Nepal’s recovery only just beginning a year after earthquake

Many people here in Nepal pin their hopes on promises of foreign aid: After the disaster, images of collapsed temples and stoic villagers in a sea of rubble were beamed around the world, and donors came forward with pledges of $4.1 billion in foreign grants and soft loans.

But those promises, so far, have not done much to speed the progress of Nepal’s reconstruction effort. Outside Kathmandu, the capital, many towns and villages remain choked with rubble, as if the earthquake had happened yesterday. The government, hampered by red tape and political turmoil, has only begun to approve projects. Nearly all of the pledged funds remain in the hands of the donors, unused.

The delay is misery for the 770,000 households awaiting a promised subsidy to rebuild their homes. Because a yearly stretch of bad weather begins in June, large-scale rebuilding is unlikely to begin before early 2017, consigning families to a second monsoon season and a second winter in leaky shelters made of zinc sheeting.

Visitors who came here to assess the reconstruction expressed shock at how little had been done. In March, a German lawmaker, Dagmar Wöhrl, publicly warned Nepal’s leaders that private donations to foundations and nongovernmental organizations would no longer be available if Nepal did not use the aid soon. She said it was the first time in her seven years as the head of Parliament’s economic development committee that she had given such a warning.

“I had the feeling that someone has to raise a voice and give an input from outside, because time is running out,” Ms. Wöhrl said in an interview. “It does not help a single Nepalese if there are millions of dollars of donation money on charity accounts. The money has to be invested now.”

The Nepali authorities say they must maintain control over the actions of nongovernmental organizations and foreign donors. Bhishma K. Bhusal, an under secretary of the reconstruction authority, said, “We didn’t want to make Nepal like Haiti, where more than $14 billion has been spent, but still people are living in tents.”  Mr. Bhusal acknowledged that the reconstruction agency remained weak, with more than half of its 208 positions unfilled, because civil servants were refusing to accept transfers to an overloaded, much-criticized division.

[New York Times]

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