By Ruplal Aidi
As it approaches to the end of its tenure in December 2020, the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) prepares to share its experiences on the post-earthquake reconstruction, lessons learnt, good practices and innovative ideas, along with major achievements and challenges.
In this process, as of July 31, 2020, the NRA reports that out of total eligible beneficiaries of 834,801, 61 percent has reconstructed their houses while 24 percent beneficiaries are currently constructing their houses.
In this context, the NRA has initiated the documentation of Nepal’s earthquake recovery efforts and appealed all reconstruction partners, national and international non-government organizations, donors and individual researchers including private sectors, in the documentation of Nepal’s reconstruction process under the identified themes of private housing, cultural heritage, public infrastructure, livelihood and economic recovery, institutionalization and rescue and relief.
Considering the NRA’s documentation efforts, on July 8, 2020, Habitat for Humanity (HfH) and Housing Recovery and Reconstruction Platform (HRRP) jointly organized a sharing session on ‘Four lessons from the 2015 Nepal Earthquake Housing Recovery’ prepared by Maggie Stephenson on behalf of HfH Nepal. She prepared this document out of experiences shared by the wide range of stakeholders that she had consulted. In her study report, Stephenson has highlighted the potential areas of learning from Nepal’s housing recovery efforts. She has recommended the international humanitarian and reconstruction assistance sector to further focus and improve on the topics of housing finance, urban, institutionalization and socio-technical assistance (STA) for future disaster response whether in Nepal or other post-disaster contexts.
The sharing session was organized to disseminate information pertaining to ‘Four Lessons’ document that has recommended institutions and individuals for more in-depth research on the areas of time (construction deadlines that has led households to borrowing or building to meet terms and condition rather than their own needs including exclusion of vulnerable households from assistance), culture (cultural continuity while reconstructing houses again), information (information flow between national and local authorities and between government and development partners, media and affected communities), vulnerability (investigating vulnerable households house reconstruction at the outset, during or after recovery) and change (change in the household size and structures, migration from rural to urban areas and accelerated sale and development of land).
During the sharing session, she stated that Nepal’s private housing reconstruction has been very encouraging. The distribution of housing grant implementation process has been considered as a successful approach. However, it has not addressed the adequacy of the housing needs of the earthquake beneficiaries as they have continued expanding their houses even after the completion of their house reconstruction.
“Cash grants alone are insufficient as a housing recovery financial strategy and additional measures are needed to address affordability,” she said. She stated that in Nepal, emphasis has been given on grant assistance support but very less debate on reducing costs of construction or to address affordability issue. “It is indispensable to apply diversified strategies to reduce construction costs and increase housing financial services and access to credit for households to afford housing construction,” she added.
Speaking at the session, Chief Executive Officer of the NRA Sushil Gyewali emphasized that the NRA has been continuously working to make house designs affordable and acceptable for which design catalogs volume I & II have been published to provide informed choices for housing reconstruction based on their needs and capacity, including soft loan provisions.
Lena Michaels, independent researcher from the Asia Foundation, stated that the government needs to assess on the implementation of interest-subsidized loans to earthquake beneficiaries as they have not been widely available to targeted beneficiaries.
Describing on an urban issue, Stephenson stated that urban recovery is complex process and requires integrated planning along with integration of infrastructure development such as road, water supply and sewerage management. The urban reconstruction is more problematic than the rural reconstruction due to issues related to land, multiple ownership, right of way etc. She also pointed out that Nepal’s urban recovery was neglected and has lagged behind.
She was of the opinion that there was a need of supporting urban authorities and communities with special technical assistance and financial support services. She recommended strengthening local skills as a priority to mitigate capacity constraints of urban recovery. It needs inclusion of urban expertise in land use planning, infrastructure, cultural heritage and communication from professional bodies, commercial and civil society organizations that could play an important role to support urban recovery.
Most importantly, she stated that urban recovery in Nepal needs to be framed as part of urban development and urban regeneration with active engagement of multiple of stakeholders to address multiple challenges of urban recovery with longer time frames.
In response, CEO Gyewali expressed that the NRA has integrated city planning at few core urban cities like Sankhu, Bungamati and Khokana areas including urban regeneration in few other locations but have been limited by the financial constraints. This requires huge investment, he said.
Likewise, Stephenson described the importance of institutionalization, which is about people as well as policies as explained in the document. She stated that institutionalization is a shared objective and is achievable. She also highlighted the need for future governance of the built environment and continuity of disaster response mechanism in the absence of recovery support systems after the exit of the NRA. She recommended on the utilization of skill, knowledge and experiences of thousands of human resources that have been involved in managing and implementing recovery of Nepal, who could contribute to the resilience of the country.
She further stressed on the need to develop strategies to capture and share learning for continued use of the learning and reiterated that the institutionalization is a shared responsibility and a joint undertaking, and therefore everyone needs to contribute.
CEO Gyewali stated that the NRA has streamlined its recovery and reconstruction activities within the government governance system and the government has recently established the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority (NDRRMA) with the long-term objective of building resilient communities. The NRA has been coordinating and collaborating with the NDRRMA and local governments in order to institutionalize recovery and reconstruction.
Surya Narayan Shrestha, Executive Director of Nepal Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET), stressed on the need to hold more discussions on the NDRRMA and NRA to integrate them into the governance system.
(Ruplal Aidi is National Coordination Officer of the Housing Reconstruction and Recovery Platform)