Although there is a possibility for about 80 percent of the earthquake beneficiaries to undertake reconstruction through the self-construction method of shelter reconstruction after a natural disaster, it has become essential to use other miscellaneous procedures for the remaining 20 percent.
Dr. Chandra Bahadur Shrestha
The National Reconstruction Authority has been prioritizing the rapid reconstruction of damaged private residences, which were damaged by the earthquake of April 25, 2015 and the subsequent after-shocks, through the method of self-construction.
Accordingly, the situation is such that out of the 767,705 beneficiaries 129,455 had already received the third instalment by May 28, 2018, which accounts to 17% of the total beneficiary population. The Government of Nepal has adopted a strategy to complete the reconstruction of private shelters by the upcoming fiscal year. As such, since the NRA has entered the latter days of its tenure, it is necessary now to analyze if the present policy is appropriate so that future guidelines can be created.
The international trends for reconstruction of private shelters is broadly defined by three methods: self, community-based and reconstruction through contractors. The idea of self-reconstruction, in fact, came into existence in 1960 after the Peru earthquake. But the task of reconstruction was largely completed by contractors under State or donor agencies. After the earthquake of Latur in India, a wave of self-reconstruction resurfaced and really took pace after the Gujarat earthquake of 2000.
Along with self-construction financial support, technical support and supervision also were encompassed within this approach (vision-method). Currently this approach is advocated by World Bank and other international organizations and due to its multiple positive aspects it has become a universally-accepted approach with regards to reconstruction after natural calamities. Based on this approach, reconstruction was carried out in the aftermath of the Gujarat earthquake in India, the Bam earthquake of Iran in 2003, and the Pakistan earthquake of 2005. After the Tsunami of 2004, even Thailand adopted this method of reconstruction. As a continuity to this method, Nepal too adopted the approach after the earthquake of 2015.
There are various positive aspects of this self-reconstruction method. This method of constructing houses by the people themselves is based on a natural principle in a way. The home owner feels a sense of ownership through this method, and willingness to repair and maintain the houses also is enhanced. Research has shown that the level of satisfaction of the beneficiary after the construction of the house is also high. It can be guessed that their level of satisfaction happens to increase because the beneficiaries build their houses as per their wish. Since the technology used to construct houses in this method also reaches the remote and rural areas, the chances for future construction to be earthquake resistant is also higher.
Despite these various positive aspects, there is doubt if the method of self-reconstruction is replicable and can be made a widespread practice. There are many reasons behind the fact that more than 83 percent of the beneficiaries have not been able to conclude reconstruction of houses damaged due to the quake of 2015 in Nepal up until now.
For example, there is no doubt that the method of self-construction is not useful for those disabled and people who are not capable, who make up more than 18,000 in number of the beneficiaries in Nepal.
Likewise, it is clear enough that this method will not work for those beneficiaries who are not able to establish ownership on the land where the house is to be constructed. This type of beneficiary also exist in excess of thousands in number here in Nepal.
Another type of beneficiary that reside in urban areas, who have damaged houses on their ancestral property, tend to take the grant provided by the State in lieu of that old house with no intention of building a new house. Usually, they have other acquired property elsewhere.
Another is the group of beneficiaries who are residing in the inner urban areas but due to the lack of collateral evaluation and ability to pay back the principal and interest they are deprived of loans from the banks. The situation is also such that there is a hindrance for this group of people to build a house on the inner city land due to the various standards of the city. For these groups of people too, the method of self-construction is failing.
It is evident now that although the concept of self-construction is positive in itself, it cannot be thoroughly implemented. In this course, the National Reconstruction Authority has come forward with a special package (program) for the ones who are not capable, are disabled and helpless. However, the NRA cannot address all of the issues on its own. For example, it appears that the solution for reconstruction that has not been possible due to the land ownership should be initiated by other appropriate entities of the Government of Nepal rather than by the NRA.
The task of recovering the amount already released by the NRA to some beneficiaries, who had other houses besides the one that got damaged in the earthquake, is being actively undertaken. For this, the NRA should receive constructive assistance from the political leadership.
As for the shelter construction of the middle-class beneficiaries of the inner areas of the Kathmandu Valley and other old cities, there is the necessity for the Ministry of Urban Development and the locally-elected officials to engage with the communities that reside there.
Although there is a possibility for about 80 percent of the earthquake beneficiaries to undertake reconstruction through the self-construction method of shelter reconstruction after a natural disaster, it has become essential to use other miscellaneous procedures for the remaining 20 percent. This fact must be considered when formulating policy and legislation for future disasters that may be in store such that more effective and swift reconstruction can take place.
(Shrestha is Executive Member of the National Reconstruction Authority)