EDITORIAL: A ray of hope

If the existing criteria remain unchanged no bona fide quake victims will be able to receive the pledged financial assistance of two lakh rupees

The parliamentary Statutory Committee has endorsed the Bill related to National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) seven months after the devastating 7.6 magnitude earthquake on April 25 and May 12 that left over 9,000 people dead and as many as 23,000 others injured. A National Planning Commission report estimated that over 800,000 homes were partially or completely destroyed and the property worth over Rs. 700 billion was damaged. Seven months have already passed but the quake victims are still living in temporary shelters without substantial supports from the government. Whatever relief assistance – Rs. 15,000 in cash – was provided to each of the victims is just a drop in the ocean and it has not helped people return to normal life. The quake victims even in the urban areas are still seen removing debris from the damaged homes on their own without any help from any agency. The criteria set by the government to provide additional Rs. 200,000 to the quake victims seems so bureaucratic that nobody will be able to receive the allocated amount in a hassle-free manner. The US$4.4 billion pledged by various donor agencies and friendly countries during an International Conference for Nepal Reconstruction two months after the quake has also remained unused due to the absence of the NRA.

Belated though, the major parties have agreed on the NRA Bill at the Statutory Committee represented by all the parties in Parliament. An ordinance to this effect had been introduced by the NC-led government on June 22, two days before the international conference. But the ordinance could not come into force due to opposition by the CPN-UML and UCPN- Maoist. However, it is expected that the Bill will pass through the full House within a day or two if the agitating Madhes-centric parties cooperate with the government by not resorting to House obstruction.

According to the new provision, leader of the main opposition will act as vice-chairperson of both the Consultative Committee and Directive Committee, both to be chaired by Prime Minister. Chief Executive Officer (CEO) will lead the Executive Committee which will oversee the overall rehabilitation, relocation and reconstruction works in the quake affected districts. Fourteen lawmakers from the 14 most affected districts will be members of the Consultative Committee. The Directive Committee will have the mandate to endorse policy, plan and budget prepared by the Executive Committee which will function for five years. The donor agencies have been pressing the government and the political parties for the immediate passage of the Bill so that the reconstruction work can move ahead. Once the NRA Bill comes into force, the Executive Committee must focus on distributing the pledged amount as a grant to the victims in a hassle-free manner simplifying the terms and conditions already set by the government. If the existing criteria remain unchanged no bonafide quake victims will be able to receive the fund. The NRA should also focus on allocating enough funds for the reconstruction of over 16,000 damaged classrooms of public schools, health posts and drinking water facilities. The NRA should be businesslike; not the pool of politicos creating hurdles.

Cold deaths

Every year cold waves, with the mercury going below zero, with thick fog all around, and no sunlight for days on end, cause several deaths in Tarai and Inner Tarai, apart from the various diseases from which many people suffer. Cold waves also kill or injure animals and plants, thus damaging crops, apart from humans, particularly children and old people. In the past, it had been seen, as in so many other cases, enough attention of the authorities was not given to the measures needed to minimize the loss of lives.

In this regard, the government’s circular to the 22 district development committees in the Tarai and Inner Tarai to take sufficient measures to prevent the loss of lives during the approaching cold spells should be taken positively. Almost all victims of the cold waves are very poor people because they lack the means to buy clothes and warmth or even lack proper shelters. Coordination between the government’s central and local agencies, greater public awareness, distribution of warm clothes to the needy, arranging bonfires, etc. will go a long way towards minimizing the toll of death and damage