Nepal formally begins delayed rebuild after earthquake

BUNGMATI, Nepal -- Nepal officially launched the much-delayed reconstruction of about 1 million homes and buildings Saturday nearly nine months after they were damaged by devastating earthquake which killed 9,000 people.

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Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli unveiled plans to rebuild Bungmati, an old town just south of Kathmandu, to initiate the reconstruction campaign that is expected to take years and cost billions of dollars. President Bidhya Devi Bhandari laid the foundation stones for rebuilding a temple and garden with a pond next to it in Kathmandu.

It is still not clear when work on other more devastated areas will begin, and people in northern mountain villages who are living in tents in freezing weather likely will have to wait for months.

Nepal has been criticized for delaying the much-needed reconstruction work because of disagreements among political parties, drafting the country's new constitution, ethnic protests and severe fuel shortages.

Foreign donors have pledged $4.1 billion for earthquake reconstruction, but little has reached Nepal because setting up the new National Reconstruction Authority to handle the task took months.

"We will move the reconstruction campaign at full speed. Next year there won't be damaged houses here. It will be a clean and beautiful town," Oli told the cheering people in this farming town, where seven people died and 1,166 houses were damaged.

Asha Kaji Shakya, 60-year-old farmer, said he was angry at the government because it was taking months to get any help.

"I have a family of seven living in this shade for months. Our family home is damaged and not livable and I have no money," Shakya said showing the shelter made from old tin and bricks salvaged from fallen houses.

"I am hopeful the government will finally give the money and we can at least begin to build our house," said Ram Krishna Tuladhar, a shop owner whose four-floor house has been reduced to two floors.

People like Shakya and Tuladhar have been promised 200,000 rupees ($1,850) in government grants and another 1.5 million rupees ($13,890) in loans from the government. They have not seen the money and government is still not sure when they will be able to provide it to the families.

Sushil Gyewali, who heads the new agency, said they would train thousands of construction workers and are sending 1,500 engineers to villages to get damage assessments.

"We have been given five years to complete our task. It will not take whole five years and I think in three years all private houses can be reconstructed," Gyewali said.

The agency would also come up with plans and instruction on how new houses should be build, help get financial help from government and provide any technical help to house owners.

The delay had also frustrated foreign donors and international agencies like OXFAM have been waiting for these building guidelines so they can help communities rebuild.

"The moment there are no instruction for reconstruction is very problematic for communities because they don't have guidelines on how to reconstruct their houses," said chief of OXFAM Nepaal office Cecilia Keizer. "There are no clear cut instructions from the government of how they could construct their houses but also what kind of financial support will come when.

"It has all been delayed and that for us difficult," she said.



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