Five years after earthquake schools and health centres await reconstruction

The tenure of the national reconstruction authority likely to be extended by at least one year.

By Binod Ghimire

A year after the destructive Gorkha earthquakes in 2015, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli endorsed the Post Disaster Recovery Framework, a detailed plan of action for the reconstruction, in May 2016.

The Rs 838 billion five-year plan proposed completing the reconstruction of all quake-hit academic institutions and health facilities within three years.

The country marked the fifth anniversary of the deadly disaster on Friday, and the government is still struggling to ensure funds for the reconstruction projects. The buildings of the academic institutions and the health facilities that should have been in place last year are still nowhere near complete.

A report by the National Reconstruction Authority shows out of 7,553 schools that needed reconstruction, only 5,598 have been completed fully or partially. About 26 percent (2,015) of the quake-damaged schools are yet to be rebuilt.

The Central Level Project Implementation Unit (Education), an entity under the authority formed to reconstruct school buildings, had sought Rs 11 billion to rebuild 1,806 public school buildings in the current fiscal year.

The Ministry of Finance, however, allocated only Rs 9.23— Rs 8 billion of which was in loans pledged by the Indian government through Exim Bank.

As Exim Bank has set tough loan preconditions, the unit was left with Rs 1.23 billion, which is 12 percent of the required budget, to invest in school reconstruction projects in the current fiscal.

Dilip Shekhar Shrestha, deputy chief at the unit, said the additional funds pledged by the Ministry of Finance had not been issued yet.

The unit has planned a school reconstruction budget of Rs 21 billion for the upcoming fiscal year and Rs 17 billion for the next.

“If the needed budget is made available, we expect the reconstruction project of school buildings to be completed in next two years,” Shrestha told the Post.

Meanwhile, the rebuilding works of the earthquake-ravaged health facilities are also lagging far behind the schedule.

Out of 1,197 health centers, only 669 (56 percent) have been completed so far while 145 of them are mid-construction.

The records of the national rebuilding authority show that construction of 32 percent of the quake-damaged health infrastructure has not even started.

“I agree that we have missed the deadline for the reconstruction of schools and health facilities, but we have made good progress in the reconstruction of individual homes,” Sushil Gyewali, the chief executive officer of the authority, told the Post.

A report released by the authority on Thursday mentions that 88 percent of private houses have been rebuilt so far.

Out of 781,176 households who signed for the government grant to rebuild their homes, 494,044 (63 percent) have already finished building new houses while 190,145 (25 percent) households are at different stages of the reconstruction.

Gyewali said the progress would have been far better had the government released an adequate budget.

“There are multiple reasons for the delay in reconstruction projects and lack of funds is the major one,” he told the Post.

The reconstruction authority has so far spent Rs 381 billion in the post-earthquake reconstruction works, including Rs 72 billion through various non-governmental organisations.

An estimated Rs 488 billion is required to complete the entire reconstruction works. Gyewali said the authority was short of Rs 107 billion to see the project through.

The authority plans to cover Rs 74 billion from the government’s internal source, but it will still need Rs 33 billion.

The authority’s term is expiring in December. But since the post-earthquake recovery works are unlikely to be completed for at least another one year, preparations are being made to extend its term.

“It is sure the reconstruction will not be completed by December, therefore, the reconstruction authority could get an extension. If not, the respective ministries will take on the construction works further,” Gyewali said.

Issuing a statement on the fifth anniversary of the disaster, Oli on Friday said though the reconstruction works have been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, his government was committed to completing the remaining tasks at the earliest.