Land rights have been at the heart of Nepal’s political agenda for the past 70 years, mostly because the unequal distribution of land had led to a high level of vulnerability and dissatisfaction among the population. After the 1996- 2006 conflict, a series of progressive laws was passed by temporary and now permanent institutions of the new Republic, allowing women, low-caste people and the landless to gain more control over the land they live on and cultivate.
Unfortunately, most of these measures are not effective in practice due to the challenges faced by the Nepalese institutions such as lack of technical and financial capacity or a busy political agenda. As a consequence, women, low-caste, and landless people are still living in precarious situations, unable to claim formal rights over the land they occupy and struggling to make a living out of very small plots.
The April and May 2015 earthquakes have destroyed 604,254 houses and damaged 288,255 more (PostDisaster Needs Assessment, June 2015). In the face of such widespread destruction, the Government of Nepal has formulated a consequent reconstruction policy, promising NRP 200,000 (about USD 1,928) to every homeowner whose house was damaged beyond repair. The Government will have to ensure the disbursement process is harmonised and transparent, although its implementation will be decentralised and local bodies have limited technical and financial resources.
Although ambitious, the Government reconstruction policy might leave some earthquake-affected people behind, including very vulnerable ones such as squatters, undocumented citizens or owners without a formal land title. Those whose houses were partially damaged are also excluded from the grants, as well as renters who might find it difficult to find affordable and safe housing units in their area.
The reconstruction of so many houses also raises questions about the safety of their location. Rebuilt homes should provide a safe living environment for their occupants, both from natural disasters (earthquakes, landslides, floods) and economic difficulties. Hence, this report highlights land use planning as a necessary step in reconstruction.
Looking further than medium-term recovery, this report also recommends specific actions to allow progressive rights to become effective in practice. Improving the tenure situation of the most vulnerable groups of Nepal through information campaigns, incentives and institutional capacity building will help reduce inequalities in Nepal.
In spite of significant social progress in its legislation for the past 40 years, Nepal still denies equal rights to inheritance and property to women, undocumented residents and refugees. Nepali civil society, already at the forefront of land rights struggles, deserves strong technical and financial support from the international community to advocate further progress.