One year ago today, the first in a series of massive earthquakes rocked Nepal. Nearly 9 thousand people lost their lives in the disaster. Over 20 thousand people were injured – many critically. As many as 450 aftershocks have shook the country since.
In all, the earthquakes upended the lives of 8 million Nepalis – nearly a third of the population. The devastation was wide-spread: the Government of Nepal led an extensive exercise to assess the damages and losses, which a Post Disaster Needs Assessment estimated in the order of US$7.1 billion. As it turned out, the poorest and the most vulnerable communities were hit the hardest. The government estimates that the disaster pushed nearly 1 million Nepalis back into poverty.
From private homes to public infrastructure; and farms, businesses and historical monuments – hardly anything was spared in the trail of destruction. But from the government’s own assessment, rural housing stood out as one area of greatest need, in excess of US$1.2 billion. Early on, the government estimated that over half a million homes were destroyed.
In June last year, exactly two months after the first earthquake, 56 governments and international organizations came together in Kathmandu and pledged US$4.1 billion in reconstruction assistance. The World Bank Group was among them. At the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction, the Bank Group offered a financial package of up to US$500 million.
Soon after the earthquakes, the Government of Nepal promised NRs. 200,000 (approximately US$1,900) in assistance to each family rendered homeless by the calamity. The Emergency Housing Reconstruction Program, supported by the World Bank and the governments of Japan, the United States, Switzerland and Canada, is designed to make good on that promise.
As we today mark UN Women’s Day, it is worth considering what the inequality between men and women costs South Asian countries and what can be done about it.
One big cost of inequality is that South Asian economies do not reach their full potential. In Bangladesh, for example, women account for most unpaid work, and are overrepresented in the low productivity informal sector and among the poor. Raising the female employment rate could contribute significantly to Bangladesh achieving its goal in 2021 of becoming a middle-income country. Yet even middle-income countries in South Asia could prosper from more women in the workforce. Women represent only 34 percent of the employed population in Sri Lanka, a figure that has remained static for decades.
Improvements in the education and health of women have been linked to better outcomes for their children in countries as varied as Nepal and Pakistan. In India, giving power to women at the local government level led to increases in public services, such as water and sanitation.
Just as the costs of inequality are huge, so is the challenge in overcoming it. The gaps in opportunity between men and women are the product of pervasive and stubborn social norms that privilege men’s and boys’ access to opportunities and resources over women’s and girls’.