Academic journal article Global Governance

Rights to Govern Lives in Postdisaster Reconstruction Processes

Academic journal article Global Governance

Rights to Govern Lives in Postdisaster Reconstruction Processes

Article excerpt

Natural disasters such as the 2004 tsunami, hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the 2006 South Asian earthquake; the postwar sites of Afghanistan and Iraq; and housing regeneration programs in the UK have allowed international institutions to increasingly gain legitimacy to participate in postdisaster governance through the language of human rights. The World Conference on Disaster Reduction (2005) promoted "people-centered governance" to reduce the violation of human rights of the poor and excluded, indicating the important relationship of rights and governance. In this article, I draw on the empirical research I conducted while living and working in villages as a relief and community development worker in the postearthquake reconstruction processes in Maharashtra India, during 1993-1997. I consider how rights legitimize, materially determine, and physically locate sites of governance in the postearthquake Maharashtra reconstruction process. I suggest that this formula of people-centered governance for understanding the relations of rights and governance is applicable to wider reconstruction processes, from postdisaster to everyday life. KEYWORDS: reconstruction, governance, rights, legitimacy, postdisaster.

In 2006, the UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing commented, "Relief efforts risk turning survivors into dependents of the state when large contractors and government machinery lead the process of rehabilitation without input from the people. We all must recognise that resettlement and rehabilitation can be most effective only when human rights standards are met and the survivors themselves are given the opportunity to transform their lives." (1)

The Maharashtra earthquake of 1993 marks a key turning point in international postdisaster reconstruction policies during the broader shift in global governance and economic policy of the post-Washington Consensus, as presented in Reinventing the World Bank. (2) In this article, I consider the experience of the World Bank and the Maharashtra state government's Maharashtra Emergency Earthquake Rehabilitation Programme (MEERP) as an example of the World Bank's rethinking on governance through participation. Joseph Stiglitz, chief economist of the World Bank, summarized the New World Bank vision in 1998:

  What is needed is a thoroughgoing transformation of society that
  extends beyond tinkering at the margins to encompass institutional
  change and the creation of new institutions in the private and public
  sectors, including corporations, states, local communities and
  families. This Herculean task cannot be achieved by "imposing change
  from the outside" but requires local ownership, participation,
  inclusion and concensus-building." (3)

In this article, I consider how the World Bank's justification of the "transformation of society" through "rights of participation" is played out in the specific example of the MEERP, regarding which the chief minister of Maharashtra stated, "The Rehabilitation Policy, while addressing issues in relation to the restoration of properties lost and damaged in the earthquake, places even greater emphasis on social equity and the creation of vibrant and wholesome communities." (4)

The World Bank and the state government's MEERP divided the earthquake-affected area into a relocated township of 52,000 contractor-driven reconstructed houses, and 1,500 existing peripheral villages where homes were repaired and strengthened. In the relocated villages, the World Bank and state government designated rights of participation to the beneficiaries to select the relocation sites, the layout of the village, the design of the houses, and the provision of amenities. In the peripheral villages, the World Bank provided rights to the villagers to participate in the rebuilding of their homes. Overall, Sultan Barakat cites the Maharashtra project as a "people's project. ... The participatory project process opened many informal channels of communication between ordinary people and the government. …

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