Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Conference on Reconstruction: my observations

It is a great pleasure to be a part of the discussion on the International Conference on Nepal's Reconstruction -together with Mr. Kuver Chalise, Mr. Sujeev Shakya and Mr. Shiromani Dhungana. I highly appreciate Nishant Khanal's initiative to organize such debate in social media, and keenly look forward to participating in the discussion this evening.

In the context of the debate, I thought it could be useful to outline some of my observations in regard to Nepal's recovery and reconstruction efforts hoping they would contribute to the twitter discussion. These are the following.

1. The earthquake couldn't have hit Nepal at a better time (Saturday, daytime, relatively warm summer day) and a worse time (a messy political transition and consequently very weak government structure). The immediate damage is far less than we all feared in the beginning. However, the impacts of the disaster can become grave in future. There is the possibility that the impacts will grow into deeper social and economic woes, which would take many years to resolve.

2. Nepal lacks focus and clarity over things/issues/agenda. We have seen this over many years in our national politics. We mix up everything, confuse others with our goals and perspectives, and later on confuse ourselves. How can post-disaster recovery/reconstruction programme be different?! In the present context, Nepal's discourse on recovery shows the lack of clarity on what, how, when, for whom and by whom. Some experts and thinkers have been raising their concern about the messy recovery debates, and are calling political parties to develop focus. The government and political parties choose to ignore the call.

3. Development is a political agenda. Post-disaster recovery cannot be different. Its goals, direction and agenda have to be determined by the political forces -I let the readers decide who the 'political forces' are. Technical experts 'assist' recovery efforts, but they cannot and shouldn't lead it. Political ownership and political will together form the lifeline of a national level recovery programme like ours.

4. The government of Nepal must be able to give a clear message about political leadership and ownership to the international community which comes to take part in this conference. Otherwise, we will just be counting figures, but won't convince the rest of the world that we are able to recover from the impacts of disaster. This will be unfortunate.

5. Nepal needed an independent and high level authority for the post-disaster recovery. We failed in making one. The authority built under the leadership of the PM is a farce and shows only our incompetence. Our PM has to lead the businesses of the current government and more importantly, the constitution-making process. By making him the head of the recovery authority, Nepal's politicians have once again shown to the rest of the world how incompetent and confused they are.

6. Nepal's debates on post-disaster recovery seems contaminated by crude obsession with the construction of infrastructure. Infrastructure is important, but obsession with infrastructure can lead the recovery programme towards complete failure and deeper problems in future. Nepal's recovery efforts must be structured around enhancing people's livelihood and social security. The plan for infrastructure has to be determined on the basis of these two needs. 

[I fear that Nepal's slogan of 'building back better' may eventually be geared towards 'building back bigger'. We are already heading towards this dangerous path. We need to revise this slogan and start saying 'building back smarter'.]

7. No doubt -Nepal has to resolve a number of problems. One of them is our never-ending confusion about the role of foreign nations and/or donors on Nepal's development. Our mediocre media adds to this confusion and continues to misinform the general public about the role of the state and international donors. As a result, Nepalese middle class is too happy or too frustrated too soon. We must develop clarity about the fact that Nepal's post-disaster recovery process must be led, owned, steered by Nepal -and the international community and donors must respond to the needs identified by Nepal.

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