‘Pandemic also an opportunity to rethink how we approach development, sustainable growth’ – The Himalayan Times – Nepal’s No.1 English Daily Newspaper

'Pandemic also an opportunity to rethink how we approach development, sustainable growth' - The Himalayan Times - Nepal's No.1 English Daily Newspaper

https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/face-to-face

The devastating earthquakes of 2015 resulted in massive loss of lives and property. The three-day International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction 2021, aimed at sharing experiences and learning from the 2015 Gorkha Earthquake, wraps up on Thursday. Against this backdrop, Faris H Hadad-Zervos, World Bank country director for Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, and Anil Pokhrel, chief executive of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority, shared with The Himalayan Times their insights into rebuilding efforts and the way forward. Excerpts:

Can you shed light on the World Bank’s support for the overall response to the 2015 earthquakes?

The World Bank Group is proud to be a trusted partner of the government of Nepal in its reconstruction and recovery efforts following the devastating earthquakes of 2015. Our largest contribution was through the $700 million in IDA financing that supported housing grants for more than 300,000 households in all 32 earthquake-affected districts that helped strengthen disaster risk management capacities at the local level.

The World Bank also administered a $34.4 million multi-donor trust fund in partnership with the governments of Canada, Switzerland, United Kingdom and United States, which covered housing grants to over 3,700 households and provided expanded socio-technical assistance and implementation support. International Finance Corporation, our private sector arm, created a $50 million to $70 million liquidity facility and allocated about $10 million for quick post-earthquake response.

The World Bank, together with the United Nations, Asian Development Bank, European Union, and JICA led the Post Disaster Needs Assessment to assess the scale of damage and loss to inform reconstruction efforts. The PDNA identified more than $7 billion in earthquake damages, half of which were in private housing. The World Bank also carried out Structural Integrity and Damage Assessment of all educational institutions and supported the first round of Earthquake Household Damages and Characteristics Survey in the 14 most-affected districts that were critical for school and housing reconstruction efforts.

‘Pandemic also an opportunity to rethink how we approach development, sustainable growth’ — Faris H Hadad-Zervos, WB country director for Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. Photo: THT

‘Pandemic also an opportunity to rethink how we approach development, sustainable growth’ — Faris H Hadad-Zervos, WB country director for Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. Photo: THT

What were the challenges to the structural integrity and damage assessment and lessons learnt?

The SIDA of more than 18,000 structures provided a clear picture of the state of structural vulnerabilities of educational infrastructure in the country. Fifty per cent of the infrastructure assessed was found to be structurally vulnerable, whereas 30 per cent had completely collapsed.

The number of students that were registered in the surveyed institutions was over a million, of whom more than 184,000 were registered in classrooms that had completely collapsed in the earthquake. Had the earthquake happened on a school day, I cannot, and do not even want to, imagine the scale of casualties.

The key lesson is that we need to make our educational infrastructure safe and resilient to avert risks to the lives of children. As for operational challenges, lack of qualified technical human resources, sparsely located schools, geographic difficulties, and disruption in connectivity were the key ones.

Were any structural risks averted due to SIDA? How does the bank plan to support the government in building long-term resilience?

Based on the structural vulnerabilities, the SIDA recommended interventions for buildings in terms of repair, retrofitting or reconstruction, and informed the government as well as development partners to plan for school reconstruction projects.

Considering Nepal’s vulnerabilities to earthquake and other disasters, SI- DA’s major findings prompted the need to understand risks and vulnerabilities of schools and other critical infrastructure and take immediate action to mitigate the risks.

Upon the request of the government of Nepal, the World Bank has reallocated approximately $14 million to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority to carry out a Structural Integrity Assessment of school infrastructure, health facilities, and government buildings.

The SIDA will identify educational buildings that are at risk and need either reconstruction, repair or retrofitting or even relocation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also offered an enormous opportunity to rethink how we approach development and sustainable growth. The government of Nepal and development partners including the World Bank recently signed the Kathmandu Declaration on Green, Resilient, and Inclusive Development, committing to develop a GRID Strategic Action Plan for Nepal’s green, equitable, resilient, and long term recovery from the shocks of disasters, including COVID-19.

Could the COVID pandemic affect plans?

Yes, the COVID-19 pandemic and the possibilities of new variants can affect implementation of the SIA given that mobility of field teams and pace of assessment will be affected.

We are cognisant of the implications and expect that COVID -19 safety protocols will be strictly adhered to, to safeguard the wellbeing of the people at risk.

‘We will be able to achieve our goal to make Nepal disaster-resilient by 2030’ — Anil Pokhrel, chief executive of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority. Photo: THT

‘We will be able to achieve our goal to make Nepal disaster-resilient by 2030’ — Anil Pokhrel, chief executive of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority. Photo: THT

How could Structural Integrity Assessment improve Nepal’s disaster preparedness and resilience?

The SIA is aimed at improving the safety and structural integrity of thousands of public and private schools, health facilities, and public buildings throughout Nepal. We will know which buildings are safe, which will collapse and be able to make decisions to either retrofit or reconstruct them.

The 2015 earthquakes and the recurrent disasters such as landslides, floods, lightning, fires, and windstorms have shown us the need to improve the way we design, construct, and decide on the sites of our schools, health facilities and public buildings.

Our priority is to save lives, infrastructure, and property from future disasters. In addition to making buildings safe, we will have building-by-building information to support our response planning, provide targeted early warning system, and design and implement awareness and insurance mechanisms to transfer any residual risks.

Children and School Management Committees are change agents for the entire community. Through schools we can contribute to the resilience of the communities and the nation.

What are the challenges you foresee in carrying out the SIA?

The SIA is the largest nationwide risk assessment undertaking in Nepal and requires managing multiple firms and professionals. It requires a common methodology that requires training. It is also a logistical challenge.

COVID-19 poses further risks for mobilising engineers and professionals on such a scale.

Secondly, the initiative requires coordination with multiple government agencies at the federal, provincial, and local levels. Data and images will need to be managed through digital platforms that require availability of internet, which will be difficult in remote locations.

What are the government’s plans post-assessment?

Information and analytics from the assessment will have immediate use in undertaking response planning, impact-based early warning, and risk transfer using financial instruments such as insurance.

More importantly, through collaborative action with the international development partners, UN agencies, humanitarian agencies, private sector, and I/NGOs, our federal and provincial ministries and local governments will be able to identify priority buildings for immediate and medium-term investments for retrofitting, reconstruction and relocation – all aimed at making Nepal disaster-resilient by the year 2030.

The government has already allocated substantial financing for the improvement of schools, health facilities, and public buildings. This is evident from the government of Nepal’s priority programme such as the Presidential Educational Reform Programme and through ongoing programmes of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology along with the Ministry of Urban Development and Ministry of Health and Population. In addition, numerous municipal governments have allocated financial resources for the improvement of school safety.

Do you anticipate the pandemic to divert attention from Nepal’s vulnerability to and preparedness for disasters caused by natural hazards?

Nepal Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Act 2017 classifies the pandemic as a disaster. We have witnessed the intersection of COVID-19 during the 2021 and 2022 monsoon landslides and floods. Our responders – security personnel and volunteers – contracted COVID-19 despite following health and safety protocols.

The pandemic has impacted our economy. It has limited the mobility of staff to reduce and manage disasters.

With the support of development partners and with new and innovative financial instruments to transfer risk, I am confident that despite the combined impact of pandemic and disasters caused by natural hazards, we will be able to achieve our goal to make Nepal disaster-resilient by 2030.

‘Pandemic also an opportunity to rethink how we approach development, sustainable growth’ – Faris H Hadad-Zervos, WB country director for Nepal, Maldives, and Sri Lanka. Photo: THT

‘We will be able to achieve our goal to make Nepal disaster-resilient by 2030’ – Anil Pokhrel, chief executive of National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Authority. Photo: THT

A version of this article appears in the print on December 09, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.

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