Situation Analysis: Nepal Earthquake and Response
A: SLOW GOVERNMENT RESPONSE AT THE BEGINNING
In complaining the government response, however, one must guard against terminal cynicism. Let us try and keep some perspective-this is polity that has barely gotten back on the democratic rails, after the November 2013 elections.
Nearly two decades of conflict, followed by political disarray, have weakened the parties and bureaucracy, and the response of the civil society ‘stalwarts’ has hardly been exemplary. All the Nepalese know why they happen to be where they are, which helps explain why the immediate response to the earthquake was unacceptably slow.
Besides the communitarian spirit of the citizens on the ground, what burst forth this time around was the presence of young adult professionals, who came together, organized, and fanned out across the destroyed valleys and the solidarity among the survivable in the rural villages, making up for the inadequacies of government and big-name NGOs and INGOs. This spontaneous spirit of capable and committed volunteerism gives reason to hope that reconstruction will happen with competent and diligent civic monitoring.
To count further blessings, the Great Earthquake actually saved us from a greater calamity by the day and time that it struck-imagine if it had happened at night or on a weekday. The airport’s single runway did not succumb to liquefaction; the highways remained functional, cement-and-concrete buildings mostly stood. There was no fire in a city populated by gas cylinders. Also to give the state administration its due, there was no looting, the electricity did come back ere long, the cell phone networks held, engineers went in to certify building safety, and other has been a step-by-step return towards normalcy.
B. WHAT CHOICE AND ITS PARTNERS CAN DO AND SHOULD DO FURTHER
HELP RUN SCHOOLS
The April 25 earthquake has damaged most of the schools (about 90%) in a affected districts outside Kathmandu valley. The government plans to reopen schools in the quake hit districts from May 15, 2015, without safe teaching learning environment. In Gorkha, for example, 3,052 out of 4,600 classrooms have been damaged to the extent that they are no safer to run classes in them. In this situation the teaching learning seems impossible unless we help the schools with safe temporary classrooms. There are two obvious possibilities.
• Import classroom size tents or prefab solutions (12X16) and (16X 22) and (18X24) and install them for a season.
• Use local knowledge and material, specially the bamboo poles and cover with tin sheets.
ACTION: CHOICE and its partners are now sourcing larger size tents for classrooms to help some of the affected schools to setup temporary classrooms. We plan to provide 75 temporary classrooms in 20 schools in three districts-Lamjung, Gorkha and Sindhupalchowk once the tents are sourced, transported and installed in selected schools. CHOICE Education RDF is now in process of finalizing schools by collecting data and working with DEOs in these districts.
PREPARE FOR ADDRESSING POSSIBLE OUTBREAK OF DISEASES
We can start now with WASH activities and keep our eyes open for possible worst to come, especially during the monsoon. Nepal representative of the World Health Organization, Mrs. Singh Cautions of the possibilities of occurring sanitation and hygiene related epidemics and asks for timely preparedness to address such issues.
ACTION: CHOICE and its partners have started testing for bacterial contaminations of water sources, and distributing hygiene kits to those who continue to live in the poorly managed camps. CHOICE plans to complete the testing of water sources and distribution of hygiene kits in Dhamilikuwa and Chakratirtha VDCs of Lamjung by the end of next week.
CHOICE understands that
• The task of reconstruction will have to prioritize the rebuilding of schools and health clinics
• Promotion of temporary housing that take the victims through the monsoon and winter
• Building of permanent housing according to climate, location and terrain.
ACTION: CHOICE minutely reviewed the government subsidized loans policy and come to a conclusion that the policy (given below) is irrelevant to the group of people that we are working with-the poorest of the poor; the reason being its mandatory requirement for the collaterals which the poorest of the poor have none. The government proposes to lend up to 2.5 million to the city and 1.5 million to the one from the villages against the collaterals through refinancing plan with the commercial banks. The Central Bank will provide funds to the commercial banks in 0% interest and the banks in return can charge their clients only up to 2%. The financing for reconstruction remains as a huge challenge for CHOICE since it works with the poorest of the poor. CHOICE has developed 4 different plans for low cost housing and ready to start building them once the financing model is finalized.
CHOICE Nepal’s Observation on the Subsidized Loans Policy for Homeowners Subsidized Loan Policy for Homeowners-Irrelevant to the Poorest of the Poor
The Nepal Government is about to launch a Subsidized Loan Policy for Homeowners. Unfortunately, this new loan is irrelevant to most of the poor people of Nepal. The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB), the central bank of Nepal, issued a new policy on the subsidized loans for victims who have lost their home in the 7.8 earthquake that hit Nepal on April, 25, 2015. Reported by the Kathmandu Press on May 6, 2015, the government will provide the Banking Financial Institutions with funds free of interest in order to provide loans exclusively for rebuilding homes. Only Commercial Banks, Development Banks, and Financial Institutions will receive this interest free loan. These financial institutions must provide collateral loans at 2% interest rate (typical is anywhere from 10% – 14%) for the victims of the recent 7.8 earthquake. The financial institutions will still come out the winner in this deal since they are receiving interest on their own interest free subsidized loans.
While the banks win, the people lose. These loans mean nothing to the villagers that CHOICE works with to rebuild their lives. These are the poorest of the poor. They have nothing, let alone collateral, to provide to the financial institution. These people were hit the hardest. Nepalese village homes are typically two stories high. They are built with rock & mud mortar and a thatched roof. They use materials indigenous to their region. All they can afford to use is what they gather. The bottom floor is their food storage & kitchen, or it could be a barn for the animals, the upper room is typically for the beds.
Bishnu Adhahari, Director of CHOICE Humanitarian in Nepal has stated the following.
“The Nepal Rastra Bank (NRB)-the central bank of Nepal issued a new policy on the subsidized loans for homeowner that is completely irrelevant to the poorest of the poor that CHOICE is working with for last 15 years in Nepal. The policy states “this scheme will not be available to those who do not have any collateral” and everybody knows the poorest of the poor have no collateral. The poorest of the poor have been affected the most during the April 25 earthquake as their homes were built by stacking rocks together on mud mortar. Consequently, this new refinancing policy won’t touch the neediest. I hope the government will realize this gap and revisit the policy to bridge it. CHOICE and many other local NGOs are waiting for a definite refinancing policy to support the government in rebuilding.”
C. REBUILDING OF NATION AND HERITAGE
1. Heritage Sites: The restoration of heritage sites is important for the spiritual and mental wellbeing of the populace, for being the base for intangible culture, as a mark of respect to ancestors and history, and lately, for the economic opportunities they represent.
2. Civic Response: In future, we must seek to ensure that there is a civic response to calamities, rather than a reliance on national and international militaries and paramilitaries, though their involvement has been critical. Establishing a system of civic response, and also an instinctive collaboration between state and society should have a paramount priority.
3. Nation Building: Looking beyond 3Rs- Rescue, Relief and Rebuild, the public desperately seeks constitutional stability. It is time to realize the deadlock and skirt around it by promulgating a constitution based on the already agreed provisions. The local election must take place before autumn 2015, so that the important task of rebuilding can proceed under an elected and accountable leadership.
ACTION: CHOICE plans to invite disaster management expert to help local government to put a functional plan and allocate necessary resources to manage calamities of this extent.
–Bishnu Adhikari, Nepal In-Country Director
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Previous update from April 25th.
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