Building Back Right: Ensuring equality in land rights and reconstruction in Nepal | Land Law

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As recovery in Nepal begins after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck in April 2015, there is an opportunity to ensure that reconstruction and resettlement policies and programmes are inclusive of women and those who are landless – some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the country. This will help address historic social inequalities and rebuild a stronger, more equal Nepal. This briefing paper reviews the current situation and presents recommendations to help achieve this.
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  JOINT AGENCY BRIEFING PAPER 21 APRIL 2016 Gita returns to her house for the first time after the earthquake (photo taken May 2015). The mother of two lived alone in Sanagaun village of Kathmandu while her husband was looking for a job in Dubai. After the earthquake, she lived nearby in a tent built with plastic sheets. Photo: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam BUILDING BACK RIGHT Ensuring equality in land rights and reconstruction in Nepal  As recovery in Nepal begins after the 7.6 magnitude earthquake that struck in April 2015, there is an opportunity to ensure that reconstruction and resettlement policies and programmes are inclusive of women and those who are landless—some of the poorest and most marginalized people in the country. This will help address historic social inequalities and rebuild a stronger more equal Nepal. This briefing paper reviews the current situation and presents recommendations to help achieve this.  2 SUMMARY ‘We need a sustainable way of living, with documented houses and land. [Somewhere there are] no landslides or floods, [there are] schools for children, health centres nearby, drinking water facilities, and space for farms. How can we return to the place where so many people were killed? We want to, but we cannot. I don’t think we can make the village safe [...] instead, the Government could provide us with a better alternative.’ Focus group participant, IDP camp in Haku VDC, Rasuwa On 25 April 2015, Nepal suffered an earthquake of magnitude 7.6, followed by hundreds of aftershocks, the largest of which struck on 12 May 2015 and was of magnitude 6.8. Over this period, more than 8,700 people died and over 23,500 were injured. In addition to this, over 850,000 houses were destroyed or damaged. 1  More than 117,000 people were displaced, of whom 26,000 are still displaced a year later. 2  In total, over 8 million people across 31 districts were affected by the earthquake. 3  As reconstruction begins, this paper looks at land rights and resettlement, and considers Nepal’s opportunity to ‘build back better’ and ensure greater land equality, especially for marginalized people, such as the Dalit  caste, indigenous groups ( Janajatis ), many of whom are also landless, and women. Experience from other disasters shows that women and those who are landless are often excluded from reconstruction and recovery policies and plans, largely due to a lack of documentation proving eligibility for support. When this happens, recovery takes longer, with people still in temporary shelter many years later. Conversely, the World Bank has found that when women have land entitlements, poverty is reduced and equality increased. Women and girls face reduced risks of domestic violence and forced marriage, and children’s health and education improve. Women in Nepal traditionally have limited land rights and access to entitlements. Recent legislation and policies have started to change this; however, entrenched cultural norms mean that whilst the policies may be in place, people chose not to take them up. This has exacerbated the impact of the earthquake on women, as their lack of rights and access to land—particularly due to a lack of documentation or being named on documentation—means that they need to rely upon local advocates to put their case forward for support to the authorities. For reconstruction to be inclusive and ensure that Nepal builds back better, women need to be central to the programmes and policies and their rights need to be fully recognized. Squatters and those who are landless tend to be the most marginalized people in Nepal, living on hazard prone and poor quality land even prior to the earthquake. The earthquake has exacerbated their existing vulnerability and they are now at risk of being excluded from   3 reconstruction efforts due to a lack of land ownership and documentation. If reconstruction efforts exclude them, they will continue to be marginalized and live on unsafe land, and the opportunity to build back better will have been missed. Reconstruction and recovery provide an opportunity to build back better and more equitably, ensuring resilience and reducing landlessness. The National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) has been set up and is developing policies and plans. The Government, supported by the World Bank, is developing a Post Disaster Reconstruction Framework (PDRF) which includes gender equity as a focus. This provides an excellent opportunity to recognize women’s land rights in reconstruction and rebuild more equitably. Furthermore, the Government is developing a procedure to provide people with land registration, even for those who are living on land where ownership is undefined. This procedure will also prioritize Joint Land Ownership (JLO) to improve women’s land rights. If the procedure also considers the needs of landless people this then too would help to ensure more equitable and resilient reconstruction. For some communities, resettlement will be necessary if they are on hazard prone (unsafe) land. Communities that we spoke to welcome resettlement if their land is deemed unsafe. Resettlement sites, however, should not be too far from their srcinal community so that people can access their agricultural land, or if this is not possible, new agricultural land should be provided alongside the land for housing, and all necessary facilities supplied. Resettlement needs to be community led with free, informed and prior consent. Bidur IDP camp, Nuwakot, Nepal, January 2016. Photo: Ruth Jackson/Oxfam  4 Oxfam has responded to many disasters globally and has learned lessons from these disasters which could support Nepal in reconstruction and resettlement. However, recovery should not only be considered to be the responsibility of the Government, it is also the responsibility of the people to create the communities they want through good community governance. Oxfam and CSRC have experience of community land rights projects in Nepal, and principles from this can be applied to earthquake-affected areas.  As reconstruction commences, we recommend the following to ensure that reconstruction is fair and equitable and rebuilds a stronger and more resilient Nepal: Recommendations Reconstruction and resettlement policies and plans 1.  Additional financial support is needed  from the Government and INGOs for reconstruction for the poorest and most vulnerable, especially female-headed families, single women, landless people and squatters. The existing NPR200,000 (approximately $2,000) support grant to rebuild is insufficient. 2. Government policies and plans, particularly the Land Use Bill, must include provisions for women and landless people . They should provide for people regardless of their tenure status or documentation, particularly if the land or house where they were living was destroyed. 3. The Government of Nepal and its development partners should undertake geological surveys immediately  to identify safe resettlement sites. At the same time, suitable agricultural land should be identified. 4. The Government of Nepal and its development partners, including the World Bank, should ensure that resettlement policies and plans are integrated with agricultural land plans, including in the Land Use Bill . Resettlement sites should be co-located with suitable agricultural land. Existing mechanisms in districts and Village Development Committees (VDCs) for supporting earthquake-affected communities should be strengthened and supported. 5. The Government and its development partners, including the World Bank, should ensure that reconstruction and resettlement is community-led  with their full participation and free, informed and prior consent. Existing mechanisms at the district and VDC level should be strengthened and supported to deliver this.
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