I have always had a knack for issues that have direct or indirect bearings on the lives of common people and the societies they live in. My academic qualification on Conflict, Peace and Development Studies coupled with my professional engagement as a faculty at Department of Conflict Peace and Development, Tribhuwan University furthers my interest on social science research. I have closely followed the constitution writing process upon which the peace process hinges in Nepal through my research on the topic “ External Influence in Constitution Making Process of Nepal”. The recent earthquake that shook Nepal and the way I saw and heard of Nepali youths voluntarily coming up to help the victims by providing immediate have left me spellbound.
Here, through this piece of write up for edgeryders I share my personal analysis on how and why the role of communities stands out to be the most important one for reconstruction and long term development in the aftermath of earthquake in Nepal. And it would like to invite you to put your ideas and feedback on how to you perceive the revival of ‘community’ feeling among Nepalese after the earthquake and what can we do to make that feeling intact for addressing future needs and challenges.
Communitarian Approaches to Reconstruction; Why does it matter?
Post-disaster reconstruction is a complex process and requires the involvement of multiple actors, needs a significant amount of resources, and a wide array of skills. But many a times when it comes to managing such situation, involvement of humanitarian organizations alone is not sufficient for effective relief. The engagement of local communities is vital in meeting the needs and requirements of the affected people mostly because communities in post-disaster situation are in need of wide spectrum of necessities which can be matched with the diversity of expertise ranging from managing supplies, to crisis mapping , fundraising and reconstruction among other that local communities can posses. A community driven approach to disaster management therefore is a vision to have a shared future collectively. When community members engage themselves in the reconstruction initiatives, it not just gives them a sense of ownership but also helps to prioritize the tasks to be done during reconstruction. But priorities can still go wrong if there is heavy involvement of international organizations who are are unaware of local needs. The classic example in the case of Nepal is that although there has been heavy presence of international agencies for the purpose of rescue but their achievement was meager compared to the local actors. For example it was reported the the aircraft’s that were sent for rescue and relief operation in Nepal by countries like India and America did very less task in comparison to Nepal Army choppers. In addition to this, Nepal’s case also becomes problematic for the international community due to geopolitical reality. For instance, reports have been rife on media that the external actors that came in Nepal to assist in the constitution making were ultimately found to be meddling too much in the internal affairs of Nepal and thus ultimately divided the Nepali society along social, political and ethnic line. Failure to take these factors into consideration seriously may delay the reconstruction work and can often backfire on the benevolent approach undertaken by the international community as well. So the best possible way out to deal with the cases where both culture and geopolitical sensitivities are very high is that the donors should work in tandem with local communities and align their priorities with the official policy of the state.
The Emergence of ‘new island of civility’ in post-quake Nepal
The April 25th earthquake with a magnitude of 7.3 and the subsequent aftershocks has caused much damage to Nepal. With thousands of lives lost, millions of worth properties destroyed, and infrastructures and cultural heritages of historical and importance ravaged, Nepalese are still struggling to deal with consequences of the disaster. However, given the scale of the damage, the reconstruction works have become an uphill battle mainly because we lack adequate resources. There might be a certain group of people who think that the country which has already been in tatters due to decade long Maoist conflict and the subsequent political turmoil will further divulge in a situation of hopelessness. However, there are enough grounds for us to defy this claim primarily because despite all these losses, pains, and tragic outcomes, people at large believed that the societal resiliency that has been observed could be the strength that can truly help to reconstruct Nepal. For instance the database of 220 initiatives that we developed to connect alternative leaders via online platform and the report based on it (that will be released shortly) shows an upsurge in the community-led initiatives for post- disaster management. Therefore this ‘togetherness’ should be seen as an opportunity to rebuild more resilient Nepal in the future. In fact it was fascinating to see the upsurge of new community organizations and individuals voluntarily taking the lead role to rebuild Nepal while the political parties were still in deep slumber and have no idea as what is to be done and how.
This new mass composed of self-directed citizenry is different from their conventional counterparts who were largely confined to politicized mass mobilization and have no sense of altruism. What is more interesting though is that the rise of this new ‘island of civility’ in the wake of crisis has brought a new kind of ‘people’s activism’ which is uniting Nepali society despite various artificially created differences based-on caste, class, and ethnicity in the past by the political parties, the civil society and to some extent donors as well. The community based disaster responders are apolitical in nature and are found to have been adopting secular approach while dealing with the problems.
These lots can certainly be trusted to rebuild Nepal through the way in which they took up the task of reaching out to the victims be it in the case of supplying immediate relief materials or raising money from friends and families far and distant. The origin of this new sense of voluntarism among the Nepalese shows that they largely value the society they belong to, thus projecting a sense of organic ‘community resilience’. Through this new strength of community engagement, one can certainly come up with ‘alternative approaches of development’ in its true sense of the term. We could come across ample reasons to believe that if this collective strength of the common people is harnessed properly Nepal will not be far away in addressing various problems ranging from development to democracy building that it faces today.
Every post-disaster situation is unique and differs from one place to another and therefore it is important to understand the local context vis-à-vis culture, geography, society, political behavior, and economy to develop appropriate recovery and reconstruction strategy. One of the major challenges for any country that has undergone disaster faces while adopting post disaster recovery and reconstruction is how to transform immediate relief efforts into long-term developmental goals. Engagement with communities through various actors, most notably with local people would certainly ensure sustainability of the efforts undertaken and fine tune developmental goals objectively. Equally important would be as how to take both public-private partnership and international community’s efforts on board for the purpose of rebuilding. Amidst all the task of recovery and reconstruction what is also important is to strike a balance between local dynamics of culture and power relationship on which the societies are built, community spirit remains intact and people’s aspirations are fulfilled in time.
Having said all these, however, the extant state of affairs certainly raises some fundamental questions such as:
First: how to keep the existing community spirit alive and mobilize it for the purpose of reconstruction activities;
Second, how best can international community help to reconstruct Nepal and maintain community resiliency at the same time;
Third and perhaps the most important one is can these groups of ‘island of civility’ be trusted enough to take up broader responsibilities in shaping Nepal’s political future and civil society?