Delays continue to plague NRA performance

Another monsoon increases the woes of quake victims whose homes were destroyed


A resident of Barpak VDC - 4, Ram Ghale lived for over a year under a temporary shelter made up of wood and tin. He has been waiting for the government’s grant to reconstruct his house which collapsed in last year’s earthquake. With yet another monsoon here, life has become more painful. After a storm blew away his tin roof and rainwater drained into his living space, he had to shift to his cousin’s house in search of shelter with his family.

“We are hearing about the government’s aid since last year, but we have not got anything till date,” said Ghale in disappointment. Recently he was asked to sign an agreement that said the grants will soon be made available. He said, “We were informed that after the agreement we will get Rs 200,000 to construct our house but we are unaware when and how we will get that sum.”

He also informed that the list published by the government for assistance does not include all victims and even those listed as earthquake victims could not seal the agreement due to lack of all documents.“The government should know that due to their delays we are suffering the most,” he said. Ghale is just another example of thousands, affected by the earthquake and still suffering because of the attitude and failure of the government to do its job. It has been 14 months since the earthquake caused the loss of over 9,000 lives, however, the government has not yet been able to provide relief to the victims who survived.

According to the government’ own data, 608,155 residential buildings were completely destroyed whereas 298,998 were partially damaged. Furthermore, 2,687 government buildings (including schools and health posts) were totally destroyed and 3,776 were partially damaged.

Politics at play

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was established through an ordinance in August by the Congress led government in 2015. However, the authority was dissolved soon after due to inter-party disputes. Four months later NRA was resurrected in December 2015 with the appointment of CEO Sushil Gyewali.

Six months have passed since the authority has been established to oversee the entire task of reconstruction, rehabilitation and provide relief to the victims. However, no significant work has been done till date. The budget

allocated remains unused due to the absence of proper plans and difficulty in implementation. With the monsoon here, hundreds of thousands of quake-displaced people are still forced to live under tarpaulins, tents and other make-shift shelters.

“The collapse of NRA for mere political vested interest by political parties a major reason for the delay in reconstruction,” said Govind Raj Pokharel, Former Vice-Chair of National Planning Commission who was also briefly CEO of NRA (for two weeks). He further said, “Incapable political appointees and lack of pragmatic and innovative ideas to drive the reconstruction work are reasons for the delays.”

Huge challenges ahead

According to Pokharel, Nepal reconstruction work has huge challenges of mobilisation and management of human resources, collaboration and coordination among the government and non-government organisations, mobilisation of resources and quality construction material, developing norms, standards, capacity and institutions. Citing that lots of work can be done simultaneously to solve these challenges, he said, “Providing training on a mass scale to local people and engineering students, carrying out integrated settlement studies by experts, establishing committees to include the private sector which is totally neglected, planning for appropriate and quality construction material to reconstruct is the way forward. However, the government seems clueless about all these things.”

He accused the governing body of lacking vision and innovative plans to speed up reconstruction work. “NRA is a national body that has extra-ordinary jurisdiction, however, it has not been able to use this power and speed up reconstruction work,” Pokharel said. He warned that reconstruction work will be a total failure if politicisation, bureaucratisation and corruption take place and the government should be aware of it.He further said that NRA is wasting their their time without innovation, coordination and pragmatism. He said, “The political parties should learn from their mistakes and the country should have higher priority than party.”

A race against time

While the government has been criticised for not doing their job, the NRA defends its achievements. “We are speeding up the process of signing agreements in 11 most affected districts. In six districts we have already started dispatching grants via banks,” said Ram Prasad Thapaliya, Spokesperson at NRA. However, the issue of which bank to allot to distribute the grants, establishing banking facility in rural areas, communicating and educating locals about the banking process still stand tall as challenges.

To ensure every quake-victim gets the grant, Thapaliya said, “We have conducted detailed household owner survey and field visits with balance and control mechanism.” However, the issue of politics in the name list for grants has also emerged as an issue. While asking about the vulnerability assessment of the most affected districts and study of fragile settlements, he said, “The government has not instructed people to construct right after getting the grant. All this will take time.” While people are desperate for the grants and to reconstruct their houses as soon as possible, prolonged delays and such official comments are seen as irresponsible and disheartening for those without a shelter in the monsoons.

According to NRA, it has dispersed Rs 21 billion for reconstruction work out of which Rs 14 billion is allocated to housing grants. Thapaliya informed that they have budget for Rs 65 billion. The NRA estimated that USD 6.7 billion will be required for successful post-earthquake recovery and reconstruction in the country. NRA has established four Central Level Project Implementation Units (CLPIUs) under four ministries. The Ministry of Urban Development (MoUD) has been given the responsibility to reconstruct housing, integrated community development, public buildings and urban infrastructure development.

Shiva Hari Sharma, Project Director at CLPIU of MoUD, said, “We have recruited 2,700 technical professionals in quake-affected districts of which 1,346 are engineers, 650 are sub-engineers and 575 are assistant sub-engineers.” Agreeing that reconstruction has been delayed, he said, “Now we are working faster. People are in the process of getting housing grants via bank accounts.” He claimed that about 115,000 agreements have been sealed and funds have been sent to about 5,000 bank accounts. Citing that the reconstruction of public buildings has started, Sharma said, “As it will take time to reconstruct permanent public buildings, so transitional office buildings are being constructed in 11 districts.”

The government is also yet to decide on what to do with central government office buildings affected by the earthquake. Not even the assessment of these buildings have been completed. “We are yet to decide whether to demolish or retrofit the Western wing of Singha Durbar,” Sharma said, adding that they are still in the process of assessment of Singha Durbar, the President and Vice President’s residential buildings and Nepal Rastra Bank’s building at Thapathali and Baluwatar among others.

Pointing out that there is also a lack of skilled manpower for reconstruction work, Sharma said, “In monsoon we cannot initiate reconstruction work, so we are planning to utilise it by providing training in masonry, carpentry, plumbing et cetera.” According to him, they will be in need of 30,000 skilled workers to initiate reconstruction work. He blamed political leaders for politicising and delaying the formation of the Reconstruction Authority.

Private participation

The private sector which can operate much more faster and efficiently has also been ignored in a way. “Private sector has always been a partner for development. And the sector can contribute a lot in many ways for reconstruction process too. However the government seems to be indifferent,” said Bhawani Rana, Vice President at Federation of Nepalese Chambers of Commerce and Industry. She added that as there are district chapters of FNCCI in affected districts, it would be faster to work on reconstruction. However, she said, “We had meeting with NRA but till now we are not given tasks to contribute on reconstruction process.”

“Reconstruction is national issue and the private sector will corporate to the policy that the government will take out,” said Om Rajbhandary, Chief of Urban Development Committee, FNCCI. He said that the private sector is ready to go hand in hand with the government for collaborative approach. Citing that there is a problem of human resource management, he said, “The government as well as privatesector should involve in developing competent human resources via long term and short term trainings.”

“In monsoon we cannot initiate reconstruction work, so we are planning to utilise it by providing training in masonry, carpentry, plumbing et cetera.”

Shiva Hari Sharma, Project Director at CLPIU of MoUD

“Incapable political appointees and lack of pragmatic and innovative ideas to drive the reconstruction work are reasons for the delays.”

Govind Raj Pokharel, Former Vice-Chair of National Planning Commission

“We are speeding up the process of signing agreements in 11 most affected districts. In six districts we have already started dispatching grants via banks.”

Ram Prasad Thapaliya, Spokesperson at NRA

Leading by example

Kathmandu: While many are waiting for the government’s grants and assistance to reconstruct their settlements, locals of Pilachhen at Patan have initiated rebuilding the settlement on their own. Maya Foundation conceptualised the project ‘Pilachhen Reconstruction and Tourism Promotion Programme’, in which 82 totally destroyed houses will be reconstructed bearing the traditional style.

Ramesh Maharjan, President of Maya Foundation said, “We want Pilachhen to be a model project and convey the positive message that locals are capable of rebuilding their own settlements.” said Maharjan. According to him, they estimated Rs 500 million as the project cost for constructing a quake-resistant four and a half storied house. To finance the reconstruction 25 per cent will be met by house owners, 25 per cent by donation, 25 per cent by reuse of remnants and volunteer work and 25 per cent via banking loans.  According to him, they plan to handover the project within 30 months. CE Engineering is providing all required technical support to prepare architectural designs.