The post-earthquake reconstruction has been systematized and its possible errors and risks have been reduced through the wide use of information technology. IT has played an important role in making reconstruction reliable and credible.
The 7.6-rector scale earthquake on April 25, 2015 with epicenter in Barpak of Gorkha district and the several subsequent aftershocks affected the erstwhile 31 districts of Nepal and caused huge loss of lives and physical property. It was a big calamity in Nepal’s history. Almost 9,000 people died an untimely death, over 22,000 got injured and physical property worth Rs. 650 billion was damaged in this disaster. There was huge damage in various sectors including houses of the people, buildings of schools and health centers, historical monuments, roads, and drinking water facilities.
So, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was established under Section (3) of the act on reconstruction of structures damaged by the earthquake on December 27, 2015 to promote national interest and provide social justice by rehabilitating and resettling families and individuals displaced by the earthquake, and for early construction of structures damaged by the disaster in sustainable, strong and well-planned manner. The Authority, established for a fixed term of five years, has been working in several areas of post earthquake reconstruction. As the NRA has completed the third year of its establishment, one cannot deny the fact that the NRA has been little slow that expected but a lot has been done till now.
Today’s time of twenty-first century is called the era of Information Technology. Along with the fast development in information technology, its use is increasing in every sector. There is a trend of using information technology widely in modern society to manage information and statistics and to make policies. Information technology has been used in several areas of post earthquake reconstruction and the major ones are discussed below:
Earthquake affected data collection program (damage assessment)
Private houses of common people are the most damaged area in the earthquake. As per the policy of Nepal Government to provide financial grant for safe reconstruction of houses affected by earthquake, in order to make grants available for the reconstruction of earthquake affected houses and to identify beneficiaries, under data collection program of reconstruction of earthquake affected houses, details of the damage of 10,52,948 houses in 31 districts was collected in three stages via tablets in collaboration with the Central Bureau of Statistics. The data collected on tablets by engineers deployed on the field was directly sent to the central server through the internet. This was the first time data was collected using tablets in such large scale in Nepal’s statistical history. After its success, data collections in many enumerations and surveys are being done using tablets at present. The use of modern Information Technology this way helped the completion of the data collection in short time and made quick identification of beneficiaries possible. Beneficiaries had been identified and the task of grant agreements had begun within two months of the data collection.
Identification of private housing beneficiaries
Private housing reconstruction beneficiaries and retrofitting beneficiaries have been identified using the central information system based on the data collected from the earthquake affected regions under the earthquake affected housing reconstruction data collection program and details of the damage collected in the central information system. Details of all the beneficiaries have been managed through the agreement number released through the information system.
Central Information System
The NRA has its own specialized Central Information System. As used by other countries during the post-earthquake reconstruction to manage reconstruction through information system, an information system was developed and executed, especially for private housing reconstruction. Information such as details of the damage, details of the beneficiaries, reconstruction-related works done by the non-governmental organizations, details of the under-construction houses, tranches distribution, details of grievances, details of trained individuals, and details of vulnerable groups and areas have been uploaded in the Information System. The Central Information System has enabled efficient management of about 900,000 beneficiaries in various earthquake-affected districts.
Tranches Distributed using Information System
All details of private housing reconstruction and retrofitting beneficiaries have been uploaded in the Central Information System, and tranches are being deposited in the respective bank accounts of the beneficiaries through the banking system. This has helped control leakages and delays in tranche distribution. The district level offices related to the NRA tally the information of the beneficiaries with the information system while distributing the tranches. The reconstruction beneficiaries receive Rs. 300,000 in three tranches and the retrofitting beneficiaries receive Rs. 200,000 in two tranches. The information system prevents release of second tranche before taking the first tranche, and the release of third tranche before taking the second tranche. This prevents beneficiaries from receiving money through the wrong means. This way, the safer reconstruction has been ensured by controlling tranches.
Management of banks
There has been arrangement to provide grant amount to earthquake survivors through the banks designated from the center. For this, after the identification of the beneficiaries, a bank account will be automatically opened in their name in a branch near them. The bank account gets activated after the beneficiary signs the grant agreement and submits the necessary documents. Cheques from the Treasury Controller Officer will be automatically deposited in the beneficiaries’ account within seven days. The banks also have to enter details of the amount distributed to the beneficiaries in the NRA’s Information System. This system enables the access of the dates on which the beneficiaries took the tranches in one click.
Details of reconstructed houses
The photographs of houses being reconstructed after being listed in the private housing reconstruction beneficiary list and receiving the tranches are sent to the Information System via tablets after an inspection by the technicians deployed in the field. Subsequent tranches is being recommended and the under construction houses are being analyzed on the basis of this information. Details of the houses constructed with the financial aid can be availed easily in the future, too, using this system.
Damage assessment of monasteries
Assessment of monasteries damaged by the earthquake was done using tablets by the technicians deployed in the field in the earthquake-affected districts. Monasteries to be reconstructed and retrofitted have been identified by analyzing the details collected this way.
Over 300,000 grievances - with a request to be enlisted as beneficiaries in the private housing reconstruction beneficiary list - are being analyzed using the information system. Without the information system, grievance handling would have been very complicated. The Information System has been found to be very effective in handling grievances scientifically and in providing justice to the applicants.
Project Monitoring Information System (PMIS)
The Project Monitoring Information System (PMIS) has been developed with details of reconstruction of public schools, public buildings, roads, heritages sites, buildings of health institutions, as well as that of reconstruction-related works done by the non-governmental organizations. The information on public reconstruction activities can be accessed through this information system.
Use of social networking sites
The NRA has been disseminating its policies, reconstruction updates, achievements, success stories, notices etc using Facebook and Twitter that are in popular use these days. This has helped to disseminate the NRA information to the concerned stakeholders.
Website and mobile application
The NRA has its own website and it disseminates its policies, organizational structure, notices, information of employees, work progress and other information through the site. Along with this, a mobile application named Surakshit Ghar (Safe House) has also been used. In addition to this, a toll free number has also been operated to listen to the grievances of the earthquake survivors.
This way, Information Technology has been widely used in post-earthquake reconstruction. The NRA’s Information System is one of the important and large information systems being used in Nepal. Various information systems have been arranged to know the present situation of reconstruction and to monitor and evaluate the ongoing works. Engineers and other technicians deployed in the field dispatch information quickly to the center using Android tablets.
Besides, the NRA is conducting damage assessment of all buildings and health institutions throughout the country in the near future. Reports for top management at the policy-level and for development partners supporting the reconstruction are also prepared using the information system. Employees and experts related to information system have been deployed in the central and district level offices of the NRA. There has been an ample support and collaboration from the international development partners in the development of the NRA’s present information system.
The post-earthquake reconstruction has been systematized and its possible errors and risks have been reduced through the wide use of information technology. IT has played an important role in making reconstruction reliable and credible. It will not be an exaggeration to say that this is a high-level success in Nepal’s government sector. Now, the NRA is working towards handing over the strong and reliable information systems and statistics to the local governments.
Manohar Ghimire is Under Secretary at the Information Management Section and Deputy Spokesperson of the National Reconstruction Authority