Nepal is organizing an international conference on Nepal’s post-earthquake reconstruction in Kathmandu today, with the theme “Towards a Resilient Nepal” amid inter-ministry turf row and without presenting a single voice of all the major political parties as they had made it out earlier and with some critics even going so far as to say that this conference was unnecessary. The conference is taking place three weeks before the presentation of the National Budget. By the time of this writing, more than 139 delegates from 30 countries and 78 delegates from 19 agencies had confirmed their participation while the government had sent out invitations to 70 countries and bilateral and multilateral agencies. A number of ministers from donor countries are to take part in the conference, including the foreign ministers of China and India, and top-ranking officials are to represent various agencies, including WB and ADB.
The donors will want to know how the money is going to be spent. PDNA is silent on how the quake affected families are to benefit from the whole scheme
According to the Post Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) prepared by the National Planning Commission, the total financial value of the impact caused by the April 25 earthquake and its aftershocks comes to Rs.706 billion – Rs.517 billion in destroyed physical assets and Rs.189 billion in the losses and higher costs of production of goods and services. The report estimates that at least Rs. 669 billion is needed to finance the rehabilitation and reconstruction over five years. The government’s main object is to try to win donors’ commitments to provide as much money as possible, preferably in grants or even in soft loans. Finance ministry officials are reported to expect up to 35 percent of the assessed financial needs to be committed by donors, including the confirmed soft-loan commitment of Rs.50 billion by the WB and of Rs. 20 billion by ADB.
The government should not lose its dignity while calling for assistance. The begging-bowl culture developed by Nepali leaders so far has not done the country any good, and the success of any government should not be judged by how much foreign aid it can bring in but how much economic progress the country has achieved. The hastily created reconstruction authority and the defective nature of its composition are not likely to convince the donors about the government’s determination to reconstruct. The donors will also naturally want to know how the money is going to be spent and on what. Even the PDNA is silent on how the quake-affected families are to benefit from the whole reconstruction scheme. Or is the money to be spent only on rebuilding the damaged public structures? The public has not been informed about this. It is estimated that one million quake victims will slip back into absolute poverty (which means an increase of three to five percent in the poverty level). How is the government going to prevent this? Rehabilitation and reconstruction are important but that should include the creation of adequate income-generating activities for the people in the quake affected districts. The donors are likely to raise such pointed questions, including those of accountability and transparency, and the government should answer them convincingly. Or the conference would lose much of its significance.
The National Planning Commission in its Post-Disaster Need Assessment to be presented at the donors’ conference being held today has said that the enrollment and dropout rate in the earthquake-affected districts is likely to rise. It is mainly because of the destruction of their homes as well as the schools. The children who have lost their one or both the parents will not be able to go to schools unless they get support from the government and other organizations. The PDNA report states that the children at higher grades are likely to dropout due to increased demand of labourers in local markets.
The education sector has suffered loss worth Rs 31.3 billion in the 14 most affected districts, and it will require Rs 30.70 billion for recovery and reconstruction. Apart from recovery and reconstruction plan, the government should also come up with a special plan so that the school-going children can continue their studies. The children should be given financial support for a limited period along with a provision of free distribution of textbooks, learning materials and school uniform.
A version of this article appears in print on June 25, 2015 of The Himalayan Times.