Four years of journey provided us an avenue to explore strengths and weaknesses of the reconstruction effort in the Nepalese context and provided opportunity to help the GoN embed the BBB principle in the reconstruction effort aligning with JICA’s development assistance strategy on resilience building.
By Bidhya Pokharel
“Fortunately, that day was Saturday and our children were at home, we saw the buildings demolishing that in a moment turned into rubbles…we never expected life would be revived again, our children would be able to study again…and today is like a dream come true”.
These were the voices heard from the parents attending the grand gathering of inauguration ceremony of the newly reconstructed buildings of Shree Himalaya Secondary School on 6 June 2019 in Barpak, the epicenter of April 2015 earthquake.
The complete infrastructure with modern amenities required for an ideal academic institution, including multi-hazard resilient buildings, multi-purpose hall, practical lab, separate toilets and necessary furnitures, was handed over to the School Management Committee (SMC) on that occasion.
Similar infrastructures are being reconstructed in 236 schools in six earthquake-affected districts of Lalitpur, Makwanpur, Dhading, Nuwakot, Gorkha and Rasuwa under the Emergency School Reconstruction Project (ESRP); the Project under Japan International Cooperation Agency(JICA) ’s soft loan to the Government of Nepal (GoN).
While it is mesmerizing to see such spectacular academic structures getting ready for the future generation, journey to arrive to this point carries its own story of challenges and attainments that could be valuable lessons learnt for future reconstruction. This article aims to document major observations, challenges before, during and after the completion of the school reconstruction including direct and indirect achievements of the Project. It aims to share the learnings of the four years of Hercules journey of school reconstruction through the JICA financing.
Getting started; Before reconstruction
Initially, although the GoN decided to reconstruct all damaged public infrastructures, including community school buildings with disaster-resilient structures, there was a lack of structural designs that embeds the principle of Build Back Better (BBB). Recognizing the need, JICA during the preparation of the loan project, assisted the GoN through technical cooperation scheme to develope several Type Designs of the schools under BBB concept as well as construction supervision guidelines in coordination with other partners like the Asian Development Bank. This preparation paved a way for an immediate start of the reconstruction work after signing of the loan agreement for the ESRP. 37 Type Designs of the schools were prepared under the technical cooperation scheme that has been expanded to 153 till present, including two Special Designs for schools with special needs. These designs are uploaded in the website of the Central Level Project Implementation Unit (CLPIU) of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) that are being adopted by other stakeholders supporting reconstruction of the schools.
Second challenge to immediately start the Project was a lack of data on damaged schools. Although Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) provided rough estimates of the damaged schools and required costs, reaching the unreached was a big challenge. For this also, JICA assisted the GoN to conduct quick survey of damaged schools through the technical cooperation scheme that was followed by the loan Project. 83 schools were selected in the first batch of school reconstruction out of quick field survey conducted from the long list of damaged schools provided by the then District Education office of the respective districts. In most of the schools, land space and ownership was the major problem. It was a lesson learnt that detail feasibility of the school was mandatory in context of data gap because several schools in first batch faced several technical issues like site relocation that affected the construction schedule.
Thirdly, constructive engagement of the School Management Committee (SMC) in BBB oriented reconstruction activities was one of the challenges. While SMC’s involvement in reconstruction was inevitable, following the past practice of SMC’s involvement in construction work of the school was difficult in the construction modality adopted for the Project where professional contractors have to be hired in order to ensure BBB concept as mandated by JICA’s financing requirement. Accordingly, SMC was given the role of coordination and facilitating the overall reconstruction. A Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between SMC and the CLPIU was introduced demarcating the responsibility of the SMC, contractor and the CLPIU during and after the reconstruction of the school. Such engagement of SMC played a crucial role in smooth implementationof the reconstruction work enhancing its ownership. In several instances, SMC took the lead in monitoring the construction progress, solving local level social disputes, and timely reporting of the issue to the CLPIU.
During reconstruction; Learning by doing
The ESRP conducted reconstruction in three batches. The reconstruction of the first batch for 83 schools started in May 2016 that provided 15 months construction period to all the schools. It, however, underwent several construction management challenges. Poor construction management capacity of a large number of contractors could not properly handle the remoteness of the site and inaccessibility during the monsoon season, and critically lagged behind the reconstruction progress. It's poor progress demanded review of the implementation progress and the procurement for the second and third batches was slightly delayed. Several interventions out of series of consultations between JICA and the CLPIU/NRA were made to address the poor progress of construction work of the first batch as follows:
It was realized that the effective procurement process would lead to efficient contract management, hence, the procurement was given priority in selecting the professional and capable contractors for the second and third batches of reconstruction. The bidding document was improvised accordingly. Some major improvements included making bigger size contract packages ranging from Rs. 100 million to above Rs. 500 million adopting cluster approach to avoid scattered site selection, strict performance evaluation criteria was put on the bidding documents, introduced safety measure cost in BOQ item, construction duration of each school was determined as per the school’s location as well as accessibility through the pre-site visits by contractors as such. Similarly, the procurement evaluation was strictly monitored by the CLPIU to discourage poor performing contractors in the first batch; several cancellation of tender and retendering occurred in effort to select capable contractors.
The reconstruction of the second batch of 27 schools started in May 2017 while the third batch of 131 schools started in May 2018. In comparison to the first batch, construction progress of second and third batches is satisfactory. The implementation phase has been a Hercules journey with several learnings by doing.
After completion; Necessity of follow-up
The completion of the reconstruction itself is a laudable achievement. The reconstructed school buildings not only secure safe learning environment to thousands of students but also could be utilized as a safe shelter house in any kind of natural disasters in future because of its multi-hazard resilient structures.
On the other hand, completion of reconstruction has demanded several follow up efforts. Quick survey conducted by JICA on completed schools observed the issue of effective utilization of the reconstructed facilities. Poor maintenance has led to breaking down of some of the facilities in number of schools largely due to a lack of budget and awareness level of the school community.
The issue has been conveyed to the local government representatives, who are the main responsible entity to take the ownership of the facilities and provide necessary budget to the schools, in several occasions including handover ceremonies of the reconstructed schools. While issue has been raised and communicated and local government representatives have expressed commitment to provide necessary support to the school, it needs constant monitoring. To borrow the remarks from Chiribabu Maharjan, Mayor of Laliptur Metropolitan City on the occasion of handover ceremony at Shree Tika Vidhyashram, Sanepa; “The two best ways to give return to the huge investment on schools reconstruction are, i) enhance quality of education and ii) properly maintain all the infrastructures and facilities reconstructed which falls under the responsibility of the school as well as the local governments”. It is important to ensure that physical facilities are well utilized and quality education is improved in the reconstructed schools.
Embedding Build Back Better (BBB) concept in school reconstruction has been an attainment
In course of four years' journey to school reconstruction, the Project put every effort attaining BBB concept embedded in the reconstruction work. It is noteworthy to share how BBB principle has been embedded in the ESRP from policy to project implementation. The concept can be understood as the reconstruction phase after disaster to increase the resilience integrating disaster risk reduction measures into restoration of physical infrastructure and societal systems. The key points of understanding is ‘resilience comes by reducing vulnerability and vulnerability has several facets such as physical, institutional, social, environmental, economical etc’. The ESRP emphasized to reduce vulnerability of disaster largely in terms of physical infrastructure as well as institutional aspect.
In terms of physical infrastructures, schools under the ESRP have been designed and reconstructed with multi-hazard resilient structures that can be utilized as shelter houses in any natural disaster in future. Specifically, 153 Type Designs prepared for multi-hazard resilient infrastructure under the Project are being utilized nationwide for school reconstruction. Resilient physical infrastructure is the foundation of quality education and embedding BBB principle in most of the school reconstruction can be judged as a laudable attainment.
Similarly, the BBB concept has not only been emphasized during the design period, it was also strongly monitored during the implementation of the Project until the completion stage through several institutional strengthening mechanisms. The capacity development of the contractors, local engineers and the GoN counterparts has been a consistent process in order to reduce institutional vulnerability. Although reconstruction provided abundant opportunities to the national contractors, lack of experience in building resilient structures following all minimum standards keeping the BBB principle posed a challenge to ensure the quality of work. The ESRP provided an opportunity to a large number of national contractors to learn effective construction management implementing the BBB principle.
Likewise, the ESRP made consistent effort to strengthen the procurement and contract management capacity of the main counterpart the CLPIU/NRA through trainings to Japan; series of constructive dialogues and exchanging minutes of discussion for effective contract management. Enhancing capacities of the concerned stakeholders helped institutional strengthening mitigating the risk of institutional vulnerability.
Thus, the four years of journey provided us an avenue to explore strengths and weaknesses of the reconstruction effort in the Nepalese context and provided opportunity to help the GoN embed the BBB principle in the reconstruction effort aligning with JICA’s development assistance strategy on resilience building.
(Bidhya Pokhrel is Senior Program Officer in JICA Nepal)