Review Nepal News

Chaotic Disaster Governance

Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey
  Kathmandu, Nepal      July 18 2016
Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey

Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey

Governance is the process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented or not implemented. Government is one of the most important actors in governance. Market, non-state actors and civilians are other contributing actors of governance.  The management of complex social-political-economic-environmental problems and the associated risks is called disaster goverance. Disasters include widespread human, material, environmental or economic impacts, which exceed the adaptive capacity of the affected community or society to cope using its own resources. In such crises situations, the role of disaster governance becomes critical as it can provide the formal platform for authorities, public servants, security forces, media, private sector, and civil society to coordinate in communities, and national levels to manage, reduce  and address the anthropocene or natural disasters. Ensuring that the disaster responding institutions are equipped with resources, capacity and skills is the fundamental task of disaster governance. Promoting the capacity for disaster or crisis management comprise at least four steps: disaster prevention, smart preparedness, immediate relief and resielient recovery. Thus, disaster governance is not only linked with responding against the disasters but also to sustainable development.
The role of disaster governance is becoming increasing important for Nepal as it is one of the most disaster prone countries in the world.  Heatwave, coldwave, drought, electric strom, fire, flood, landslide, and earthquake are common and frequently occuring natural disasters in Nepal. Anthropogenic political disasters have historically been affecting Nepalese day to day lives. The most recent one was the six months border blockade resulting from the promulgation of the constitution 2015 followed by protests by  the dissatisfied population in Terai and Indian grievances of not addressing Indian interests in the constitution. Regarding natural disasters, every year, many people lose their lives and property.  These diasters often badly affect the victims’ pathology and psychology for long. One of the most recent case of catastropic natural disasters that vehemently attacked Nepal was the 7.8 magnitute mega earthquake of 2015 that killed 8790, and injured 22493 people. According to National Reconstruction Authority, over a million houses collapsed in 14 most affected districts, destroying the entire village of Barpak in Gorkha.
As Nepal did not have enough capacity, skills and technologies to fight against the giant disaster, it appealed international community for assistance. There was a downpour of national and international assistance right after the earthquake (s). The one and only international airport of Nepal known, as Tribhuvan International Airport, was in chaos, unable to handle the pressure arising from aid-flights. However, in the lack of full-fledged disaster act clearly articulating ‘dos and don’ts’ there was an unwanted chaos in terms of handling search and rescue teams, aid workers, relief materials and distribution systems. The overlapping roles of sectoral ministries, which I call institutional disaster, in mapping the international aid workers and providing them fast-track visa were also found to be lethargic and messy. However, it also needs to be recognized that the process of screening individuals and granting them short-term aid-work-visa is complicated. Yet, government needs to focus on these areas of shortcomings in the making of disaster governance for ensuring smooth, fast and efficient demand and supply of resources to meet the needs on the ground.  
Furthermore, one of the most important issues that the disaster governance act needs to clarify is the roles and responsibilities of the different sectoral ministries to avoid duplication, redundancy and other red-tape complications.  One of the most recent examples of the blurred and contested claims of sectoral authority is in the process of addressing the concerns of earthquake victims in the aftermath of SAR. Although the government seems to be committed on lip-service to promptly complete the reconstruction of the structures affected due to devastating earthquake of 25th April and subsequent aftershocks in a sustainable, resilient and planned manner, ensuring social justice by making resettlement and translocation of displaced persons and families, the National Reconstruction Authority, a national body that is said to have an extraordinary jurisdiction in theory, is doing very little in terms of substance as it became victim of institutional disaster, sectorally contested claims, and ill-willed disaster politics. In fact, the poorest and most vulnerable victims are being excluded from the reconstruction process even after a year of the earthquake. On the one hand, tens of thousands of Nepalese are now facing the second climate extreme monsoon season dwelling in temporary shelters, while US$ 4 billion pledged by donors lies almost totally untouched in the government coffers on the other. Not a single home has been rebuilt with the utilization of the aid fund government has received despite billions of dollars pledges followed by transaction agreements. The earthquake victims need actual reconstruction work to happen, and start to happen fast. Nepal's reconstruction remains an opportunity to rebuild not only a stronger country, but a fairer and more equitable one however the NRA faces stiff criticism as thousands of families have endured adverse weather for more than a year and homes of the victims are unlikely to be built before the monsoon rains, owing to delays in victim identification, building assessment duplication, allocated fund disbursement, institutional disaster and dirty politics. 
Although the government has announced to provide NRs 200000 grant and an additional amount of soft loan to each homeless family, there has been little progress in disbursing the assistance. We know, as the donors state, that the reconstruction progress is too sluggish and the slumbering process is making all of us doubtful about the performance capacity of our government and bureaucratic institutions. Donors are skeptical about the feasibility of implementing their money so some of them are planning to go ahead with reconstruction on their own which may be an alternative path to handle reconstruction process but their transparency and accountability have also been highly questioned for their perennial failure to achieve any goals in terms of developmental impacts.
International experiences inform that the reconstruction process is very complex and problematic. The mismanagement of recovery process in Haiti and the social security system of New Zealand are different paths of addressing post-earthquake recovery process but they share one same feature that is the post-earthquake recovery process is often time-consuming. Haiti turned out be the center of tardiness and inefficiency in delivering humanitarian response. Likewise in Nepalese context, identifying actual victims, assessing the building realistically, identifying sources of fund for one off payment and additional soft loans for victims in villages and cities are immense challenges marred by institutional failure resulting from the dirty politics of who gets what, when, how and where more than concentrating to address the concerns of the actual victims.  The biggest mistakes we have made in handling the reconstruction process is: first we have not yet had a disaster governance act to meet the needs of mega emergencies and second we have mixed up politics with disaster, disaster with monetary gains and victims with non-victims. Making emergency and victim friendly disaster governance equipped with capacity, skills and resources, separating humanitarian disasters away from political, partisan and monetary interests and repairing institutional performance are the only paths to address anthropogenic and natural disasters in timely manner in the future. We must learn from Haiti’s mishandling of the humanitarian response in the aftermath of mega earthquake 2010 and speed up our reconstruction process with determination striving constantly to improve the quality of service delivery in regard to disaster response.
Dr. Chandra Lal Pandey is public policy expert. He is associated with Institute of Crisis Management and Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies.