Political Economy Analysis of Post-earthquake Reconstruction


Research Team

Trilochan Pokharel
Mohan Das Manandhar
Achala Dahal
Bishal Chalise
Tara Prasad Kharel
Rameshwor Bhandari

Executive Summary
This report is an assessment of the emerging role of the newly formed local governments in post-earthquake reconstruction. Post-earthquake reconstruction has remained in peril for a considerable period with three major bottlenecks. First, the government not only was completely unprepared to handle the massive disaster but also was unable to demonstrate leadership
in problem-solving. Political manoeuvring was apparent from the very beginning as manifested in the formation of the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA); with disagreements in the appointment owing to differing political interests which led to delays in service delivery. Second, people did not have a legitimate political institution to hear and echo their voice
as local governments were almost dysfunctional in absence of elected local representatives for nearly two decades. This systemic delink between state and citizens consumed most of the efforts of the state machinery to establish a viable mechanism to reach the people, which still remains a major challenge. Third, a critical gap exists between the state and the people in
understanding the local needs of reconstruction. The absence of elected local representatives meant also non-existence of a legitimate institution that could reflect the real needs of people. The government could not take this devastation as an opportunity to support people to transform their living towards a modernized life, something people are aspiring for. Conversely, the government-controlled people’s interests for the convenience of disbursing the reconstruction grant.
This study identifies two broad reasons behind lacklustre post-earthquake recovery process. First, at the political level, overly centralised decision making in the distribution of reconstruction resources has made it difficult to effectively address the local concerns. Centralised approach has also caused information asymmetry between central and local authorities within the government as well as between government apparatus, including NRA, and communities. Second, at the procedural level, the recovery approach falls short of fully grasping the socio-economic aspects of the affected communities. The NRA has formulated a Post Disaster Recovery Framework (PDRF) (2016-2020) as a guiding framework to manage the reconstruction process that adopts ‘owner driven' approach to disaster recovery. However, the framework has limited itself to the technical recovery of lost properties and promotion of resilient infrastructure reconstruction but has completely ignored the procedural inequities that might be created because of the preexisting socio-economic disparities.
In sum, the unintended consequences of poorly conceptualized, centrally planned, and ineffectively executed reconstruction programmes are having a significant and lasting impact on vulnerable and disempowered groups and communities. Thus, effective disaster recovery and reconstruction processes require more than just good intentions to create general welfare. It should focus on removing pre-existing socio-economic inequalities underpinned by a centralised state structure. Amidst these issues, the local governments, with constitutionally devolved mandates to govern within their jurisdiction, assumed offices from May 2017, giving a hope that people would get local leadership for solving their problems. However, an entrenched struggle between the local governments and erstwhile ‘central’ government, compounded with debates of ‘distrust’ and ‘incapacity’, has hindered the recognition of the role of the local governments in the reconstruction process. As a result, the local government is just limited to defusing the grievances of victims. Moreover, the local governments are struggling to find ways of institutionalizing their functions which have obstructed them to exercise their roles in post-earthquake reconstruction. Being excited by the election in an interval of almost two decades, the initial meetings of the local government executives made some formal decisions to take the responsibilities of reconstruction. Local governments showed a firm commitment to, resolve issues, and expedite the process of reconstruction. However, there remains a gap in devolving executive roles to the local governments mainly because of two reasons. First, the reconstruction process was imagined in a centralized governance structure when there were no local governments. The local governments with extensive constitutional mandates came into existence later in the process. It took time for centralized governance structure to recognize the role of local governments in reconstruction. The gap further expanded due to distrust on the capacity of the local governments to implement rules and regulation. Nonetheless, a politics of authority holding, and resources control could be clearly sensed in the backdrop. Furthermore, the NRA also did not take any immediate and formal decisions to develop capacity and devolve roles to the local governments. Second, despite having the political will to expedite the reconstruction process, the local governments could not find an appropriate entry point. Local governments found themselves helpless in addressing two impediments to reconstruction; deployment of technical personnel to communities, and disbursing funds. Therefore, their role was limited merely to collecting grievances. Except for a few already established municipalities, most of the local governments were newly constituted. Hence, they were completely occupied in setting-up organization, managing staff and learning how to function and finding ways to negotiate with the NRA and other central agencies. However, the local governments should take reconstruction as an opportunity to establish themselves as the trusted government nearest to the people. The local governments could have organized themselves for collective negotiation with the NRA and the federal government in order to get more significant roles in the reconstruction process. A year after the elections, the local governments have made some progress but amidst huge expectation of the public, the pace is rather slow. Elected representatives agree that they have been unable to deliver as expected. Therefore, it is imperative to invest in developing the institutional and structural capacity of the local government in order to form a disaster resilient society. Four strategic interventions are identified for enhancing roles of the local government in the reconstruction process and capacitating them to deal with disaster risk management- 1) assessing and developing disaster risk management capacity; 2) strengthening institutional memory; 3) strengthening communication; and 4) institution building.