Better information management could have addressed issues such as poor coordination between development and government agencies.
The country marked the second anniversary of Gorkha earthquake on April 25, 2017. Two whole years have passed since the catastrophic earthquake which wreaked havoc on the lives of many fellow Nepalis who are still struggling to cope with the aftermath. The challenges and gaps in recovery interventions have been discussed many times since. But have they been adequately addressed?
Now and then, news of earthquake victims still not receiving support gets some coverage. Sometimes it is about support not reaching the intended beneficiaries and the futile duplication of project interventions. It is perhaps telling that even after two years, government agencies and humanitarian organizations are still trying to paint a complete picture of the devastation in numbers. Right data or lack thereof is not a new topic of discussion, but it is an underrated matter for sure. Even today, most agencies are reliant on initial figures and findings. At the core of this issue lies the fact that most organizational practices are missing basic components of data management like data appending, verification, validation and segmentation. Data or information management seems to be a secondary priority in most cases.
Let us take the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) as an example that demonstrates the prioritization of data in terms of designing and implementation.
After the earthquake, the government formed the NRA, which duly identified earthquake victims and announced the modality of support process. However, it took almost a year for NRA to distribute the first installment to quake victims. Now almost two years later, many victims of the 2015 earthquake are still waiting for the release of second installment of the grant. This has hindered reconstruction and even prompted many to halt reconstruction of their homes.
Little respite has been offered to the victims. The government has raised the amount of housing reconstruction grants for individual households to Rs 300,000 from Rs 200,000. At the start of 2017, the authority announced that there is a need for 200,000 masons to carry out the reconstruction process and that the NRA had only trained 5,000 masons in 2016. The government body suggested that this was one reason for the delay in reconstruction.
Additionally, the government announced that the second installment shall only be given to those households who follow government guidelines while reconstructing their houses. While it was evident that the pace of reconstruction was going to be slow, the government really did not foresee it. Had the NRA identified proper need and was aware about the resources, the situation would arguably have been better. And inarguably a proper knowledge management system would have solved the majority of the above-mentioned problems.
If we analyze some government responses to support earthquake victims, they clearly demonstrate information gap. Proper information management system could have easily addressed issues such as poor coordination between development and government agencies, bureaucratic hassles, issues related to change in demographic dynamics like migration, change in family composition and other need related matter. Issues like duplication of intervention, locating deserving victims and proper assistance would have been easily addressed through right information management. The grant release process is still manual and the responsibility to spend it is with the recipients.
As a result, the number of households signing the tripartite agreements for grant with the NRA is less than the number of households registered. Based on the trend, we can predict that the number of people receiving actual grant would be further reduced at the time of final installment. Also, why were all quake victims put in the same basket even though they might have had different needs? It seems even development agencies favor the traditional approach rather than go down the route of innovation.
Prolonged recovery signals lack of resolve on the part of both the government and development agencies and invites more criticism. The humanitarian agencies and government institutions do have data, now the focus should be on translating the data into reliable information.
By building knowledge out of information, we can mitigate potential risks, come up with innovative ideas and develop proper interventions. At this point, NRA and other agencies have few notable initiatives.
It is high time we learned from our recovery efforts and started preparing robust mechanisms for future disasters. But we need to ensure future reconstruction efforts with start with the right data and information.
The author works as the knowledge management officer with ICCO Cooperation, South and Central Asia