Despite all its shortcomings, the beneficiary survey was a cornerstone of post-earthquake reconstruction. The database prepared on the basis of the results of the survey was important not just for distributing housing grants but also for mapping hazards and preparing for future disasters.
Dr. Chandra Bahadur Shrestha
Three years and eight months have passed after the earthquake. It has also been three years after the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) was established. The first three years of post-earthquake reconstruction were very challenging, but it was also a thrilling time.
One of the most important achievements of this period was the completion of a beneficiary survey. The survey had already started when the reconstruction campaign took off in December 2016. It was conducted as per an agreement with the World Bank, and it was important in preparing a list of earthquake-affected families entitled to housing grants.
The one-year-long survey was conducted at a very trying time. Local elections were yet to take place, and local bodies were led by the government staff that mostly stayed outside their duty stations. The survey required a huge number of engineers, which we did not have at that time. The questionnaire of the survey was ambitious in the sense that it aimed to exact varied data like extents of damage and socio-economic condition of beneficiaries. Interviewing each family needed three hours on an average. Although details of damage were collected from beneficiaries themselves, the surveyors’ conclusion regarding the extent of damage was trusted by the NRA. So the list of earthquake-affected families entitled to housing grants was disputed by thousands of families. They claimed their houses were also damaged, but the surveyors did not include them in the list of beneficiaries. The NRA collected grievances about this issue from as many as 200,000 families, and we are still in the process of clearing them.
Despite all its shortcomings, the beneficiary survey was a cornerstone of post-earthquake reconstruction. The database prepared on the basis of the results of the survey was important not just for distributing housing grants but also for mapping hazards and preparing for future disasters. The database will later be handed over to the local governments, and a similar survey will not be needed in the event of another disaster. But what is important is to develop such a detailed information system even in the 44 districts unaffected by the 2015 earthquake.
To deal with future disasters, the government must strengthen the capacity of National Disaster Management Authority under the Home Ministry. The authority must have its own information database if it is to effectively manage disasters. If we can link this information database with the process of approving housing designs and registering births, deaths and marriages at local levels, we will have a very comprehensive information system. Every birth registration or approval of housing design is entered into the database, we will always have an up-to-date information system, which will be effective in disaster risk reduction and preparedness.
A database of private houses would be useful for developing land use and development plans as well. A lot of human settlements are located in seismically hazardous and landslide-prone areas, which need to be relocated to safer places. In most places, houses are not in a cluster. They are scattered around mountainous slopes, and it would be an uphill task to deliver government services to every doorstep.
Delivering services to such settlements would be costly. For example, if the per capita investment of a drinking water project is Rs. 5,000 in a cluster of houses in a hilly district, this goes up to Rs. 30,000 in a remote place where houses are scattered. If we can have a database of private houses, their types and geographical locations, we can identify and tackle challenges in service delivery. We can find out ways to improve service delivery, and design and implement development plans. Such a planned development will reduce the extent of damage caused by future disasters, and the country will embark on a journey to prosperity.
Dr. Chandra Bahadur Shrestha is a member of the Executive Committee of the National Reconstruction Authority