Nepal: 17 Months post-Earthquake

This weekend is the 17 month anniversary of the Nepal earthquake (please excuse the relatively arbitrary timing of this post). I wanted to do a brief summary of the recovery progress as very few English speaking/ American based media have been maintaining updates of the situation.

To summarize in April 2015 a 7.8 magnitude earthquake "took over 9,000 lives and caused an estimated $7.1 billion in damage. It pushed almost a million people - between 2.5 and 3.5 percent of Nepal's population - below the poverty line." (WPR) The earthquake captured the attention of US-based media and received 24-hour coverage for around 72 hours. The combination of a high death toll, visually compelling imagery of search and rescue operations, and the cultural significance of the damaged areas contributed to intense international attention. The Nepali government, acting strategically, took leveraged the media's coverage to secure approximately $4 billion (USD) in pledges from the international community (e.g., IMF, World Bank, and individual countries). Though falling short of the costs of rebuilding the pledges gave many survivor's hope that recovery would be possible.

In the months that followed the country experienced a number of political events that heavily influenced the recovery process. Before the earthquake, Nepal's government had been trying to implement a new constitution. In a textbook example of Naomi Klien's "shock therapy", post-earthquake the government was able to implement the new constitution. Displeased with the new constitution, India began an "unofficial" blockade barring fuel from entering the country. 

Throughout the entire recovery process survivor's and NGO's report a significant amount of uncertainty about how they will be abe to rebuild. The National Recovery Authority (NRA), developed by the government to oversee the recovery, has been renamed "Deconstruction Authority" by the Nepali Times. The NRA has faced a number of challenges and setbacks over the past year and a half. The NRA was supposed to be giving about $1800 USD to each impacted household. It is only in the past few months that some survivors have been able to receive a portion of these funds (about $400 USD). Most recently the government has acknowledged that they missed 100,000 homes in their initial damage assessments. This means that survivors will now have to jump through additional bureaucratic hurdles including having to prove their homes were damaged 17 months ago. Only about 31,000 households, out of 900,000 have been able to move forward and permanently rebuild their homes on their own. The remaining survivors appear to be living in temporary shelters. 

There are of course a plethora of aid organizations working throughout the impacted communities. I have been unable to find any comprehensive review of the work they've done or the number of households they have assisted. From personal conversations that I have had with Americans who have volunteered in Nepal, the sentiment generally seems to be one of taking things day by day. The lack of physical resources, the rough terrain, and conflicting messages from government has taken a toll on how successful their work has been and can be in the future. 

Perhaps the biggest takeaway at the 17-month mark is that not much has changed. What is particularly concerning is the minimal evidence that the recovery process will suddenly become more effective or efficient. If I were to venture a guess I would say the 2-year anniversary post will sound a lot like this one. Unfortunately, Nepal's story of recovery thus far is not unique. As I have said and will continue to plead, we MUST do something to make recovery more effective and efficient. Allowing communities to be held in abeyance for 10+ years is unacceptable and illogical.