Post-disaster Reconstruction: Lessons from Nepal and Pakistan

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A person builds blocks near a reconstruction site in Pakistan. A person builds blocks near a reconstruction site in Pakistan.

No two disasters are the same, and neither are their aftermaths. Pakistan was hit with a 7.6 magnitude quake in 2005, which took over 85,000 lives and destroyed over 500,000 houses. Nepal endured a 7.8 magnitude tremor ten years later resulting in the loss of 8,970 lives and the destruction of 800,000 houses. 

However, the topographies of the earthquake-affected regions and the approaches taken to respond to the earthquakes were similar in both South Asian nations. Both Nepal and Pakistan let owners drive the reconstruction of damaged houses, and provided housing grant payments.  Both established special purpose institutions for reconstruction. The Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA) in Pakistan and National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) in Nepal supported a longer term institutional setup for overall disaster risk reduction and management.

Both Nepal and Pakistan let owners drive the reconstruction of damaged houses, and provided housing grant payments. Both established special purpose institutions for reconstruction.

Having led the World Bank’s earthquake reconstruction projects in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake and in Nepal after the 2015 earthquake, here are my thoughts on and what I’ve learned from my post-earthquake reconstruction experiences in the two countries.

Efficient damage assessment is crucial
Experience from both the countries showed the importance of rapid damage assessment and household registration for timely rebuilding.  In Nepal, the international standard of damage assessment grades was followed, which gave engineers some discretion to identify recovery needs and decide on whether to repair, retrofit or reconstruct. Beneficiaries also had the flexibility to decide on their house designs according to their needs instead of being limited to prescribed house designs. However, this approach took time; it was flexible on one hand but delayed reconstruction on the other. In Pakistan, only two room core structure designs were allowed for reconstruction, leaving little choice to the homeowners.

The damage category by which the earthquake damage was assessed was comparatively simpler as all the mud houses were declared as completely destroyed, structural damage of less than 5% was declared as intact, between 5% and 25% - partially damaged, and any structural damage above 25% or with deflected roof or cracked corner was classified as completely destroyed.  Beneficiary enrolment for tranche distributions of housing grant subsidies were done simultaneously with damage assessment which made the process efficient.

Involvement of Civil Society Organizations is vital
The engagement of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in reconstruction efforts in Pakistan proved to be an effective approach.  The CSOs understood the area, had established relationships with the communities, and had good outreach capacity for social mobilization which is important for immediate mobilization of resources in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction as it facilitated communities to join hands for collective action and reduced cost of reconstruction.

It also identified vulnerable people and generated community support to reconstruct their homes. The CSOs’ involvement also helped house owners understand technical parameters of reconstruction along with registration processes.

Mobilize communities to support reconstruction
For rural housing reconstruction, collective procurement and transportation of construction materials considerably brought down costs of construction  in both countries. In some instances, it saved up to 20 per cent. Both countries experienced community reconstruction where community groups were formed to reconstruct village houses, and this also led to participatory reconstruction of each other’s houses. 

Make decisions promptly
In reconstruction, a decision delayed is reconstruction delayed.  Pakistan adopted a real-time issue-based reporting mechanism that facilitated quick decision-making and expedited implementation reconstruction process. In Nepal, third-party monitoring agencies interacted regularly with the District Project Implementation Units to ensure reconstruction at the field level complied with safer reconstruction requirements set out by NRA. 

Beneficiary Enrolment in Nuwakot, Nepal
Beneficiary Enrolment in Nuwakot, Nepal . Photo: NepalInfoPark

Identify vulnerable populations quickly
In Pakistan, the criteria for identifying vulnerable populations were decided in close consultation with the communities. It was carried out during the damage assessment by social mobilizers and community organizations, which helped expedite the process. Also, communities were made responsible for the reconstruction of vulnerable people’s houses first.  

This was a major step to ensure that the elderly, persons with disabilities, single women, and children were not left behind. In Nepal’s case, the delayed decision to define vulnerability criteria slowed down support for the most vulnerable groups. 

Rebuilding livelihoods is vital to reconstruction
Restoring livelihoods is crucial after any disaster. Nepal set an example by providing mason trainings to over 62,000 people, 12.6% of whom were women.  The trainings created job opportunities for the participants who could now work as masons anywhere in Nepal. In Pakistan, communities were taught to build blocks through moulds near building sites, which cut down transportation and labor costs extensively.

The project also collected data on loss of livelihoods including livestock during damage assessment which supported the Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund’s livestock restocking program for the vulnerable communities. 

Rebuilding social cohesion should be a priority
Reconstruction isn’t just about building houses; it is about restoring lives, with socially mobilized communities at the heart of any reconstruction effort . In Pakistan, the social structure that bound villagers together was disrupted after the earthquake as each family now had to take care of their immediate family. Before the earthquake, the village community took care of each other when men migrated to cities to earn money.

To enhance social cohesion, we adopted a system where collective actions were rewarded. For instance, community infrastructures were built only after vulnerable communities’ needs were addressed. This was further supported by mass social mobilization. In Nepal, the existence of the arma/parma system, which is the culture of collective labour sharing, was extremely helpful as communities helped build each other’s houses.  

With these lessons learnt from Nepal and Pakistan, South Asia can prepare itself for a better, swifter, and more inclusive and resilient disaster risk management in the region. 

The lessons from these experiences is clear: reconstruction benefits from quick damage assessment and beneficiary registration, thoughtful decision making and timely context-based solutions to issues.  Owner-driven and community-supported approaches, engagement of civil society organizations, prioritizing the rebuilding of livelihoods, and nurturing existing cooperative social value systems are also important factors in reconstruction. With these lessons learnt from Nepal and Pakistan, South Asia can prepare itself for a better, swifter, and more inclusive and resilient disaster risk management in the region. 


Kamran Akbar

Senior Social Development Specialist

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