Six months after a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people and destroyed hundreds of thousands of homes, Nepal is still recovering from its effects.
Restoring the country’s damaged public infrastructure and historic sites and temples, rebuilding private homes, and beefing up economic growth and rural livelihoods are massive tasks. The resilience of the Nepalese people has been remarkable despite the multiple challenges they face. But the adoption of a new constitution, months of strikes and protests in the Terai plains area bordering India, a long monsoon season and now fuel and gas shortages have all challenged early recovery.
The focus on and subsequent amendments to Nepal’s new constitution, approved in September, has resulted in less attention being paid to the earthquake emergency response and the reconstruction process.
One major hurdle is the fact that the National Reconstruction Authority, created by an ordinance in June, has yet to be established. Despite several attempts to get it passed by parliament, the structure of an earthquake reconstruction authority remains under revision and now requires approval by the newly appointed government. The international community awaits the reconstruction authority in order to implement the $4.4 billion in pledges for earthquake response made at a conference in June. Without the reconstruction authority, the work to rebuild has been and will continue to be much slower and far less coordinated.
Blockages at transit border points with India, as a result of continued civil unrest over the constitution, have resulted in fuel shortages, which in turn have also slowed recovery and the distribution of relief goods across the country, costing business significant revenue. Now, at the height of the tourist season, cancellations are high, resulting in a heavy loss to the economy at a time when Nepal needs help the most. The fuel queues are up to five kilometres long throughout Kathmandu city. Even with an easing of the border blockages, it will take some time to clear the backlog. The government has dispatched a diplomatic team to undertake discussions with India, which is expected to help solve the current political situation.
The earthquake recovery in the 14 most affected districts has slowed due to these multiple crises.
As a result, the poorest – those hardest hit by the devastation – continue to face hardship. The humanitarian community is working to provide support in advance of the fast approaching winter season, given that so many rural homes were destroyed and damaged by the quake. According to the UN, 640,000 homes were destroyed or damaged, and an estimated 81,000 households, mostly in high altitudes, will need durable shelter before the winter. Temporary learning centres put in place to replace damaged and destroyed schools also need to be winterized.
According to the findings of the Nepal Food Security Monitoring System, an estimated 530,000 people remain food insecure. Some groups displaced by the earthquake remain in camps. In a recent statement, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Nepal warned: “Eighty percent of the [food] supplies are warehoused in the districts, but acute shortages in fuel supplies continue to impede planned deliveries to affected villages and trailheads for onward transportation using mules and porters.” Some humanitarian partners have relief goods stuck at the Indian border and are unable to bring in supplies. Hospitals and health facilities in the districts are beginning to face shortages in supplies.
Time is of the essence for the task of rebuilding and restoring the economy. Will Nepal be able to tackle the challenges posed by a natural disaster and now exacerbated by a political conflict? As winter fast approaches, the threat to the country’s poorest increases, despite the fact hundreds of NGOs remain in Nepal to help the most vulnerable with durable shelter and winter supplies.
Yet, it is not too late for Nepal to get back on track for earthquake reconstruction and implement the many programs planned for the country.
With a resolution to the current political crisis over the constitution and its amendments, which may be in sight with a new prime minister and president in office, and the establishment of a reconstruction authority, the task of building an even better Nepal is doable.
Nepal has many friends in the region and beyond who are poised to assist the country in achieving full recovery. The Asian Development Bank has pledged $600 million for reconstruction. The World Bank has pledged $200 million for rural housing reconstruction and has started planning with various ministries to get the program underway. Japan, India, China and the U.S. have also pledged significant funds for housing reconstruction (Canada has pledged $10 million). But without a fast-track process for reconstruction within the government, recovery will continue to be a long, slow process for the country.
Rhonda Gossen reports from Kathmandu, Nepal.