Nepal to begin much-delayed quake reconstruction

By Binaj Gurubacharya, AP

KATHMANDU, Nepal–Nepal this month will begin much-delayed reconstruction of about 1 million homes and buildings damaged by last year’s earthquake and will also begin to collect the billions of dollars pledged by foreign donors, the head of the reconstruction agency said Saturday.

Sushil Gyewali, who was recently appointed to head the National Reconstruction Authority, said reconstruction work will formally begin on Jan. 16.

Officials will send 1,500 engineers to villages in all of the 40 affected districts to take detailed damage surveys. They will train technicians to build safer houses, coordinate between the government offices and also collect money from donors.

Nepal has been criticized for delaying reconstruction work because of disagreements among political parties, the country’s new constitution, ethnic protests and severe fuel shortages while people are still living in tents in cold mountain villages.

Nearly 9,000 people were killed in the April 25 earthquake and aftershocks. Nearly a million houses and buildings were damaged.

Foreign donors have pledged US$4.1 billion for earthquake reconstruction, but only a small amount of that money has reached Nepal because it took months to set up the new agency to deal with the task.

Nepal’s main political parties were able to finally reach agreement last month and new laws were approved in parliament to allow the government to form the agency and appoint Gyewali as the chief executive officer.

The hundreds of thousands still homeless because of the quake are facing harsh winter weather in Nepal’s mountain villages. Many are still living in tents and huts built with tin sheets that will be little match for the snow and below-freezing temperatures.

Aid groups have warned of a crisis unfolding in Nepal during the winter, especially for many of the estimated 400,000 people who live at elevations of 1,500 meters (4,920 feet) or higher.