One year ago today, I was playing soccer with my two boys in Kathmandu when at 11:56 the ground started to roll like waves on the ocean. We were struck by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake. By the end of that scary day filled with immediate and strong aftershocks, we started realizing the extent of the damage and feared for the lives lost.
After the second earthquake of May 12 and once clear information had been collected from all the affected areas, Nepal had lost 8,880 people. Around 800.000 houses and buildings were destroyed or damaged. Some 3 million people were displaced and thousands of livelihoods were lost. The Post Disaster Needs Assessment pegged the damages and losses at US$7 billion.
As we were progressively transitioning from humanitarian to recovery, Nepal suddenly had to address a challenging political and economic six-month period after the promulgation of its long-awaited constitution in September 2015. Disagreements between political parties and parts of the Nepali society over the constitution led to political tensions delaying the passage of the Reconstruction Act and the establishment of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA). Further, these tensions led to an economic crisis due to obstructions at the India/Nepal border, which halted imports. The already complex recovery, as a result of Nepal’s difficult topography and the isolation of the most affected districts, was further hampered by the lack of imported fuel, supplies and vital reconstruction materials.
One year later, Nepal’s recovery is gaining speed. Four months after its establishment, the NRA has laid the foundation for the country’s reconstruction based on a roadmap contained in the Post Disaster Recovery Framework. As this process takes off, we can start drawing out lessons from this tragedy that will inform not only unavoidable future natural calamities, but also long-term development plans to make Nepal more resilient.
From a UNDP perspective, these lessons can and should be seen through the lens of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs), which prove to be both relevant and a strong framework for countries as vulnerable as Nepal.
Confronted with 800,000 destroyed and damaged buildings, the immediate consensus of adopting a Building Back Better approach provides a direct contribution to ensuring communities are more resilient to natural disasters as per the targets of SDG 11: making cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. UNDP has provided technical assistance to produce guidelines for safer construction including monitoring and compliance mechanisms, training of masons and engineers for building back better techniques and providing this knowledge at the community level through our mobile reconstruction vans that go village to village in the affected areas.
The earthquake not only took a toll on the lives and buildings of Nepal, but also resulted in pushing 700,000 more Nepalis under the poverty line. Immediate income-generating and livelihoods support provided by UNDP through cash-for-work and restoration of micro enterprises are enabling earthquake victims, especially the most vulnerable, to recover. Beyond money, these activities also have a psychosocial positive impact, by empowering affected communities to take control of their own recovery. Restoring their economic potential contributes to lessening the impact on the poorest when disaster strikes and thereby contributing to ending poverty in all its forms everywhere as in SDG1.
Nepal’s reconstruction will also contribute to SDG5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, as they are proactively targeted and their specific needs addressed in the recovery process. Similarly, the innovations introduced by UNDP in its recovery activities, which SDG9 focuses on, demonstrates the potential that out-of-the-box solutions can accelerate reconstruction and improve its transparency.
The vulnerability of Nepal to natural hazards will only increase unless climate change adaptation measures are mainstreamed in development plans and communities are empowered to implement them. This highlights the importance for a country like Nepal to achieve SDG13 by taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts. The recent signing of the Paris Agreement by Nepal demonstrates the country’s commitment to climate action, which UNDP supports through projects and policy advice.
An efficient and transparent reconstruction process is highly dependent on the ability of the government to deliver services, while ensuring the rights of people are both protected and fulfilled through a robust adherence to rule of law. Progress on achieving SDG16: promoting just, peaceful and inclusive societies, will contribute to a strong government-led reconstruction.
If it is obvious that Nepal’s reconstruction will take years, it is also clear that an SDG-based recovery will ensure a more resilient Nepal. This echoes nicely the global drive to change the paradigm of humanitarian and development assistance that will be discussed at the upcoming World Humanitarian Summit in May. I hope that this lesson will be seen as Nepal’s gift back to the world for the global solidarity expressed at the time of the earthquake.