KATHMANDU: The establishment of a Reconstruction Authority will undoubtedly ensure coordination. This authority will deal with a plan, step by step reconstruction process lasting for five to six years. The establishment of the authority was also timely, just before the donor conference when dignitaries from a multitude of countries and development agencies swept into Kathmandu to assess post-disaster needs and commit to supporting the disaster ravaged country.
The earlier one-window approach for earthquake response might not have been the best of decision, since immediate responders are community and bystanders and only later government. It was not possible for the National Planning Commission to coordinate response and instead of focusing on possible malpractice, it might have been better for them to focus on remote areas where aid had not reached.
The political struggle around the establishment of the Reconstruction Authority is, however, ominous. This and the drawbacks seen during the response period provide us with a clear warning for the authority which must not end up becoming a body that restricts but a body that supports and facilitates.
Nepal has some of the best examples in the world of innovative projects in sectors such as tourism, environment, forestry and culture. These have, however, remained isolated examples of ‘best practice’ since the overall system of promoting such activities does not exist. In a similar manner there seem to be more concern that international agencies carrying out relief work did not register with the Social Welfare Council. The government needs to ensure the overall coordination framework which supports those who are doing relief work, whereby monitoring will inevitably occur.
For the government to hold the reins of the reconstruction procedure, they need to be in control. This means that a realistic plan needs to be put in place taking into account the existing circumstances. Initially it will be easier to get funds than the required workers, equipment and material. Once the capacity is built over the coming year or two, the funds might have already started drying up. Along with this, duplication of work and the lack of financial transparency must be addressed. This can be achieved not by restricting all activities, but by inserting monitoring mechanisms in the procedures and demanding accountability and justifications for all actions.
Projects carried out through international funding, whether multilateral or bilateral, have a tendency to be budget-oriented rather than implementation-oriented. Clearly this statement is rather simplistic; how-ever when we talk about the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) the focus is on the 669 billion Rupees that is needed. We of course do hope that the international donor countries and agencies provide sufficient funds, but the funding must come with a clear understanding of implementation and the actual reality on site.
A planning phase over the monsoon months can identify how reconstruction will be carried out. There will need to be capacity building, training, access to materials and expertise.
Preconceived ideas, standardised textbook approaches and misconception often determine actions that work contrary to each other. Is the government ready to carry out planning through open forums? Are the international agencies ready to discuss their plans for what Nepal should be after 10 years? Can reconstruction be carried out with a single vision but sufficient flexibility to allow diversity to survive? In Nepal authoritarian institutions do not function because political and personal agendas soon prevail over the objectives and responsibilities of these governing bodies. The systems that work are those that foster communication and community cooperation. If we take for example the two affected sites shown to the participants of the donor conference, Hanuman Dhoka and Sankhu, we do not require the involvement of a heavy handed Reconstruction Authority, but the delicate guidance of facilitators. What is, however, required is overall coordination and a vision which we all agree upon.
(The author is an architect and can be contacted through firstname.lastname@example.org)