Nepal quake-reconstruction agency finally cleared to start working


Eight months after a devastating earthquake hit Nepal, its government has finally opened the way for the reconstruction agency to spend $4.1 billion pledged by foreign donors to help the massive number of people rendered homeless.

Two earthquakes in April and May killed 9,000 people, injured more than 22,000 and damaged or destroyed nearly 900,000 houses, forcing many to live in shelters built with tarps and iron sheets, even in freezing temperatures.

It took until September for Nepal to create the National Reconstruction Agency (NRA).

On Saturday, a minister said that the Cabinet had named a chief for the agency a day earlier, giving it the green light to begin its work.

The delays were due to wrangling between political parties, which frustrated many international donors.

Sherdhan Rai, minister for information and communication technology, said the NRA “will finalize the models for homes to be reconstructed and give financial assistance to people to rebuild their homes.”

He also said the agency “will be responsible to rebuild schools, hospitals, monuments, roads and office buildings in five years.”

UNICEF says more than 200,000 families affected by the tremors are still living in temporary shelters at an altitude above 1,500 meters where harsh winter conditions will continue through February.

The earthquake prompted squabbling Nepalese politicians to unit and adopt a new constitution in September after seven years of trying.

But the charter triggered protests by ethnic Madhesi groups who blocked key trade crossings with India, causing severe fuel shortages.

Aid agencies say the shortages disrupted efforts to send essential relief items such as blankets and clothing to earthquake survivors in mountainous areas.

“Clothes get wet with dew dropping from iron sheets at night and we cannot sleep,” Kanchhi Pahari, an earthquake victim told the Kantipur daily.

The government has handed out only $150 in emergency aid to each of the affected families, but has yet to provide the promised $2,000 allotted to each family for rebuilding homes.