Build Back Better


The earthquake victims in the districts of Jajarkot and West Rukum are still reeling from the devastation wrought by the calamity. It will take years, if ever, for those who have lost their loved ones to the disaster to come to terms with the tragedy. Many of the injured are still being treated in hospital. The government's effort to ensure they are treated free of cost is commendable. In a good move, the government has urged the bodies concerned to carry out works for the prevention of possible disease outbreak, malnutrition and psycho-social problems following the earthquake and for their proper management. Hundreds of millions worth relief goods provided by friendly countries are entering the districts. Care must be taken to ensure the much-needed aid lands on the deserving hands. 

The focus now should be on recovery and rehabilitation. Rehabilitation of those still languishing in makeshift shelters is the need of the hour.  Staying in such shelters for a long time can make even a healthy person fall sick. Work to address the needs of the most vulnerable population who need warm clothes and nutrient-rich food to survive the cold – babies, children, the elderly, and the infirm – must be carried out on war footing. In almost every crisis, the poor are hit hardest. And this one is not an exception. Those economically marginalised who couldn't even build a house strong enough to withstand even a moderately strong quake are the ones to endure the most suffering. Those well-off families, in sharp contrast, who could afford to build a quake-resistant house were spared. The recent disaster has only added to the misery of the impoverished who had to endure sleepless nights fearing havoc during this past monsoon season. To be poor is to be cursed, it seems. 

We have good policy and guidelines to follow to stay prepared for a quake. Strictly enforcing the building code can go a long way to insulate lives and properties from harm in the event of a quake. There have been instances in Sudupaschim and Karnali provinces wherein people have flouted the building code while erecting structures. Some were cutting corners to circumvent the law, evading the requirements mandated by the code. The result was that even the so-called earthquake-resilient houses were damaged or flattened in the quakes preceding the one on Nov. 3. Had there been enough regulation and oversight, that wouldn't have happened. Concrete steps must be taken to make sure that every house making effort complies with the guidelines. 

Tens of millions or rupees have been pledged and counting for the reconstruction of the houses damaged or destroyed. The government must ensure all the money goes to the reconstruction and the work is completed on time. Any delay can make things worse. Every crisis comes with an opportunity. This one has handed us a chance to build back better.  Failure to cash in on that opportunity allows the crisis to rear its ugly head again. Had we learned enough lessons from the catastrophic 7.8-magnitude Gorkha quake in 2015, the consequences could have been drastically mitigated this time. In order to prevent the repetition of the same harrowing stories following a major disaster, we must work to build back better.     

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