Nepal’s recovery process since the 2015 earthquake
Author: Jini Agrawal
Originally Published at Peace and Conflict Monitor on: 07/05/2016
Nepal was hit by massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake in April 2015 that caused immense damage to the nation. The catastrophic earthquake was followed by more than 424 aftershocks having local magnitude of 4.0 or more and four aftershocks greater than magnitude 6.0 (NRA, 2016). This movement of the tectonic plates caused widespread destruction to residential and government buildings, school and health posts, bridges, rural roads, heritage sites, agricultural land, hydropower plants, trekking routes, and sport facilities among others. As per the figures, 8856 people lost their lives and 22,000 were injured, 800,000 private houses were fully or partially destroyed and 8,300 schools and 960 health facilities were affected (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Disaster Relief and Recovery Information Platform , 2016). The earthquake affected 31 districts in Nepal out of total of 75 districts (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Post Disaster Need Assessment, 2015) and it is estimated that lives of eight million people, almost one-third of the population of Nepal, have been impacted (NRA, 2016). Despite this widespread destruction, so little has been done in the country a year since the earthquake.
The recovery process in Nepal has been unexpectedly slow, which has been attributed to several conditions. These include the unpreparedness of the government and other stakeholders, political instability causing blockage in supply of essential materials, harsh weather conditions, delays in formation of the National Reconstruction Authority, and the remote locations of many affected villages.
Challenges since the Earthquake
Nepal is exposed to multiple recurrent hazards and it ranks 4th, 11th and 30th in terms of climate change, earthquake, and flood risk respectively (Dangal, 2011). Despite knowing the high risk of earthquake hazards that the country is exposed to, so little was done on preparedness.
First of all, the government did not have an emergency response unit, system, or plan in place that could handle a crisis of this scale. One of the best examples to show this is the country has only one international airport with only one runway. Immediately after the disaster, countries flocked in to help with rescue teams and emergency supplies, but were met with painfully long waits to land in the only international airport of Nepal. Even when supplies were obtained, by not having a system in place, there was lack of coordination leading to replication and unorganized efforts.
The geo-hazards and difficult weather conditions added to the already existing complexity of the recovery process. Landslides and avalanches were triggered by the earthquake causing further destruction and adding complications. 4,312 landslides were identified in the 14 most affected districts thus blocking access to highly dispersed villages (Koirala K. , 2016). Massive debris avalanches followed, wiping out several villages and killing hundreds of national and international people.
The monsoons in particular added another layer of difficulty. Rains exacerbated the impact of the earthquake by triggering landslides and flooding communities already knocked back, impeding the ability of individuals and communities to restore livelihoods and impeding the ability of humanitarian actors to reach remote communities with the most urgent relief services (UNOCHA, 2015). Many people in the mountainous region of Nepal still lived in tarpaulins set up for the monsoons when they encountered snow and suffered through a brutal winter.
While people in the rural areas were suffering immensely, the government did not show much progress in terms of their plans and policies for the reconstruction and recovery effort. The government announced a bill for the establishment of a National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), a national body reporting to the Cabinet, which would be empowered to set recovery policies, and to provide oversight to the recovery efforts provided by the international and local actors (UNDP, 2015). However, the lack of consensus among major political parties stalled the passing of the bill for eight months after the disaster (Shrestha, 2016). After its establishment, the NRA received criticism for delaying aid distribution and holding up the reconstruction process. According to the Association of International NGOs in Nepal, there has been lack of clarity from the government, INGOs operational space has been repeatedly squeezed with taxation concerns, and there have been delays in processing project agreements (Spotlight, 2015). The INGOs have attracted US $200 million worth of aid for Nepal but the government has let politics interfere with humanitarian needs (Spotlight, 2015) leaving thousands of families stranded in temporary shelters.
Nepal secured a political consensus to promulgate a new constitution during this time. However, the constitution sparked unrest in the southern plains of the country as people said that the constitution did not fulfill their aspirations and 57 people lost their lives in the protest(Shrestha, 2016). This further led to blockage of the border areas thus impeding the circulation of essential supplies to the country including fuel, cooking gas, medicines, and food supplies among others. The shortage of fuel and other supplies added additional hindrance to the recovery process as construction materials and other essentials could not be supplied to remote villages of the country.
It is estimated that the country requires US $7 billion (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Post Disaster Need Assessment, 2015) for the successful recovery and reconstruction process following the earthquake. The government organized International Conference on Nepal Reconstruction in which international donor countries and organizations pledged around US $4.4 billion (Spotlight, 2015) however, the funds have not been utilized efficiently.
Impact of the Earthquake
Nepal has not experienced a tragedy of this scale in close to a century now. This disaster largely affected rural areas, with the most poor and vulnerable disproportionately impacted (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Post Disaster Need Assessment, 2015).
All the sectors of the country have been effected by this unfortunate event and it has disrupted the livelihoods of millions of people. Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, is expected to have been critically affected, seriously effecting livelihoods and food security (WFP, 2015) The majority of assets lost or damaged in the earthquake were tools and infrastructure associated with agricultural livelihoods, leading to lower expectations of agricultural production (News: WFP, 2016). Many cultivable lands have been washed away by landslides and farmers lost their produce due to collapsing of buildings and storage facilities. Also the earthquake happened at the time when people sow rice and maize for the entire year and unfortunately it got disrupted. About half of the food consumed in rural areas is self-produced (WFP, 2015) which has decreased significantly this year. Markets were impacted widely. Out of 91 markets assessed in 10 districts after nine months of the disaster, 50 percent were not functioning, 40 percent were showing early signs of recovery, and the remaining 10 percent were functioning but with price increases and some commodities not available (OSOCC, 2015).
There is a significant proportion of the Nepali population that subsists just above the US $1.25 line but below US $2.00 (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Post Disaster Need Assessment, 2015) and this disaster has pushed more people, around one million, below the poverty line, thus exacerbating inequalities in Nepali society (NRA, 2016). Deterioration of water and sanitation services, disruption of schools and health services, and the possible food insecurity will lead to a bigger impact on multidimensional poverty (GoN, Nepal Earthquake 2015: Post Disaster Need Assessment, 2015).
Nepal is well known for its range of Himalayas, adventurous trekking routes, and pristine natural beauty. The earthquake heavily impacted the tourism industry of Nepal as popular trekking routes sustained damages from the earthquake and its associated landslides and avalanches. Various aspects of the disaster have posed safety concerns for tourists and hence Nepal attracted 31.78% less tourist than the previous year (Prasain, 2016). Travel and Tourism contributes 9% to the total Gross Domestic Product and supports 3.5% of total employment in the country (WTTC, 2015). The Tourism Employment Survey 2014 shows that every six tourists create one job in Nepal and the tourism industry provides poor communities with better access to revenues generated by the tourism market (Prasain, 2016). Therefore, the disaster impacted the livelihoods of around one million people who are dependent on tourism.
The earthquake posed a significant disadvantage to vulnerable groups including women. Fifty-five percent of those who died were female, with data showing that women and girls have been disproportionately affected by the earthquake, depending on their social roles and locations (UNOCHA, 2015). In the aftermath of the disaster, sexual violence, exploitation and abuse, trafficking, forced prostitution and marriage were all heightened. As per the recent report by National Human Rights Commission, 16,500 Nepali citizens, mostly women and children, were trafficked in the year 2015 and 2016 (TKP, 2016). The report also claims increase in vulnerability of trafficking especially of women and children has increased by 20 percent after the earthquake (TKP, 2016).
Many people in rural places have started building houses on their own, tired of waiting for help from the authorities; more than 31,000 families according to one report (Shahi, 2016). For these families it is not a choice but a compulsion to start rebuilding on their own due to delays in reconstruction plans and policies. It is also estimated that four million people are still living in temporary shelters, while 113,384 families have moved back into homes that are at risk of collapse during aftershocks (AFP, 2016). The government announced a provision of US $2000 grants and up to US $25,000 in subsidized loans (Shahi, 2016) to each family rendered homeless by the quake. Despite such promises, access to financial support is still out of reach to many families. Only 641 families have received reconstruction funding at the time of this writing (AFP, 2016), which is less than one percent of the total individual houses to be reconstructed.
Recommendation and Conclusion
Disasters occur every year in different parts of the world, thousands of people lose life, and billions worth of infrastructural destruction takes place. The key to minimize any disaster is being prepared for it. The governments of all countries, including Nepal, should be prepared for disasters of this scale so that impact of it can be significantly minimized. For this, the governments should be encouraged to implement the Hyogo Framework’s three strategic goals: integrate disaster risk reduction into sustainable development policies and planning, develop and strengthen institutions, mechanisms and capacities to build resilience to hazards and systematically incorporate risk reduction approaches into the implementation of emergency preparedness, response and recovery programs (UN/ISDR & UN/OCHA, 2008). The disaster in Nepal clearly shows that by not having an emergency response system in place, the response and rescue effort was delayed with multiple confusions, exacerbating the scale of the crisis.
At this point, the Government of Nepal should prioritize the recovery efforts through different ministries and the NRA. Essentially, the government, at large, should be a facilitator, a regulator, a leader, and a policy maker, instead of an implementer, which is a function better suited to the private sector and non-profit partners. In addition to this, good communication with the donor community can foster better relationships and reduce political intervention into humanitarian work. Witnessing how people have suffered during the harsh weather conditions, the government should expedite the disbursement of funds by putting an effective system in place. Furthermore, the government should not overlook the impact the earthquake had on livelihoods of people and hence programs that can open up markets, support farmers, and create sustainable growth in districts should be introduced with special attention to highly vulnerable groups.
In particular, considering how millions of people depend on tourism for their livelihoods, this sector of the economy should be given strategic consideration in reconstruction efforts and future disaster preparedness plans. The main trekking routes of Nepal that attract thousands of tourists should be assessed and information on its condition should be shared with tourist recipient countries.
“Earthquakes as a disaster do not kill people but collapsed buildings do” (UNOPS, 2013) which means that if buildings are built properly, there will naturally be less damages and casualties. Emphasis should be given on rehabilitation of key emergency facilities such as schools, hospital buildings, army and police offices, government buildings and so on. This earthquake is considered to be a “Lucky Earthquake” as it hit the country on a Saturday at noon when children were not studying inside highly vulnerable classrooms. The death toll of young people could have been much higher considering that nearly 8,000 schools were completely or significantly damaged. Thus, this earthquake should be taken as a wake-up call for the revision and stricter implementation of building codes. This will definitely help to reduce loss and casualties in the country during future seismic events.
Nepal as a country has very high seismic risk and what was experienced during the 2015 earthquake must be taken as a very important lesson for the entire country. The ongoing challenges to reconstruction and recovery are immense, but it is also an opportunity for all the stakeholders, including the government, to improve the lives of earthquake-affected families and to develop improved disaster preparedness policies for the future.
Bio: Jini Agrawal is leading Miyamoto Global Disaster Relief, Nepal, and is working on several reconstruction related projects since the earthquake. Immediately after the earthquake, she assisted a team of BBC journalists on covering stories and travelled to the earthquake affected districts with them. She was a student of Media, Peace and Conflict studies in University for Peace. Link to videos: