December 20, 2017 02:00 AM NPT
What with the constant chopping and changing of the leadership of the main agency responsible for post-quake rebuilding, and the countless bureaucratic hurdles, the process of rebuilding of the houses damaged in the 2015 earthquakes has been painfully slow. Nowhere is this more evident than in the district of Gorkha, the epicenter of the earthquakes. This is why, 32 months after the earthquakes, only 5,565 of the 60,815 houses that were damaged in the district have been completely rebuilt. Incredibly, reconstruction of more than half the damaged houses is yet to start. Post-quake rebuilding has clearly not been a priority of any of our recent governments. The process has been time and again halted, with excuses big and small. In the past one year, there was next to no reconstruction as the focus of the political class was supposedly trained on the three sets of the constitutionally-mandated elections. The victims, meanwhile, suffered. Even those who have gotten government grants have been unable to rebuild as they struggle to stick to the strict technical standards. Nor are construction materials easily available. Unfortunately, things are unlikely to improve much with the coming of the new government.
This is because with a change in government there is bound to be a change in the leadership of National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) as well, with many speculating that former chief Sushil Gyewali could make a comeback as CEO. The cruel reality is that the ruling parties in the past few years have seen the NRA as no more than a recruiting ground for their loyalists and as a source of funding for the contractors close to them. And with every passing year, as the memories of the earthquake fade, there is a risk that the 600,000 people who were affected first-hand could be forgotten. They have already spent two winters and as many monsoons braving the elements. They are likely to be left out in the cold this winter too, as many have been unable to access post-quake grants and to rebuild on time. Many are also unaware of the strict technicalities new construction should adhere to, which in turn makes them ineligible for government grants. There is as yet no indication that the government intends to simplify the process so that maximum number of quake victims benefit.
But safely rehabilitating earthquake victims should be among the top priorities of the new government. It is hard for people to dream about prosperity, which the left alliance touts as its main agenda when they don’t even have permanent roofs over their heads. KP Oli makes much of the fact that it was under his government that 22,000 temporary shelters were built for the quake-affected. But what is more curious is that only so many were built during his nine months in office, when over 600,000 were without shelter. That said, the Congress government under Deuba, or the one before him under Pushpa Kamal Dahal, have been little better in expediting reconstruction. True, they all like to make big promises to quake victims when they come to the office. But none of them seems to have the heart to internalize their pathetic plight.