Nepal quake, one year on

One year on from the first of two earthquakes that devastated Nepal, killing over 8,700 people and destroying over 800,000 homes, International Alert continues to call for any post-disaster humanitarian aid and reconstruction in the country to be delivered in a way that is sustainable, empowers women and marginalised groups and contributes to lasting peace in the country.

With the reconstruction phase in Nepal to yet properly begin, we are urging the Nepali government, international donors and other organisations to take proactive, intentional steps to ensure their initiatives promote peace and reconciliation, and avoid unintentionally contributing to divisions and grievances.

It is disappointing to see how little post-earthquake reconstruction has so far taken place. Strong aftershocks, of which there have been hundreds, continue to weaken already damaged structures, threatening further devastation and exacerbating the psychosocial trauma. Earthquake victims prepare for a second monsoon season under makeshift shelters, having already endured the first monsoon and the harsh conditions and freezing temperatures of winter. 

Some of the delays are due to a legacy of political divisions. Emerging from a decade of civil conflict in 2006, post-war transitional governance in Nepal has been marked by political polarisation, leading to stalled decision making and deadlock on countless occasions. This was particularly evident in the eight-year-long drafting of the new constitution, which was then promulgated in haste less than five months after the first earthquake amid protests and violent clashes between state forces and members of ethnic minorities in the Terai region.

The protests, over long-unaddressed issues linked to the new federal structures and political representation, led to six months of continuous strikes and a border blockade plunging the country into yet another humanitarian and economic crisis (read our blog: Letter from Nepal: Blockade lifted, but tensions remain high). The blockade prompted chronic fuel shortages, black-marketeering, and inflation; as well as shortages of medical, construction, food and other supplies, hugely hindering the relief and reconstruction efforts and compounding the effects of the earthquake itself on victims.

The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), established to lead the reconstruction and recovery programmes, also fell victim to the mistrust between the three main parties – taking nine months to even be established. It has been slow in designing appropriate support programming and reaching out to the victims for rebuilding their lives. As a result, the actual distribution of funds pledged for reconstruction by the government and international donors in June 2015 has so far been insignificant with many projects still awaiting government support.  The delay in providing official guidance on rebuilding earthquake-resilient structures also caused delays to the reconstruction and has led those who could, to rebuild in the old (unsafe) ways. 

Development and humanitarian intervention can support peace and stability, but this is not automatic. All operations need to be designed, implemented and monitored so that they do not unintentionally fuel conflict, and make a positive contribution to peace. With the influx of aid, endemic issues of exclusion, political interference and weak state-citizen accountability have been exacerbated.

If Nepal is to truly  ‘build back better’, interventions need to recognise and address the multiple layers of vulnerability and exclusion, taking into account gender hierarchies and the socioeconomic exclusion of minority groups – as International Alert’s recent research, Building back better or restoring inequalities? highlights. It will be necessary to understand the specific local gendered norms, how these intersect with conflict and political dynamics, and what this means for relief and recovery programming. Interventions should also aim to address local and wider conflict risks, for example by building stronger trust and accountability between all citizens (men, women, ethnic groups and sexual minorities) and the state.

This requires all those working on rebuilding Nepal to maximise opportunities for peace in their programming.

Find out more about our work on conflict sensitivity in Nepal:

Photo: Asian Development Bank (Creative Commons)