Help Nepal rebuild, to better withstand natural disasters

Kishan Datta Bhatta considers the support needed by quake-hit nation

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 May, 2015, 12:46pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 May, 2015, 12:46pm

The earthquake and aftershocks in Nepal have devastated communities and traumatised a nation. Although the government, international agencies, local organisations and individuals are providing humanitarian assistance, it has yet to reach affected people in the remotest regions.

As the government begins to discuss post-quake planning and reconstruction, three major actions are needed to support the people and enhance sustainable recovery.

First is the rescue and treatment of victims; second is the provision of relief materials and services, such as temporary shelter, food, clothing and emergency services; and third is the planned reconstruction and rehabilitation of settlements. The first two must be addressed within a short period of time; the latter, however, needs long-term vision and planning.

In a country with a per capita gross domestic product of less than US$700, and which has faced more than 10 years of internal conflict and the absence of an elected government for more than a decade, the reality is that the current government has failed miserably to properly respond to the crisis. In this situation, donor agencies and countries have a vital role to play to support the rehabilitation process.

It's essential that stakeholders consider some of the key planning issues before carrying out such programmes in Nepal.

First, Nepalese towns and cities had not been developed to respond to predictable disasters and risks. Community awareness and preparedness is also poor. Thus, in the post-quake scenario, we must plan responsibly to develop a secure environment for the population, who need access to safe housing as well as utilities, infrastructure and employment opportunities.

Second, a lack of proper planning and design standards and weak implementation have resulted in poorly designed and constructed buildings and infrastructure, which were severely damaged or destroyed in the quake. Proper guidelines and standards should be prepared that take account the geological, structural and local context, to create safer, more resilient communities.

Third, few, if any, trained planners, architects, engineers and contractors were employed in the construction of most Nepalese buildings and infrastructure. Those buildings that were well-planned and engineered did not collapse or suffer severe damage in the quake. So we must employ trained professionals and experts.

Fourth, although several institutions are responsible for planning and development, there is little or no coordination between them. This must change.

In addition, given the lack of planning, it is crucial to empower local institutions by recruiting professional staff and developing proper funding mechanisms. Donor agencies and non-governmental organisations could play a vital role in providing financial assistance and technical support.

Meanwhile, the prevailing institutional and legal framework for development and construction has discouraged local communities to actively participate in the planning process. Communities must be made more aware of the development, resource utilisation and heritage conservation issues, as well as local rights.

International and local organisations and community networks could help manage community discussions, encouraging participation and promoting community-based strategies for disaster-risk management. This gives priority to community needs and views.

Last but not least, Nepal can learn much from the post-crisis planning and reconstruction in other earthquake-prone nations such as China, Haiti and Japan.

Dr Kishan Datta Bhatta is an assistant professor at Nepal Engineering College, Bhaktapur