Civic Appeal on Disaster Management and National Reconstruction
11 June 2015, Kathmandu
- The 8 June 2015 agreement among the four larger political parties has provided much respite from the political uncertainty which followed the decade-long insurgency as well as the long and unproductive period since. We welcome this agreement, which has opened the door to constitution-writing.
- If this agreement is effectively implemented, we see the possibility of a reversal to the relentlessly degraded nature of our politics, the economy and management of state affairs. The agreement has given us the hope that the response to the 25 April earthquake will now be more effective, including the campaign for national reconstruction. We the undersigned also expect that the government and political parties will have learnt the need for political and administrative preparedness to ensure minimal loss of life and property in the wake of future natural calamities.
- The 25 April earthquake and aftershocks drastically affected 14 districts and took the lives of more than 9,000 citizens, with many more maimed and disabled. More than five hundred thousand dwellings were destroyed, and the livelihood of millions affected. The entire nation was shaken to the core.
- However, even as the earthquake struck, millions of hands came together to provide relief, first from near-and-dear ones, neighbours and local social workers, then from citizens living far away in other parts of the country and in foreign lands. The empathy of fellow-citizens for the suffering of the victims and surprised resulted in an expression of national solidarity of impressive scale. In particular, the youth of rural communities, towns and cities as well as those overseas arose in immediate response. We welcome the advent of this youth volunteerism, which represents an added social capital which must be brought to bear in the national reconstruction and development effort.
- The immediate aftermath of natural disaster anywhere tends to be marked by confusion and inefficiency. We should definitely have been better prepared, as a country prone to natural calamities where incessant political instability has also weakened the state. Nevertheless, we saw how after a day or two of disarray the nation and society did begin to rise from the rubble. As countless citizens moved in to provide rescue and relief, the state itself was able to maintain essential services such as electricity, roads and communications. The backbone to the government’s rescue and relief effort were the security personnel, those professionals of the health sector and numerous civil servants under different ministries. We have nothing but praise for these selfless state functionaries.
- The country received great volume of financial, technical, logistical and other support from individual citizens and humanitarian groups worldwide. Likewise, there was impressive international response in rescue and relief from governments, agencies and the non-governmental sector. These have also promised significant support in the reconstruction phase, which will be most welcome.
- Despite these positive aspects, there were many weaknesses evident in the rescue and relief effort. Despite the available logistics, the rescue teams could not achieve their optimum due to poor coordination. Confusing directives from the government in the aftermath of the earthquake discouraged individuals and institutions worldwide who had sought instinctively to help Nepal, which meant that earthquake victims in the far corners could not be reached adequately and in time. There was diplomatic failure in the acceptance and rejection of international support, and the government failed in ensuring adequate and credible flow of information about relief measures. The absence of elected local representatives was deeply and tragically felt during the rescue and relief phase. The parts of the High Himalaya not served by roads suffered excessively in terms of receiving too little relief too late. The government also did not fulfil its duty towards citizens with special needs, including women, children, the elderly and the disabled.
- We did not find the political parties, and in particular their senior-most leaders, responding to the earthquake tragedy by leading from the front. It should have been the duty of local and national leaders to show empathy towards the survivors and to provide strength and motivation. It was the duty of the politicians to demand that the government of the day rise to the occasion, to watch-dog and critique the authorities as required. Instead, for a period of weeks, barring exceptions, political leaders were not to be seen even in their own ravaged constituencies—although many did later get involved in the distribution of relief. In the districts, villages and hamlets, there were ill-conceived demands for the collected relief materials to be distributed on party-wise basis, with many leaders keen to provide relief by party affiliation rather than according to need.
Under the circumstances, at this historic turning point, we make the following appeal on disaster management and national reconstruction:
- The need of the hour is to set priorities for reconstruction and get to work according to a set agenda. The government must therefore urgently consult with stakeholders of all categories and make public a list of priorities. With the monsoon rains oncoming, let the first concern be the building of food stocks and erection of temporary shelters. Immediate decision is needed on homesteads or whole settlements that have to be relocated. Landslip-prone areas must be marked and measures taken for the safety of lives, property and infrastructure. This is of utmost importance.
- Locally elected officials represent the backbone of a democracy, protecting as they do the rights of the citizens at the grassroots. Local governments also constitute the foundation stone of the future federal state administration. The impact of the absence of elected and accountable local representatives became tragically evident when the earthquake struck, in the weaknesses of rescue and relief on the ground. Tragically, the local populace did not have guardianship of the state through elected representatives. Given the centrality of local governance in the lives of the people, it is impossible to contemplate rehabilitation and the upcoming reconstruction in the absence of elected officials at the village, district and municipal levels. In addition, the credibility of the reconstruction exercise will be enhanced in the donor community if local government elections are announced and held. We believe that there is no alternative to holding these elections by November 2015.
- Political parties are the pillars of democracy, and the Nepali people have whole-heartedly adopted multiparty democracy, where the parties compete and keep an eye on the functioning of government. Under this system, it is the role of the opposition to critique the government in power, to the extent of bringing no-confidence motions. In contrast to the demands of multiparty democracy, the people of Nepal have had to suffer the ubiquitous ‘all-party mechanism’ during the transitional phase since 2008. This so-called mechanism is opposed to the philosophy of elected democracy and promotes corruption at all levels of governance from the village to the national. Against this backdrop, we the signatories stand against any attempt to carry out relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction activities through ‘all-party mechanisms’. All decisions and activities must be undertaken through the government, the Parliament/Constituent Assembly, the parliamentary committees and other related entities – and not through unelected and unaccountable ‘mechanisms’. In the meantime, we demand that the bill on disaster management presently before Parliament be modified in the light of recent experiences, in consultation with all stakeholders. The adopted act should bring all disaster-related activities under its ambit, so that the rule of law and accountability is ensured throughout the reconstruction campaign.
- It is vital that all relief and reconstruction activity be geared to the demands of social justice, and that the recipients of assistance are treated with full dignity. A disaster affects individuals, families and communities in different ways and degrees. The goal of disaster management must be, at a minimum, to rehabilitate the affected individual, clan or community to the quality of life previous to the calamity. If relief and reconstruction are extended on the basis of strict equality, it is possible that the victims most grievously affected may not be supported adequately, which would hurt the present and forthcoming generations. For this reason, marginalised communities including Dalits must be the subject of special focus, and poverty must be the prime criterion. During the reconstruction phase, the government must pay particular attention to the needs of citizens in special circumstances, including single women, orphans, pregnant women, the disabled and the elderly.
- There can be no debate on the idea that, in their response to the earthquake, the ‘donor community’ should concentrate on supporting the state and Government of Nepal rather than trying to establish separate programmes. The experience of developing countries in post-disaster scenarios indicates that failure was assured wherever the donor community refused to work under the direction of the host government in relief and reconstruction. Those providing international assistance must keep in mind that this is not the last disaster to befall our country, hence the focus of the agencies should be on improving the response capacity of the Nepali state and government. In line with the most significant principles of democracy, we expect the donor entities to support the elected government of the day while responding to the April 2015 earthquake.
- We call upon the members of national civil society, who have spontaneously arisen to respond to the earthquake during the rescue and relief phase, to develop the capacity to critically and independently keep watch over the reconstruction activities. Continuous activism, participation and oversight by citizens groups and networks will play a vital role in effective relief, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
- The rise of spontaneous volunteerism following the April earthquake indicates the advent of a new force in the national arena. We ask the government to consider the volunteer groups as partners in disaster management and reconstruction, while leaving the task of coordination to the groups and networks themselves.
- University students should be provided the possibility of volunteering during time of calamities so that they provided much needed minds and hands for rescue and relief. All schools should be made to impart trainings to students on disasters, disaster management and paramedical assistance. The first to arrive at a scene of disaster are always the youth of the local communities, which is why providing them with training will result in many lives saved.
- Appointment to the leadership of the national reconstruction body being planned by the government should be made independently and outside the influence of political parties. The reconstruction campaign itself should be such that it provides the public with motivation and willpower, while the success of the campaign must also generate a sense of ownership in the government. The reconstruction campaign should be designed so that it takes the entire country ahead, and the government leadership and civil society must both remain alert against the whiff of corruption during the implementation.
Nilamber Acharya, Megh Ale, Om Prakash Aryal, Jyoti Baniya, Tikaram Bhattarai, Rem Bahadur BK, Hira Bishwakarma, Raju Pasad Chapagain, Suresh Dhakal, Dr. Saroj Dhital, Kanak Mani Dixit, Shiva Gaunle, Kul Chandra Gautam, Chandrakant Gyawali, Sharmila Karki, Sher Bahadur Karki, Shiva Bishankhe, Padma Prasad Khatiwada, Anuradha Koirala, Sapana Pradhan Malla, Chaitanya Mishra, Bharat Raj Pahari, Sunil Pokharel, Gauri Pradhan, Charan Prasai, Subodh Raj Pyakurel, Sushil Pyakurel, K.B. Rokaya, Netra Timilsina, Hari Sharma, Ang Tshering Sherpa, Devi Sunar, Phurpa Tamang, Yagya Raj Thapa, Bhushan Tuladhar, Lalbabu Prasad Yadav and Sanjeevani Yonzon.