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Resilience after the earthquakes: An ongoing process for Nepal

Sushil Gyewali is the Chief Executive Officer of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) of Nepal, which has responsibility for reconstruction and rehabilitation following the 2015 earthquakes. The former Executive Director of the Town Development Fund, he is a specialist in local governance, planning and urban development, and has a wealth of experience in policy formation, and design and implementation of development projects. The Development Advocate speaks with him about what Nepal has learned about building resilience following the earthquakes, and how this relates to achievement of the SDGs.

In what ways is Nepal better prepared to withstand natural disasters now than prior to 2015?
To a certain extent, Nepal is better prepared, although we cannot yet assert we are fully prepared because it is a process. Talking about preparedness we have to look at the perspectives of the people themselves and the extent they are more prepared. Are they better aware of potential future disasters? How have they incorporated disaster preparedness into their lifestyles? But various government stakeholders are also responsible for preparedness, and Nepal recently opted into a federal system. This makes it a different context from 2015 when there was unitary system. Now, with different levels of government, the system must be adapted – this is a reform process just in its primitive stages. We also must appreciate there are many different stakeholders that are involved in disaster preparedness - this includes private sector and the media.

Do you think the experience of 2015 changed the understanding of resilience in Nepal, as a cross cutting development issue? How?
The attitude towards resilience among the people is changing. Before, the general thinking on disaster management, preparedness and resilience only related to rescue and relief. But now it is broader, and it is understood considering different facets of society; it’s now defined at levels of family, community, government or even institutional resilience. As a cross cutting development issue, building resilience is a process and we must understand it better within the various spheres of Nepal’s society.

Resilience is an issue which cuts across many of the SDGs. For example, Goal 10 focuses on reducing inequalities. In Nepal, what has been the link between earthquake response and recovery and reducing inequalities? 
It is obvious that the marginalized population were most vulnerable to disasters and their households more affected. If we look from the reconstruction and recovery perspective, these people are still struggling to rebuild their houses. They require special attention and support. So we designed a program to identify and support them with socio-technical assistance and extra funding. We’ve now identified around 18,000 households and listed them as vulnerable. They are being supported by various agencies, together with the NRA, with special technical and social assistance, including the Economic Recovery and Livelihood Support Program. Special funding and an extra top-up grant of Rs. 50,000 has also been provided. We realize special attention is needed for the marginalized populations who are very vulnerable, as inequality has a major impact on disaster resilience.

Similarly, Goal 17 recognizes partnerships as a key enabler for sustainable development. What has Nepal’s experience of earthquake response and recovery said about the role of partnerships in development?
We’ve had both good and bitter experiences. Sometimes it’s been very difficult to coordinate and work together in a streamlined manner. Everyone would like to work to their own interest, with their own approach, so they seek a degree of freedom and autonomy. But the need of the overall program is to tie up everyone within a framework, with everyone as a part of an overall institutional approach instead of working in isolation.

But we’ve also had very good experiences. We have a Development Assistance Coordination and Facilitation Committee and different levels of development partners like NGOs, private sector, and others. Under the leadership of the NRA, we have a platform where all stakeholders can feel they are part of the process and can share views and approaches and learn from one another.

We also prepared the Post Disaster Recovery Framework (PDRF), a five-year reconstruction and recovery plan. In this framework, there was a program package for every sector and partner, defining the work areas for private sector, NGOs, government agencies and other development partners. We have designed the institutional framework, financial framework and overall program framework, and everyone is comfortable working within that common agenda. We have been working in a very coordinated way due to this framework. We believe that the NRA, which is responsible for coordinating and leading the agenda, should be flexible to accommodate the concerns of other stakeholders without straying from the goal we must achieve. It is important to remember that process wise one can be flexible but goal wise one has to be very concentrated. If we can do this, partnerships can be managed very well.

As Nepal is now a federal country, how should the process of continuously building resilience be localized?
When localizing any agenda, we have to talk to the community about specific issues and about their needs. They will recognize these issues as their local agenda- we have to start with this approach in the community and at the local government level. Through this bottom-up approach, we can link the issues they identify to the SDGs as well. How we frame and communicate the agenda is the main concern. For example, when localizing the PDRF, we mobilized the local community and local government to devise their own reconstruction and recovery plan and request human and financial resources for it. We have already initiated a process with the local governments to come up with their own recovery plans for the first time in Nepal. The good news is that there are already such plans in 17 districts so far. Now we are integrating these local plans into the national PDRF. Through this integration the local level will consider the national PDRF as their own - as reflecting their own local issues.

A similar approach can be used to easily localize the SDGs as well. By integrating SDGs processes into local plans, the SDG agenda will become their own local agenda. After this, it is important we think about the institutional structure to implement these plans and how it can be incorporated into local institutional mechanisms and systems. Similarly, financial sources are required to link these plans and programs together. When we link these, we will have the SDGs localized and integrated into the whole system, which will be sustainable in the long run.

From Development Advocate 2019 (United Nations Development Program)

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