Don't just rebuild, build back better: UN experts advise Kerala post floods

TNM has accessed details of a report submitted by a UN team of experts to the Kerala Chief Minister, which estimates the loss for the state at Rs 31,000 crore.
Don't just rebuild, build back better: UN experts advise Kerala post floods
Don't just rebuild, build back better: UN experts advise Kerala post floods
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After the recent floods that wrecked much much havoc, Kerala should not be just put back together the way it was, but in a much better way, suggests a report given by an expert team from the UN to the Chief Minister. They call it BBB – Build Back Better. A concept used by the UN office for Disaster Risk Reduction, BBB says that reconstruction should be seen as an opportunity to build back better.

The UN team of 76 national and international experts had come to do a PDNA – Post Disaster Needs Assessment – the first such done in the country. The PDNA, says a UN source, does three things: assess the damage, assess the loss, and assess how much is needed for recovery and reconstruction.

The loss was estimated as Rs 31,000 Crore. “There is a difference between damage and loss. Damage is the physically affected infrastructure, loss is the loss of a business. For example, if you look at tourism, the damage to the tourism building may be Rs 10 to 15 crore but the loss to the industry would be Rs 2,000 Crore,” says a source from the PDNA team, speaking to TNM.

Chapters in the report have been dedicated to detailing strategies for rebuilding. It has been an intensive exercise with the experts spending 20 days interacting with people, conducting field visits, getting data from the government and so on.

The report talks about making Kerala the first green state in the world. Creating green hospitals, schools, jobs, and protecting the ecosystem through all this. “Kerala is a fragile land. On one side is the Western Ghats, on the other the Arabian Sea. There are a large number of lakes. You have to be very careful whatever you do,” the source says.

There is also the question of land use. There are about 12 lakh locked houses and flats in the state, the report says. They’ve never been rented out, and never used by the owners either. At the same time, the government is building four lakh houses for the homeless. “It looks paradoxical. You have excess houses, and at the same time, you are constructing new ones. The problem with constructing houses is it is not environment friendly. You will be releasing a lot of carbon footprint. You will be using really precious materials like stones and sand, which leads to release of carbon footprint and emission,” the source says.

So in a detailed list of financing options given in the report, one idea – a not very popular one – is to put a tax on vacant houses. “It is not simply to get revenue, but to discourage the construction of unnecessary houses,” the expert says. It might bring the houses into the rental market, which would bring down the rent. It would make Kerala an attractive tourism destination. Businesswise, too, it would make the state an attractive IT destination.

The team has also recommended a better use of the CSR budget. The country has a CSR budget of Rs 15,000 Crore. Kerala’s share is very limited, though.

The UN has offered to facilitate resource mobilisation in India and outside, and the team has also suggested avoiding expenditure. The report projects how much the Kerala economy is going to be affected. On one side, the floods would bring down economic growth and on the other, bring up the expenditure. But the disaster, unfortunate as it is, could be used as opportunity for economic activity. For example, the gadgets affected would increase the consumption rate. The roads rebuilt would bring more jobs and wages.

The UN has also offered support for Integrated Water Resource Management, including river bed management and dam management. “Kerala is in many ways similar to Netherlands, in that some of their areas are below the sea level. We are bringing such international examples to Kerala.”

The report was presented to the Chief Minister and the Cabinet. Kerala could look to the UN for technical support and support for recovery and reconstruction in the next three to four years.

The CM has asked for four things, says the source, “Detailed recovery planning – converting strategy to specific projects, setting up of implementing agencies for recovery, UN support in mobilising resources and bringing international examples on good practices.”

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