Researching post-earthquake reconstruction lessons in Nepal


Valuable lessons are being learned from post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal, says NADEEM AHMED, a senior consultant at IMC Worldwide.

The devastating 7.8 magnitude Gorkha earthquake of April 25, 2015 and its aftershocks severely affected 31 districts of Nepal in the central and western regions inhabited by 5.4 million people.

The earthquake caused extensive structural damage, 8,970 people lost their lives and more than 23,000 people were injured. Some 188,900 people were displaced. The overall economic damage is estimated to be at about $10bn, according to the Nepal government — nearly half of its gross domestic product (GDP) of $19.2bn.

Given the scale of damage across both rural and urban communities, post-earthquake reconstruction in Nepal remains an enormous, multi-sectoral and complex task. It stands as one of the largest post-disaster recovery challenges globally. As such, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) is keen to learn lessons from it, to both, inform future post disaster recovery efforts, and identify any gaps in current knowledge to support the ongoing reconstruction process.

IMC Worldwide were commissioned to help DFID in this task and pored over more than 400 studies to identify key lessons learned, and what still needs to be understood, from post-earthquake reconstruction in the country. The Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction Research: Scoping Study produced for DFID’s research and evidence division highlights a number of potential approaches to fill evidence gaps in the area.

Our top three recommendations are as follows:

Connect the dots – Continuously synthesise existing research to extract actionable evidence across sector and disciplines. This will ensure findings can be more speedily applied to relevant challenges. A good example of this approach is the Nepal Earthquakes Appeal Meta-Synthesis, a meta-synthesis of DEC members’ and others’ work, to learn lessons from the actions in Nepal for future disaster response, in Nepal and elsewhere. It looks at the overall work of DEC members, and from that, seeks to identify key lessons for future action.

Make it inclusive – Ensure studies are conducted in close participation with local people through ethnography, longitudinal studies, local observation and feedback collection. This will ensure the reconstruction process is more inclusive. ALNAP highlight the importance of this in their publication: Participation Handbook for Humanitarian Field Workers, emphasising the need to “see people affected by a crisis as social actors with skills, energy, ideas and insight into their own situation”. In the handbook they argue that “local people should be agents of the humanitarian response rather than passive recipients”.

Maximise research uptake – Supercharge research uptake by augmenting written products with real-time, two-way, interactive systems to share relevant research. This will ensure better information exchange to practitioners working on programming, advocacy, policy making and implementation. This could be done through free and open-source reference management software, such as Zotero, to share and manage research materials. Or through a more sophisticated open access website such as ALNAP’s Help Library or DFID’s Research for Development platform, both of which seek to maximise research uptake.

Click here to download the Nepal Earthquake Reconstruction Research: Scoping Study.