My Republica, 25th April 2017, Kathmandu
Exactly two years ago, the Gorkha earthquake had destroyed more than half a million homes and damaged a quarter million more, killing over 9000 people but government has failed to support the quake survivors of the marginalized communities, neglecting the constitutional provisions as well as international human rights laws, Amnesty International said in a report published on the eve of the second anniversary of the devastating quake on Monday.
Lashed by rains throughout two monsoon seasons and left shivering in the cold winter for the second successive year, the victims feel betrayed as the government's promises of rebuilding their homes have been delayed by the way the reconstruction efforts are being carried out, forcing thousands of earthquake survivors to languish in temporary shelters made of zinc sheets and tarpaulins.
The report - Building Inequality : The failure of the Nepali government to Protect Marginalized in Post-Earthquake Reconstruction Efforts - is based on more than a year's research and two extensive field visits to Dolakha district, one of the worst earthquake-affected areas. The team interviewed over 250 earthquake survivors, government officials, donor agencies and NGOs working in earthquake-affected areas.
“The Nepali government's reconstruction efforts have failed the earthquake's most disadvantaged survivors. Ignoring the historical informal relationships that these communities have with the land in Nepal, the government has reinforced their marginalization through a reconstruction program that denies landless people their right to adequate housing,” said Aura Freeman, a campaigner with Amnesty International.
Article 27 of the constitution of Nepal makes it clear that every citizen shall have the right to appropriate housing. Under international human rights laws, to which Nepal is a signatory, the Nepali government must guarantee the right to adequate housing for all, giving priority to disadvantaged groups. Amnesty International's report details how the government of Nepal is failing on these obligations.
Lacking proper housing, the earthquake survivors have acquired other problems over the past two years, including high debts. Furthermore, as a local hospital has confirmed, living in informal shelters has put people at risk of grave health consequences, including respiratory illnesses, and injuries from snake bites.
The report tells the story of Maiti Thami, a 36-year-old from one of Nepal's most marginalized indigenous groups. “Rain seeps inside the corrugated sheets, and cold comes from the [mud] floor as it gets wet,” she said. Maiti's family has been often beset by illness, including coughs and fevers while living in a temporary shelter.
The government's reconstruction policy has failed to consider particular circumstances in which marginalized communities have been affected by the earthquakes. Instead of proving land ownership, they are asked to prove that they live as separate households from their joint family. The fact that many families in Nepal live under a common roof but in multiple households with their separate kitchen has not been acknowledged, meaning that aid has not been delivered to them.
Further problems flow from the government's grant distribution and the “representative/ nominee” system. To collect their grant, people including the elderly, people with disabilities and women with husbands working as migrants abroad have to travel long distances to collect their money from bank distribution centers.
Amnesty International's report details how the funds promised have also failed to account for the rising costs of construction in Nepal. Since the earthquake, the price of stones and labor charge have doubled. Due to shortage, the price of sand has tripled. Living in remote areas, earthquake survivors also have to bear the transportation costs for materials not easily available nearby.
The flawed reconstruction process also made incorrect assumptions about these communities being able to secure loans to help with the reconstruction on their own.
“Nepal's reconstruction program inevitably favors the wealthy. It privileges those who can show they owned their homes, lived as single households, in well-settled areas and with the main income-earners present, have the means to borrow, and can meet the rising costs of construction,” said Aura Freeman.
Amnesty International's report has suggested the government to give due priority to the most disadvantaged groups, including landless people, recognize everyone who has lost their home as eligible for assistance, regardless of their relationship with the land on which their house once stood.