem is by utilizing local community groups and organizations to assess the damage and planning for recovery. Even though government makes final decisions on plans and allocation of funds, they can continuously consult local bodies. Moreover, with the vigilant public and wide-spread use of social media, there will be pressure to maintain financial transparency.
Learn from Gujarat’s recovery efforts
Lots of comparisons have been made between Haiti’s 2010 earthquake’s recovery processes with Nepal’s situation. Nepal is not Haiti; and 2015 is not 2010. Instead, we can look at the recovery efforts after 2001 Gujarat earthquake of 7.7-magnitude. The earthquake claimed 20,000, injured 167,000, and destroyed nearly 400,000 homes. With the support of $130m from aboard and $2bn from central government, the town Bhuj has been reborn. The government of Gujarat reconstructed and repaired affected houses in record time of 2 years. Ten years after the earthquake, the town has two new ring-roads, an airport, and a thriving economy. In the days to come, we will write more about Gujarat recovery.
Nepal can learn from Gujarat’s experience. Government of Nepal can easily reach out to technical experts involved in Gujarat’s recovery and reconstruction process. Similarly, international organizations like the UN and World Bank have extensive experience in reconstruction efforts in various parts of the world and can definitely help Nepal. At the end of the day, Nepal government has to take the lead and be able to mobilize reconstruction plans on the ground.
Where can rest of us help?
We can provide continuous support to local, independent organizations.
With the government ‘supposedly’ responsible for most of the recovery efforts, we should focus on providing continuous support to local, independent organizations. Some of them being Bibeksheel Nepali, Educating Nepal, Teach for Nepal, (we will be creating a separate list). These organizations are already working at the grassroot level and have a good relation with locals.
We should be aware that the donation we have already made will be most likely utilized for immediate relief efforts. We should be prepared to provide support for a long time. Moreover, instead of providing upfront lump-sum money, lets plan on supporting them periodically (with monthly, bi-annual or annual donations). With our continued support, local organizations can focus on long-term recovery efforts and not worry about necessary funds. Finally, we have to reflect on the following questions before choosing the organization:
“How exactly did the earthquake affect a given problem?
What are the specific goals of the relief effort concerning it?
And how will we know if they have been met?”