We Must Build Capacity, Speed Up Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction

ADB Vice President Wencai Zhang (far left) and ADB Country Director in Nepal Kenichi Yokoyama (left) visit Kali Devi Primary School in Kavre, Nepal.
ADB Vice President Wencai Zhang (far left) and ADB Country Director in Nepal Kenichi Yokoyama (left) visit Kali Devi Primary School in Kavre, Nepal.

By Kenichi Yokoyama

One year on, how is the country recovering from the colossal destruction of the 2015 earthquake?

Today, Nepal marks the first anniversary of the 25 April 2015 earthquake which, along with severe aftershocks, caused nearly 9,000 deaths, $7 billion in damage to public and private property, and which has pushed 700,000 or so people below the poverty line.

One year on, how is the country recovering from the colossal destruction?

Immediate post-disaster efforts—rescue, relief and recovery including temporary and transition shelters and warm clothes—went generally well. The self-help efforts of the affected people and the community spirit of the Nepali people to help each other shone out. And the government, civil society organizations, and the international community worked relentlessly together, making all the resources available. ADB also provided $3 million within 48 hours of the earthquake to address the immediate needs.  

We must admit, like the Prime Minister of Nepal, that the reconstruction process has been slow. From the perspective of the affected people on the ground, it must be frustratingly slow. We should not make excuses, but also need to be aware about the vast and difficult terrain including high mountain areas affected by the earthquakes. Permanent reconstruction must also incorporate ‘Building Back Better’ (BBB) design and quality assurance in implementation, which is a time-consuming process and has taken 4–5 years elsewhere in the world like in Kobe, Japan and Gujarat, India. Also, we should keep in mind the severe human resource and capacity constraints in Nepal in initiating, accelerating, and gaining momentum for full-fledged reconstruction of this massive scale. A lot of technical and expertise support is needed to get things started and utilize the money committed by donors.

In line with the indication in June 2016 that ADB can provide $600 million assistance for Nepal’s earthquake response, we have so far signed agreements to provide $250 million. Two projects are aimed at reconstruction; (i) the Earthquake Emergency Assistance Project (EEAP), a $200 million concessional loan to rebuild schools, strategic roads, and urban government buildings; and (ii) the Disaster Risk Reduction and Livelihood Restoration for Earthquake-affected Communities Project, with a $15 million grant from the Japan Fund for Poverty Reduction to rebuild schools and provide microfinance for livelihood restoration in pockets of poverty. A separate $2 million in technical assistance is being provided to support the startup and capacity building of the reconstruction activities.  

In these projects, preparatory or pre-construction activities are now ongoing, such as the preparation of design standards, survey and design for the structures to be rebuilt with BBB, stakeholder consultations, and tender packaging. At this moment, the Department of Education has completed surveys and designs of 50 of the 700 schools to be rebuilt under the EEAP, which are being tendered out. Detailed surveys of 50 more are underway, and consulting firms are being hired to do survey and design work of 200 more schools. We are hopeful that these schools will be substantially rebuilt in the next fiscal year. Likewise, by July 2016 nearly 70% of the planning and design for the road and urban government building reconstruction under ADB’s EEAP will have been completed, and physical works can be initiated after the monsoon.

In a recent visit to Kalidevi Primary School in Kavre, 55 kilometers from Kathmandu, a girl student Sunila, aged 12, told me she looked forward to her school being reconstructed. “I am excited to know that our school will be rebuilt into a modern school with bigger rooms, with facilities like the library and a big computer lab.” The reconstruction of her school is due to start within weeks.

The principal of the school, Prem Lal Shrestha, was also optimistic that the rebuilt primary school, now with 125 students, will provide opportunities for a larger number and wider range of children. “Students from far and wide will come to study here once its reconstruction is completed. Moreover, the school is also designed in such a way that even children with disabilities can study comfortably.”

Today, Nepal will commemorate the earthquake anniversary. Tomorrow, the authorities are formally kicking off reconstruction activities in each of the 14 most-affected districts. Despite delay and criticism, we are finally seeing a momentum for reconstruction gradually picking up. The National Reconstruction Authority is now up and running. A 5-year recovery framework has also been prepared, which provides a good basis for well-planned and coordinated implementation. As for the ADB-assisted EEAP, implementation is behind schedule by 3–5 months, but now with progress in pre-construction work such as surveys and designs we are hopeful that the project can be substantially completed within the next three years.  

Nepal’s economy was badly hit in fiscal year (FY) 2015/16 due to the impact of the major earthquakes in April and May 2015, and a 5-month disruption in trade and transit from September 2015. ADB has projected the annual growth rate at 1.5% for the current FY.

To meet the hopes of the affected people, it is clear that reconstruction must be expedited. Accelerated reconstruction in FY 2016/17, if effectively implemented hand in hand with other development works, can provide a much needed impetus for the country’s capital expenditure, and accelerate annual economic growth rate much beyond ADB’s projection of 4.8%. Strong political and bureaucratic leadership and determination to do so will help, and lift more people out of poverty. It is also urgently needed for the country to start building sufficient resilience of private housing, other buildings, and infrastructure to prepare in case of another, perhaps even bigger, earthquake.