The need of the hour is to provide safe school buildings to thousands of students who are still studying inside Temporary Learning Centres.
Ima Narayan Shrestha
The 25 April 2015 earthquake destroyed and damaged 49,681 class rooms of 7,923 schools in 32 districts. The government formed the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) on 27 December 2015 under its policy to rebuild all the quake-damaged structures through a single legally-mandated agency. On 29 February 2016, the Central Project Coordination Unit (education) and District Project Coordination Units (education) for the 14 worst-affected districts were formed under the jurisdiction of the NRA. In April 2016, exactly one year after the earthquake, the Central Project Coordination Unit (CPCU) received budget authority from the NRA to rebuild the quake-damaged class rooms. That was when reconstruction of schools gathered pace.
As of now, 4,172 out of the 7,923 earthquake-damaged schools have been rebuilt, and another 2,498 schools are under construction. A total of 18,000 class rooms have already been rebuilt, and another 17,000 class rooms are under construction. The earthquake-damaged schools are being rebuilt through three different modalities: School Management Committees (SMCs), Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and construction firms.
Reconstruction through SMCs
The Executive Committee of the NRA has approved the School Reconstruction Guideline 2016 to rebuild the quake-damaged class rooms through this modality. The SMCs lead reconstruction as per the guideline. The SMC first receives up to 20% of the total estimated budget through the District Project Coordination Unit (DPCU), and more budget is released later on the basis of progress made in reconstruction. Engineers and technical persons mobilised by the DPCU supervise every stage of school reconstruction, ensuring the use of quality materials and adherence to the building code. This modality has been adopted especially in reconstruction of small schools. This modality was adopted in construction of 2,063 quake-damaged schools in the fiscal years 2016-17 and 2017-18. Of them, 1,047 have already been completed and others are under construction. We have a target to rebuild 1,143 schools through this modality in the fiscal year 2018/19. In addition, around 3,000 schools have been repaired and rebuilt with the budget allocated by the then Department of Education to various SMCs through the then District Education Offices in the fiscal years 2014/15, 2015/16 and 2016/17.
Reconstruction through NGOs
Before the CPCU (education) was formed, as many as 70 NGOs had already started the process to rebuild 350 schools by securing permission from the then Department of Education. After its formation, the NRA passed a guideline on the mobilisation of NGOs in the post-earthquake recovery. As per the guideline, NGOs can rebuild classrooms after a tripartite agreement between them, the NRA and the CPCU (education). Their proposals are first endorsed by the DPCUs, and then by the CPCU. The final call on each proposal is made by the NRA. Under this modality, NGOs bear all the cost for rebuilding schools chosen by them. Altogether 758 schools have already been rebuilt by NGOs under this model so far, and 222 quake-damaged schools are under construction.
Reconstruction through construction firms
This modality has been adopted to rebuild the quake-damaged schools with the support from Nepal's development partners and donors like ADB, JICA, USAID and India. The Nepal government signs separate agreements with donor agencies, determining the criteria for selecting construction companies to rebuild schools under this modality. As per these agreements, consultants are hired to design schools and supervise their construction. Apart from rebuilding the quake-damaged class rooms, physical and educational infrastructures like laboratory, library, computer lab, music room, teacher rooms, kitchen, separate toilets for boys and girls, toilets for physically-disabled students, water tap, furniture, solar backup, electrical wiring, fencing, footpath and gate are also built, as per specific needs identified by the project design, under this modality.
Especially big school buildings have been constructed under this modality, and it is expected that such large projects will help transfer the technical know-how of construction of quake-resistant schools to local communities.
Currently, 236 schools under Emergency School Reconstruction Project supported by JICA, 137 schools under Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project being run with a loan assistance from ADB, 17 schools under a USAID-funded project, eight model schools under Japan Fund for Poverty reduction, 70 schools with grants from the India government and 180 schools (in addition to 138 schools chosen for retrofitting) under Disaster Resilience for Schools Project of ADB are being rebuilt.
Constraints and challenges
Lack of sufficient budget has been the biggest constraint in rebuilding the earthquake-damaged schools. A number of quake-damaged schools are yet to be covered by reconstruction projects due to budget constraints. Lack of sufficient workforce is another challenge. Since hundreds of thousands of private and public buildings are being constructed simultaneously and a huge number of able-bodied men and women are working abroad, there is an acute shortage of skilled workforce. Frequent shortages and price rise of construction materials have also slowed the pace of rebuilding schools. Engineers and technical persons working at the DPCUs lack resources, especially motorcycles for field visits. As a result, they have not been able to supervise and monitor construction works more effectively and frequently.
In some cases, office bearers of some SMC, NGO and construction firms chosen for rebuilding schools have shown the lack of alacrity, which has slowed reconstruction work. In remote villages, it would be difficult to transport construction materials. In some cases, schools do not have enough or appropriate lands to build back better. It is also very challenging to send skilled persons to remote villages for reconstruction of schools.
The future roadmap
The NRA now faces a challenge to rebuild all the remaining quake-damaged schools in the remaining two years of its five-year tenure. Reconstruction of as many as 1,252 quake-damaged schools is yet to begin. The NRA has to begin their reconstruction within this year if it is accomplish its mission in time. Even those schools that have already been rebuilt need more class rooms, toilets and infrastructure, and the NRA needs to address this issue as well.
We propagated and adhered to the principle of ‘build back better’ after the earthquake. It is important to follow this principle in rebuilding every single quake-damaged structure, but more so while rebuilding schools. All school buildings must be quake-resistant because they are not just physical infrastructure for educational activities but also a place where people can take shelter in the aftermath of a disaster. Thousands of students are still studying inside Temporary Learning Centres, and we must provide them with safe and comfortable school infrastructure at the earliest.
Ima Narayan Shrestha is Project Director of the Central Level Project Implementation Unit (Education) of the National Reconstruction Authority