Lesson for rebuilding Nepal: Aftermath of Earthquake


In May 2008, Myanmar was devastated by a deadly cyclone Nargis, killing 140,000 people and over 3 million became homeless overnight. Myanmar citizens rushed to help and rescue the cyclone victims, and the world joined hands, mading pledges and flying aid workers in overnight.

With the military rule and an absence of international engagement over the years, there were concerns about international engagement response being limited.  The Government, UN team and ASEAN sat together in what became the Tripartite Core Group (TCG) which helped build confidence and supported with policy and strategies towards relief and reconstruction.

There was free and uninterrupted flow of aid materials and all international aid was directly delivered to the affected population. A comprehensive assessment of relief and reconstruction needs, as well as a comprehensive recovery plan was drawn in partnership with the Government, UN, Financial Institutions ( WB, ADB) and INGOS.

The UN used clusters system to ensure delivery and monitoring of humanitarian needs, working closely with INGOs and government ministries. It played a major role in enhancing logistical support and facilitated prompt deliveries of relief supplies.

Several high level events were held between Government, ASEAN , UN and international donors to mobilize international support. The UN Secretary General, Head of UN agencies, Ministers from various countries visited Myanmar to witness relief efforts.  With the release of Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi from house arrest, there were opportunities for her engagement, and she played a crucial role in renewed international engagement and increased funding.

National and international support helped save lives and reduced people’s suffering. But, there remained a huge shortfall in funding for reconstruction, and full recovery could not be completed.

Following the tragic earthquake of 25 April in Nepal,there has been an outpouring of help for rescue and relief from Nepalese and international communities. Nepal has been relatively lucky in that the death toll could have been much higher. Still, damage to houses and old monuments and infrastructure has been immense and there is the mammoth task of healing and reconstruction.

Nepal’s political transition with differences and mistrusts among parties, coupled with toughmountain terrain, means that managing a disaster of this scale understandably remains a challenge and can be overwhelming, for any developing country. A month on, there are still reports of people not receiving food shelter or other relief support.

The International community plays a crucial role in responding to major emergencies globally, complementing national efforts. Channelling resources announced by friendly governments for relief purposes through international organizations and civil societies is a normal practice, and their engagement is crucial to save lives and rebuild.

Post-tsunami Ache is considered a successful example in both relief and reconstruction effort with strong government leadership and good coordination, while allowing space for strong partnership with the international community.

It is a sad moment for Nepal, with so much loss of life but it is also an opportunity to come together and build back better. Taken from my first hand experiences in Myanmar, here are a few key issues which could be pertinent for Nepal right now.

First, Comprehensive Assessment of Needs: This must be done in an all-inclusive manner with the engagement of all key players ensuring full credibility and independence. All efforts must be made to ensure reconstructtion of all damaged infrastructures promoting self-reliance and full recovery for people.

Second, Management of Relief and Reconstruction: It is crucial to continue to allow free flow of relief supplies and unhindered access to partners to all the affected areas. Basic needs must be planned for three to six months or longer, but critical to ensure that dependency on aid is avoided. It is important to closely coordinate and monitor all supplies to ensure that aid is reaching all areas as needed &avoid politicization of aid. There must be strong measures to target the neediest and stringent criteria should be established for this. Special effort is needed to meet the needs of women, girls and the vulnerable population such as the elderly and disabled.

Third, Relief and Reconstruction Strategy:A certain amount of relief support will continued to be needed for vulnerable families or individuals for several months. Families need encouragement to continue with the construction and rebuilding of houses themselves and not to raise false expectation of govt involvement in rebuilding of houses, paying articular attention to compliance with building codes. In Nepal, direct cash assistance is the best way to support affected families with the relief needs, reconstruction of houses, as it also helps the local economy. All relief efforts should continue to be linked towards helping people to self-sufficiency and fully recovery and improve livelihood.

It is also important to integrate reconstruction efforts within its national development plan and budgetary processes and plan for build back better. There can be donor-sensitivity in direct budgetary support and channeling of resources through Govt structures. In such situations, Govt should be open to allow partners to directly help in the reconstruction efforts in a planned manner and in coordination with the Government.

Given a mammoth tasks of reconstruction, it will be important to prioritize. Undivided attention and establishment of a high level coordination structure to manage the reconstruction process is essential. However, the actual implementation of reconstruction efforts should be well integrated and coordinated within the work of related ministries/departments to avoid a parallel structure/efforts.

Fourth, Resource mobilization and Advocacy: Sufficient funding for the continued relief and reconstruction could be a major challenge. As media attention on Nepal fades away, the situation in Nepal maysoon be forgotten.  It will be also crucial to engage and mobilize support from the private sector and introduce special Levy targeted toward reconstruction.

Financial institutions ( WB, ADB) and partners such as US, Europe, Nordic Countries and Japan, and neighbour such as India, China are expected to be key partners in supporting reconstruction.

With several conflicting humanitarian crises globally demanding donors’ attention and funds, early efforts to outreach key donors and organizations and continuous advocacy will enhance fund raising efforts.

Donors do look at political and democratic systems and processes and sustainability, as conditions for their support. Every effort to complete transitional political processes with the new constitution and reconciliation among parties in national building will go a long way in galvanizing international support.

Accountability and Transparency: Monitoring and reporting systems are key aspects for transparency and accountability of resources and results achieved. Given the extensive engagement in social media in Nepal, it can be expected that there will be strong public scrutiny and reporting of relief and reconstruction efforts. It is also important to have close reviews of the operations and address all related concern on a regular basis.

With the strong popular engagement, government commitment and leadership and international support, Nepal can be rebuilt better!

The writer is UNRC/UNDP RR in Zimbabwe, who lead UN relief and recovery in the aftermath of the cyclone in Myanmar. He has been on the front line for over 30 years leading development and humanitarian support and resource mobilization within UN in several countries. The note is his personal views.

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