Three years ago today, we experienced the worst disaster of our lifetime. The April 25, 2015 earthquake killed 8,979 people and destroyed around 900,000 homes leaving people in indescribable miseries. But in the last three years, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) that was established to help quake victims quickly rebuild their lives has not been able to function optimally.
The NRA became a platform for political parties to appoint their loyalists in the top job. So we had four appointments in Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of NRA—Govind Raj Pokharel, followed by Sushil Gyewali, followed by Pokharel again and now Yubaraj Bhusal. Such appointment and dismissal was made based more on political affiliation of the candidates rather than their merits.
And political parties used reconstruction agenda as a tool to secure vote banks for elections. Pushpa Kamal Dahal, when prime minister, raised reconstruction grants from Rs 200,000 to Rs 300,000 and his successor—Sher Bahadur Deuba—announced to add Rs 100,000 to grants without considering state’s capacity. As the current government has not endorsed Deuba government’s decision, it has become meaningless now. Results of politicization in plight of earthquake survivors are there for us all to see.
According to NRA’s recent data, out of around 900,000 houses to be rebuilt, 119,182 private houses have been rebuilt and 430,089 are under construction in the affected districts. Only 709,180 beneficiaries have signed the agreement for the housing grants. First tranche of housing grants has been distributed to 696,193 households, while 329,244 households have received second tranche. Only 3,500 schools, out of 7,553 that were destroyed by earthquakes, have been rebuilt so far. Compared to the past record, we seem to have made noticeable progress on reconstruction but given the number of houses, schools and heritage sites that await rebuilding and precious times and resources we spent for the cause, this progress seems negligible.
The reason is obvious. We have made housing grants distribution a way too complicated. NRA CEO Bhusal himself has admitted that too much of document works has impeded reconstruction process. If that is the case, this process needs to be eased in every possible way.
Our reconstruction process has become so slow that even top leaders have started to question the efficiency of NRA. CPN-UML senior leader Madhav Nepal recently remarked that since government has not been able to stand up to the task, reconstruction work should be assigned to Dhurmus Suntali Foundation—the organization led by actors Dhurmus and Suntali who have been doing remarkable job of rebuilding houses of earthquake victims and other homeless people and handing them over to people on time. At people’s level too, many seem to believe Dhurmus and Suntali could perhaps better carry out the reconstruction job.
This reflects how people have started to give up hope on government and NRA. NRA and the government should prove through actions that they are as much efficient to complete reconstruction. Since the tragedy struck three years ago, we have been consistently advocating for timely reconstruction of private houses, schools, heritage sites and other public structures.
But the result has not been so forthcoming. As we mark the third anniversary of deadly earthquakes, NRA and the government should work in such a way, that we won’t have to remind them of the urgency of the task once again. In three years, horrendous April day may have faded in memories of many people, but the wounds the tragedy inflicted on the survivors are yet to be healed and thousands are still suffering from homelessness. It will be a crime to ignore their plight.