Building back better in Nepal
The earthquake in Nepal is a tragedy, and there can be little consolation for the large scale death and destruction— for the lives and livelihoods lost, or for the many who are seriously injured, shattered and living in a state of fear and despair.
However, the earthquake also exposed many of the vulnerabilities that amplified the impact of the shock, and has opened up opportunities for the country to recalibrate its development trajectory. There are two important lessons that should be heeded as we go forward.
First, there are already strong calls from the international community for Nepal to address underlying risks and build back better. This is crucial, but it will take time and resources, not the least of which will be financial and technical support to ensure that the more than 500,000 homes destroyed or damaged are rebuilt or repaired so as to withstand future quakes. Having served in Mexico and lived in Mexico City a decade after the terrible earthquake that hit the megalopolis, I can attest to what a serious, risk-informed, massive urban planning exercise looks like. Mexico D.F. was built back much better.
While it won’t be easy in Nepal, it will pay off in the long-term. Evidence exists that demonstrates the socio-economic benefits of undertaking a comprehensive, inclusive, and risk-sensitive approach to recovery. We see this evidence in places like Aceh, where the recovery was deftly used to help ease tensions from a long-simmering conflict and to strengthen community resilience against future quakes and tsunamis. Nepal would do well to follow a similar approach. We have the experience in UNDP to transfer this knowledge, from South to South.
Second, we need to strengthen disaster risk governance. Despite the significant progress the country has made in risk assessments and identification over the last decade, the continued inability to enforce building code compliance, coupled with poverty, led to poor infrastructure development that left many vulnerable to disaster. It is critical that we find ways to strengthen infrastructure, ensure building code compliance, and support the poorest and most disadvantaged in safer housing.
Both the Government and the international community need to commit themselves to addressing these gaps. Passing legislation and policies, having local authorities in place, and providing the right skills and adequate financial resources are all equally important in this regard.
Focusing on building back better and enhancing disaster risk governance are considered pillars in disaster risk reduction, and in fact constitute two of the four priority areas of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015-2030), the new guiding agreement by which countries will reduce the risk of disasters. Adopted last month in Sendai, Japan, the Framework is the first of several “post-2015 processes” which will include the Financing for Development Conference (Addis Ababa), the Sustainable Development Goals Summit (New York), and the Climate Conference of the Parties (Paris). Nepal will be, in many ways, the first Member State where the Sendai framework and its commitments can come true, where the international community’s ability to follow up words with action will be tested.
For our part, UNDP is currently working with the Government and partners on the ground to move forward and help address the aftermath of the crisis. Early recovery and livelihood operations have begun to help get people back to work, back to school and back in their homes, while institutional and governance support will help restart local social services and strengthen the national Government’s capacity to lead a consolidated and coordinated long-term recovery process.