AbstractPath dependence literature largely accepts that large-scale disasters trigger abnormal times that weaken path dependence and create windows of opportunity to bring about institutional reforms. Disaster literature insists that lessons must be learnt from past disasters, so that damage caused by future disasters can be mitigated. Yet experience suggests that institutional reforms are rarely implemented post catastrophic disasters. This paper examines factors that might explain why the windows of opportunity triggered by disasters are missed in some cases, while seized in others. This question is explored by juxtaposing two case studies: the Gorkha 2015 earthquakes (Nepal) and the Uttarakhand 2013 flood (India), the worst natural disasters to have struck the regions. Analyzed through the insights of path dependence, the case studies reveal that post disasters institutional reforms were implemented in Nepal, aimed at improving implementation of building construction and zonal laws by public institutions. However, no such institutional reforms were implemented in India, specifically Uttarakhand. A comparative analysis identifies similarities and differences in actions taken by public institutions before and after the disasters aiming to improve public institutions’ implementation of laws, to explore factors explaining the contrasting outcomes. The paper reveals key distinctions highlighting the critical role of (a) gradual reforms taken during normal times and its influence on actions taken during abnormal times; and (b) negative feedback provided by public institutions responsible for implementing building construction and zonal laws (implementing agencies), and by other public institutions, and denial or acknowledgement of such critique by implementing agencies. Based on the findings, the paper elaborates policy suggestions that may aid in mitigating the possibility of abnormal times repeatedly becoming missed opportunities. More specifically, this paper provides a starting point for exploring what might be done during normal times so that when disasters do occur in the future, these opportunities can be seized and used to bring about reforms to improve public institutional functioning.

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