Budget and the need to manage disasters

The forthcoming budget is being viewed with widespread interest throughout the country, as it is the first one to come into being after the dawn of total democracy in Nepal. The people are thus expecting a totally new budget unlike the past conventional ones.

The last budgets, except a few in the early 1990s, scarcely produced the desired results. The sudden somersault taken by the budgets of the last few years characterised by allocation of less amounts for development and more for regular expenditure is glaring in this regard.

The provision of Rs. 75 billion for regular expenditure and Rs. 37 billion for development in a Rs. 126 billion budget of last year is a pointer in this direction. The economic affairs enter a more gloomy phase when we find that most of the amount set aside for regular expenditure has been spent while contrary is the case with the developmental budget. This highlights the paucity of developmental work.

More heartbreaking is the use of substantial amounts of such a scarce developmental budget on the rescue, recovery as well as reconstruction following the disasters such as fire, landslide and flood, which have assumed some kind of annual regularity in the country. This is despite the fact that a large earthquake has not rocked the country since 1934. If a seismic bomb were to go off in the not too distant future, as has been predicted as an eventuality by seismic experts, the loss will be huge. The reconstruction will be so massive in scale that it will exhaust the resources of the country as we saw a few years back in Gujarat, India, and in Pakistan recently. The loss in Kathmandu alone is likely to be Rs. 1,000 billion in view of the 40,000 people expected to be dead in case of a large earthquake. The loss will be several times our GDP, of about Rs. 459 billion.

It is unplanned buildings and settlements that lead to such a huge loss. The panacea is to prepare for such a situation. Preparedness is about the conservation of the existing buildings and infrastructure; it is about their care. But the problem is that we do not allocate budget for the preparedness. Whatever we set aside is devoted to new development work. What follows is something of a déjà vu, that whatever we have constructed is destroyed by the disasters every year.

It is high time that we redefine development as that which should be carried out after ensuring the maintenance of whatever existing infrastructure we have. Such a step has been taken several times in the past. Licchavi King Siva Dev II in his Lagan Tole inscription of the year 695AD has quoted Yudhistir of Mahabharata fame as saying that it is best to secure the earlier donations than to make a new one. It means that the existing system should be strengthened first and the new one should be initiated if the resources are available.

Three factors should be taken into account. Firstly, earthquake retrofitting of the buildings and infrastructure should be given attention.

Secondly, the areas vulnerable to landslide and flood have to be addressed. Thirdly, adequate preparedness should be made for the prevention of fire every year. An allocation of one billion rupees this year and the gradual increment in the years to come will head the country in the right direction. This is possible if we can redefine development.