Discussing a number of lessons learnt, this series of articles argue for a holistic approach to disaster preparedness and recovery, mainly focusing on the significance of livelihoods recovery. The authors also highlight the importance of cooperation and coordination among countries in the Himalayan region to improve understanding of seismic risks and prepare for earthquakes and their impacts. 

9. Opportunity to build back better

When it comes to the concept of “building back better” as spelt out in the Sendai Framework, putting livelihood recovery at the center is crucial. This would mean not only restoring livelihoods and communities to their pre-disaster conditions, but also developing long-term strategy for the transition from reconstruction and restoration to sustainable livelihoods that are more resilient to future disasters. Governments must develop long-term framework where efforts, from early on, must focus on people and revitalizing their livelihoods. Such a framework should particularly spell out short-term priorities as well as inform long-term policies and strategies providing guidelines for the effective design and implementation of livelihood recovery efforts. A sustainable livelihood recovery strategy must identify emerging opportunities, engage local people and institutions in recovery planning and implementation, reach out to the most vulnerable groups like women and other poor and marginalized communities, design sector-specific recovery strategies, and adopt an integrated approach that brings together employment-intensive reconstruction, the skills development of local people, enterprise development, microfinance, and social protection. Besides, in countries like Nepal where remittances substantially fuel the national economy, ways must be explored to broaden scope for remittances to help economic recovery.

Disaster risk reduction primarily focuses on mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (2015–2030) has identified four priorities for action: understanding disaster risk; strengthening disaster risk governance to manage disaster risk; investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience, and; enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to “Build Back Better” in recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction (UNISDR, 2015). The lesson we have learnt from disasters in the past is that the recovery, rehabilitation, and reconstruction phase is a critical opportunity to build back better, mainly through integrating disaster risk reduction into development planning. This would include promoting the resilience of new and existing critical infrastructure, including water, transportation and telecommunication infrastructure, and educational and health facilities so that they remain safe, effective, and operational during and after disasters in order to provide life-saving and essential services.

One clear example of “build back better” is already visible in Nepal’s brick industry. Almost every brick kiln in the Kathmandu Valley was damaged by the 2015 earthquake, and 90% of workers left the valley which brought the production to almost zero. As damaged homes and other public and private infrastructures are being rebuilt the demand for building materials like bricks spiked exponentially. As kiln owners now have started to rebuild the kilns, this comes with the opportunity to introduce cleaner and worker-friendly brick kiln technologies. Indeed, ICIMOD’s Atmosphere Initiative is currently championing the new design intended to optimize on construction cost, energy efficiency, and seismic safety. Together with the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries – Technology Research and Development Committee and other stakeholders like Greentech Knowledge Solutions Pvt. Ltd., MinErgy Pvt. Ltd., and the International Finance Corporation, ICIMOD is leading the collaboration for the new design. The new kilns will consume 30% less energy than the existing ones and commensurate their emission reductions. If the design is adopted widely, Kathmandu could witness the largest air pollutant emission reduction.


Given that the HKH region is a major disaster hotspot in the world, and given the vulnerability of mountain people as exposed by the Nepal earthquake, concerted efforts are required on disaster risk management. Understanding that the HKH region as a whole is under severe seismic stress, the learnings from Nepal should be transferred to other areas in the region.

The Himalayan region faces a greater uncertainty of earthquakes and question come to peoples’ mind on when, where, and how big. Science has not developed enough to predict earthquakes and even California in US is still struggling to develop reliable early warning systems of earthquake. People living in the Himalayan region and downstream areas have to learn to adapt and live with the earthquakes. It is extremely important that countries sharing the Himalayan region come forward to cooperate on scientific regional research for better understanding the earthquakes and their impacts for future preparedness.

The Sendai Framework provides a solid basis to the region to work collectively towards reducing disaster risks for a safer and resilient society. This would include strengthening DRR-related activities such as bridging science, technology, and innovations to increase resilience; collaborating on multi-hazard early warning system, and hazard and vulnerability assessment for climate change adaptation; building capacity on DRR and resilience; engaging the private sector; and improving DRR governance and investments, among others. While a lot of efforts at community level is needed, there is also the need to invest in governments’ ability to respond. This would not only improve emergency response capacity, but also ensure that emergency plans are ready when disasters strike.

Unfortunately, in many a case, the sense of urgency often slackens as the memory of damage, destruction, and distress fade away with time until the next big disaster rears its ugly head. It is without a doubt worth every effort to stay alert, and put safeguards in place now in our fragile yet special mountain areas.

[The End of the Series]

Contributed by David Molden, Eklabya Sharma, Gopilal Acharya. 

David Molden (PhD) is the Director General of Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD); Eklabya Sharma (PhD) is ICIMOD’s Director of Programme Operations; Gopilal Acharya (formerly ICIMOD’s Communications Specialist) is a Thimphu-based independent consultant. The authors may be contacted at: David.Molden@icimod.org, Eklabya.Sharma@icimod.org, or gopibhutanese@gmail.com.