Nepal's 'Road to Reconstruction' a difficult journey without adequate information

As those severely affected by the earthquake have begun the long process of emotional recovery they have also taken a stride towards reconstruction. But, at this difficult time, their lives are being made even harder. Lack of access to clear information about the various financial support packages pledged by the government has left people grappling to comprehend what assistance they are entitled to.

"People in most of the affected areas either lack information or do not have clarity on what, how and when they'll receive the earmarked funds for reconstructing houses." This concern put forth by a CSO representative about the incomplete information given to the affected about financial aid was raised at the civil society meet recently organized by the NGO Federation of Nepal. Within a few days of the earthquake the government announced 25,000 Nepali Rupees (NPR) as maintenance payout for all the partially damaged houses and 200,000 NPR plus a concessional loan of up to 25,00,000 NPR for those whose houses have been completely damaged. Later, the government declared an immediate relief entitlement of 15,000 NPR or donation of tin sheets to build temporary shelters for the fast approaching monsoon. The CSO representative expressed that there was much confusion about whether these amounts would be disbursed altogether or in different phases, and if the immediate relief amounting to 15,000 NPR and maintenance cost of 25,000 NPR would be deducted out of the 200,000 NPR or not.  With a deep sigh she further added that the confusion surmounted when the government changed its decision to halt the distribution of 15,000 NPR before the full contingent of affected households had received the promised financial support.

Among various other things, this lack of clarity could be attributed to fragmentation of information. As the information on announcements made at different times lay in different documents, it requires people to follow through every decision to get the complete picture of the financial assistance. And most of the time people may not have timely access to information to keep themselves updated. In this context where the information flow has faltered because of the inadequate mechanisms of disseminating it, open data can play a role in improving its access. Extracting all the information on financial relief packages from different government documents, sorting it to ensure cohesiveness and easy understanding and publishing it in an open format could help people to get complete information from a single source. This information published in open format would also allow journalists, parliamentarians, civil society groups, and citizens  to have access to succinct information that they can reuse as many times as they like without having to go through lengthy rhetoric of official messages.

Now is an opportune period for those working in the field of open data and for the civil society organizations to work in tandem with each other and with the government to identify pragmatic solutions to improve access to accurate, complete and timely information.  The declaration (point no. 2) at the culmination of this civil society meeting precisely underlines the need for better information to the citizens and solicits government's support and participation. The potential collaboration could help create unprecedented ways of sharing information and thus bring about a revolution in data access and use, letting what we call the 'Data Revolution' to thrive for more effective development.