The government recently appointed Govinda Raj Pokharel as Chief Executive Officer of National Reconstruction Authority — the prime minister-led body to coordinate post-earthquake reconstruction works with implementing agencies under various ministries and development partners. It has been nearly two years since the devastating earthquake of April 25, 2015, however, individual houses damaged by the earthquake are yet to be built. The government has distributed the first instalment of reconstruction aid worth Rs 50,000 each to 505,272 households or 81 per cent of the total beneficiary households in 14 severely affected districts. Reconstruction of other earthquake ravaged public structures — schools, health posts, government buildings, drinking water supply projects, roads, bridges and heritage sites — is yet to gather pace. Pushpa Raj Acharya of The Himalayan Times caught up with Pokharel to learn what the authority is doing to accelerate post earthquake reconstruction works. Excerpts:
Interview with the Chief Executive Officer of National Reconstruction Authority Govinda Raj Pokharel, in kathmandu, on January 29, 2017. PHOTO: Balkrishna Thapa Chhetri/THT
Post earthquake reconstruction work is moving at a very slow pace. What is your immediate plan to expedite it?
My first priority is to address the needs of individual houses living in makeshift shelters since nearly the last two years based on the announced policy framework. The government has started providing grant for the reconstruction of individual houses ravaged by the earthquake. Along with this they will now be provided training to build earthquake resilient houses and technical human resources to check the compliance of reconstructed structures. My job is to expedite reconstruction works through the existing delivery channels and mechanisms of NRA together with line ministries and other partners so that people will receive announced services and grant from the government on time.
The government has already distributed first instalment of reconstruction grant to the affected households in 14 worst hit districts including Kathmandu Valley and many have started laying the foundation. And you are now talking about providing mason training to build houses?
The government has been providing grant and technical support to the affected households with an objective that those who are willing can build their houses safely, timely and with proper advice from technical persons. Due to lack of technical advice and trained masons, a large number of reconstructed individual houses might not be eligible for the second tranche. After the establishment of NRA we needed to carry out census survey and capacity building programmes like mason training simultaneously. However, the training programmes could not materialise. At least two trained masons are needed to complete one individual house. Hence, if we have to complete the reconstruction of all the damaged houses by mid-July (by the end of this fiscal) we will require 333,000 trained masons in the country. Since the earthquake we have trained only 25,000 masons till date. We are thus far behind in achieving our target. We are planning skill upgrading and new mason training in every village of the affected areas before the Nepali New Year (in April). We will mobilise all the institutions including security agencies, who can be easily deployed in this field and simultaneously during the training they can reconstruct the houses of the vulnerable communities as well. Secondly, supervisors who have been assigned to check the compliance may not have knowledge to provide proper guidance to take corrective measures before recommending them for the second tranche. This is the biggest challenge we are facing due to the mistake of not conducting proper training for engineers previously. So, I am going to mobilise many agencies including engineering students and technical persons from security forces along with grant distribution so that there will not be a lack of human resources and we can ensure earthquake resistant structures.
What will happen to those who have already laid foundation and claimed second tranche of the government aid if their structures do not fulfil the standard set by government?
We have received information that people have started rebuilding houses but their houses are not as per the government set standard due to lack of trained masons. Those who have not followed the set standard will not be eligible for the second instalment. As we are mobilising the tax payers’ money it should be properly utilised to help people build safer infrastructure so that the future generation does not lose their lives or property from another natural calamity.
What will be the duration of the mason training programme?
There are two types of training programmes. If masons are available in the villages we will conduct a seven-day training for them and develop them as head masons. If there are no masons available then we will conduct a 50-day training for those who are interested and they will work under head masons. This is on the job type of training under the supervision of a head mason. The announcement that the second tranche is going to be sent to the district has created pressure on every beneficiary household who has received the first instalment to start reconstruction of their houses as per the set standard because they will get the second instalment only if they have followed the required quality guidelines.
As you are talking about starting mason training from Nepali New Year, it means money allocated for the distribution of second tranche will not be spent in this fiscal.
People will have enough time as we are going to deploy head masons and supervisors to the affected areas after a short period of training to complete the foundation so that the households can claim the second tranche before fiscal year end. I think the money allocated for the second tranche of individual house reconstruction will be utilised in this fiscal.
There are 204,177 complaints lodged at NRA and they are claiming that they were excluded during the beneficiary survey. How is the NRA going to address them?
There were many mistakes during the survey. I am surprised with the methodology and mobilisation of human resources and I must say that it was an ‘unprofessionally managed’ survey. The error percentage of the survey is very high. We have looked into around 100,000 complaints and complaints of 20,000 houses need to be resurveyed. Gradually we will sort out all these complaints. The number of fake claims is also high.
How long will it take to resurvey and settle all these complaints?
We have been preparing to sort out all the complaints and resurvey them within a month. Complaints will continuously keep coming as people have the right to complain to NRA.
There is a large number of landless victims and many settlements also need to be relocated from vulnerable areas. How will NRA address all these issues?
There are some issues related with land like land ownership problems and relocating settlements from vulnerable areas. It will be addressed through a Cabinet-level decision. There are different modalities to address the issues of land which are under discussion. Percentage of such victims is below five per cent. We will soon come up with some modality to address them.
Apart from individual houses reconstruction of other structures like schools, health posts, government buildings and heritage sites is also yet to gather momentum. What do you have to say on this?
Reconstruction has three components. The first is the physical reconstruction like constructing individual houses and public infrastructure like schools, hospitals, drinking water supply projects and government buildings. The other two components are social and economic reconstruction. We have to establish civilised systems and building codes. Public infrastructure should be gender friendly and accessible to the disabled people also under the social reconstruction segment. And the third and very important aspect is economic reconstruction because if people have a good house but poor income then they cannot stay there and will go abroad for jobs or come to urban slums to seek income sources from rural areas. So they should be provided income generating activities in their own locality. The reconstruction of the old Newari settlement in Pilanche Tole of Lalitpur district can be taken as the best example of physical, social and economic reconstruction. The settlement being built as per the original design of the Newari community provides economic opportunities to the locals through entrepreneurial skills like tailoring, grocery shops, embroidery, handicrafts, home stay, among others. Under this initiative, begun last year, 13 houses have already been constructed providing different economic opportunities in their own areas. This model can be replicated in other places as well.
How can we create economic opportunities in rural areas by replicating the aforementioned model?
Various 25 business subsectors have been activated along with reconstruction drive in rural areas. The supply chain has been enhanced as we are supplying construction materials like iron, cement and corrugated galvanised sheets. Transportation system to the rural areas has also been enhanced, which means goods produced in rural areas can be sent to the market. To sustain the supply chain in the long term we have to develop the capacity of the rural people by providing user friendly technology that can be applied in agriculture, livestock and handicraft fields. Then we will have to provide them access to finance and we also need to train them with more entrepreneurial approach like developing home stay and hospitality management, among others.
The Post Disaster Recovery Framework (PDRF) launched last year and recent action plan of NRA approved by the prime minister led steering committee of NRA has envisioned concluding all the reconstruction works in next four years. Will you move ahead based on these plans or are you thinking of introducing new plans, visions to expedite post earthquake reconstruction?
I do not have to reinvent the wheel. We know what the requirements are. I think we will be able to conclude all the physical reconstruction within the next four years on condition that there is no lack of funding. But other aspects like economic reconstruction may take a longer time. We will have to create an innovative model and engage private sector for economic reconstruction. My focus will be to complete all physical structures of even the 17 less affected districts within next four years and simultaneously launch suitable economic reconstruction activities in each affected locality.