| June 27, 2019

Post-quake reconstruction, rehabilitation and social protection

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Heartbreakingly, the devastating earthquake that rocked Nepal on April 25 claimed more than 8 thousand lives and damaged tens of thousands of houses. Till date, many people are still buried under the debris. The people are in dire need of water, food, medicine, shelter and clothes. Although the government has tried its best to support the victims and also taken measures to contain possible outbreak of disease, people from badly affected areas are still traumatized due to their loss of livelihood, relatives and more importantly their shelters. Nepal, one of the poorest countries in the world, has been struggling to tackle this kind of immense disaster.  Therefore it is calling for an international assistance to reconstruct the infrastructures.

The current crisis in Nepal requires an immediate action to counter the fall of GDP, decrease of wages and increase of unemployment.

It is likely that there will be a potential tension among quake victims due to income insecurity and apparent non-affordability. Therefore, it should be addressed by i) assisting households to better manage risks and vulnerability, and ii) providing support to critically poor households to resolve their hand-to-mouth problem.

One of the immediate approaches could be to integrate components of relief, reconstruction and poverty reduction. It is fairly similar to the norms of social protection, the actions in response to vulnerability, risk and deprivations in earthquake damaged areas. One of the possible ways is to transfer cash universally to the victims of the earthquake. However, resource of the government is quite limited and is mostly being spent in the relief operation. Therefore, unconditional cash transfer may not be affordable. Since the forthcoming priority of the government will be reconstruction of the damaged public assets, social protection through public works can be an effective tool to address risk, vulnerability and chronic poverty.

The social protection should also be taken into account while providing income security for individuals at this time of crisis. In order to ensure smooth consumption of basic needs of the community, the most effective social protection would be cash for work- similar to the Karnali Employment Program.

Cost analysis of social protection is often argued to be unreasonable as quality of asset created is relatively lower. Most of the social protection programs focus on using intensive human capital to create assets. The use of external materials should be kept low in order to enhance the wages. There is always a trade between costs and impacts on poverty reduction and economic growth. Since the current role of the government is to provide relief with an objective to boost economic growth, an appropriate action should be taken to protect people, increase socially and economically profitable assets and graduate poor and vulnerable in the long run. Therefore, the first stage to tackle the current crisis is to build low-cost houses so that most needy people get their shelter.

People can be engaged to build their own houses and obtain wages. Furthermore, people can be engaged as labor to revive community's physical and natural capital. Targeting only the poor and vulnerable may be controversial in the countries like Nepal as poverty head counts are higher while income profiles are lower. Additionally, people do require some relief in post-earthquake scenario until their livelihood does not return to normalcy. Although self-targeting may not be effective principally in the beginning but it can target only needy households if the rates of the wage is kept low but quite sufficient to survive.

The central question arises 'how', 'how much' and 'how quickly' we can introduce the social protection through public programs in the current humanitarian crisis. Of course, we require a strong political consensus, good governance and strong financial support. To initiate the activities, Operational Guidelines of Karnali Employment Program can be replicated with some modification.