Delays in official relief program

In early May 2015 the government pledged 200,000 Nrs. to every family who lost their house in the earthquake. Shortly after, it was decided to quickly hand out an initial 15,000 Nrs. – as an immediate emergency grant – for building temporary shelters before the monsoon. It wasn’t a huge amount but enough to buy zink sheets and get a roof over the head, and so it seemed to solve one of the most urgent matters in the earthquake aftermath: to provide at least some shelter from the elements before the rain started. But then the program stalled!

It all began when it was decided to issue earthquake victim ID cards. The ID cards were needed to make sure that no fake victims – people whose houses were intact – would claim the money as well. However, in a situation where the worst affected districts were already faced with great difficulties in bringing out relief and assessing the destruction, this was a huge task. Local authorities were struggling to get help to their areas and yet now they were also asked, amidst rubble and landslides, to survey all the villages and register all the victims!

Many issues delayed the distribution of ID cards, and one of them was lack of documentation among those villagers who had lost their house. Some house owners had lost their citizenship cards in the house rubbles – and without this card in hand it is next to impossible to obtain services from the government through formal channels, whether it’s getting a passport or a victim ID. A copy is sometimes kept at the local government offices but many could not retrieve it either because the office was destroyed too or the secretary was not available to open it!

Another overriding issue, was soon a considerable discrepancy between the number of victim ID-Card applicants – who claimed that their houses were destroyed – and the most recent census data. The number of houses supposedly destroyed in the earthquake proved to be much higher than the total number of households counted a few years earlier!

The reaction of the local CDOs – the District Administration Office chiefs – was to pull the breaks on the distribution of ID Cards and instead started to infvestigate the reason for discrepancies. It turned out the discrepancies were in some part due to households owning more than one house: they tried to apply under two different names to get 15,000 rupees twice. But others tried their luck without being entitled at all.

Ultimately, the initial emergency grant of 15,000 was delayed to the extent of not really being an emergency grant at all. By mid July 2015, many villages had still not received anything!

And there were other causes of delay such as lack of local staff combined with difficult terrain and poor infrastructure. Understaffed local authorities had to struggle to cover the vast areas hit by the earthquake. Government did dispatch extra personnel but it was far from enough.

It turned out the ID Card system did not prevent the misuse which it was proposed to tackle. In mid-July, over fifty people were arrested in Kavre alone for posing as earthquake victims, and many more are likely to be added in the districts in months to come. Meanwhile, thousands of families entitled to the grant had to wait for weeks before the authorities felt ready to issue the ID cards. Many earthquake victims – among them many unregistered women – haven’t received any official help until today and probably they never will.