Post-earthquake response: The way forward

Rapid decisions and disbursements will not be feasible if financing is tied up with the rigid government budget and finance cycle because the government structure is not designed for rapid response and action

The Government may have several political agendas but nothing should prevent it from focusing attention on the plight of the survivors of the last year’s earthquakes.

The people of Nepal and the community of nations expect political parties to rise above political differences and speed up the reconstruction efforts in providing basic needs (food, shelter, health, education and means of livelihood) of fellow citizens.

Humanitarian issue is not a partisan issue. Government must not delay and shy away from bold actions.

Delayed actions of the government and ineffective bureaucratic response to the requirements of survivors and communities are of serious concern. Several thousand people are still languishing in tented and dilapidated temporary shelters for over one winter and two monsoons.

If this continues, more will die from hunger, malnutrition and diseases. The status-quo situation is morally unacceptable. An elected government (of the people by the people for the people) has an unquestionable duty to uphold its responsibility.

Now is the time for a Marshal Plan for rehabilitation and reconstruction of devastated areas.Without robust institutional mechanisms with authority, relevant expertise, and skill technical know-how, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) is only as good as another white elephant of government bureaucracy.

The current work focus is on creation of process-oriented bureaucratic jumbles and layers. It is unable to respond swiftly. A built-in capacity of delivery-orientated results-focused processes is the only way forward.

Poor decisions lead to ineffective response and inefficient post-disaster response have created an extraordinary situation.

This has compounded the miseries of the survivors. An extraordinary situation requires bold initiatives and exceptional measures.

The Government must mobilize internal and external resources by forging partnerships with relevant actors in multiple fronts. In the challenging situation response strategy and mechanism should be guided by the time factor, the objective being not to lose more lives.

Basic requirements of survivors must come first in rehabilitation while reconstruction would continue in parallel. This requires result-oriented response mechanism, not bureaucratic-driven response.

It would otherwise be a failure. It has not succeeded anywhere. The current situation can be resuscitated if we can first come out of ‘silo-thinking-mind-set’ and, seriously consider these.

We should reorganize National Reconstruction Authority to energize the organization by appointing a new leadership with seniority, vision, determination, proven management and coordination skills to instill the much needed confidence, energy and wisdom.

A small Policy Advisory and Implementation Coordination Group is needed with seven to nine members from the department (of Housing/Infrastructure, Health, Home Ministry, one disaster management Nepali expert with international work experience, one from the Planning Commission, one from the bilateral donor community and one from the consortium of international organizations).

This group should be co-chaired by the CEO of NRA and the Chief Secretary.

NRA is a technical institution. It does not require a jamboree of politicians. Thus, we need to abolish the Advisory Council and Steering Committee which is headed by the Prime Minister with members from political parties and parliamentarians. NRA is a non-partisan authority with limited duration and a clear mandate.

NRA should plan programs, hire competent personnel and select implementing partners (domestic and international). NRA should have decision-making legal powers and the responsibility of management and coordination without political interference.

It should be held accountable for its actions.

A separate Post-Disaster Reconstruction Fund, managed by NRA should be formed. Donations and funds for this purpose should be deposited into this.

This fund should not be linked with national budget cycle and be managed “outside-regular budget” with an International Public Sector Accounting System for high level of transparency and accountability demonstrating financial credibility.

A separate budget planning cycle is required for accelerated implementation and this can only be done with the “outside-regular budget” mechanism. Rapid decisions and disbursements will not be feasible if financing is tied up with the rigid government budget and finance cycle because the government structure is not designed for rapid response and action.

Reconstruction needs speed, flexibility and multiple actors. Government must establish its credibility and accountability, demonstrate seriousness to do business in openness and transparency.

We should declare Post-Disaster Emergency in earthquake affected-areas and co-opt Nepal Army to secure disaster-affected areas to back up disaster operations.

The army should assist and facilitate field works in communities and with authorities, where needed. The army should be entrusted with legal powers to deal with unauthorized political demonstrations, obstructions, vandalism and any other misconduct.

The army should establish working relationship with other stakeholders and maintain harmony in communities in the operational areas for unhindered implementation of the program.