[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.]
By Ellen Barry
A building in
the one-year anniversary of the day it was damaged in an earthquake that killed
almost 9,000 people. CreditNiranjan Shrestha/Associated Press
SANKHU, Nepal — As the anniversary of Nepal’s devastating earthquake came and went last week, Tilakmananda Bajracharya peered up at the mountainside temple his family has tended for 13 generations, wondering how long it would remain upright.
The temple walls, which shook violently for more than a minute during the earthquake, are now split by fat, snaking cracks. Rescue workers braced the building’s sides with wooden planks last year, said Mr. Bajracharya, the temple’s priest, but they will snap as soon as the next large earthquake hits.
“Nothing will remain,” he said. “We will live with the consequences.”
Seeing the face of a foreigner last week, the priest brightened. Many people here 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
’s reconstruction effort. Outside Nepal 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.
Veterans of immense relief efforts in
and after the 2004 Haiti Indian Ocean tsunami say it is normal for spending to
remain low for the first year after a disaster, then ramp up gradually after
detailed surveys and construction standards are in place. And since the
earthquake, which killed almost 9,000 people, other problems have besieged , including violent protests over the passage
of a new Constitution and a blockade of fuel imports from Nepal that lasted four and a half months. India
Still, some 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
’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. Nepal
“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.”
Others urged patience, saying the effort had shown signs of picking up steam.
“Compared to where we were six months ago,” said Renaud Meyer, country director for the United Nations Development Program, “we’ve moved at thunderstorm lightning speed.”
Sites like the ancient, battered town of Sankhu were a major reason foreign donors came forward so readily. Just before on April 25, the earthquake, with a magnitude of 7.8, sent century-old brick buildings crashing into the streets, crushing 45 people and destroying 1,200 homes. Centuries-old temples sacred to Hindus and Buddhists tumbled down the hillsides.
Mr. Bajracharya, the priest, recalled struggling to stay on his feet as the ground beneath the
lurched violently, and then scrambling out
of the complex to get clear of a storm of falling bricks. Bajrayogini Temple
“I myself surrendered,” he said. “I concluded that I was not going to live.”
Relief efforts kept pace during the weeks after the disaster, when half a million homeless families received about $140 in emergency aid. The good will reached Sankhu: By summertime, a foreign country had promised $570,000 to rebuild Bajrayogini and surrounding structures, said Christian Manhart, who represents Unesco, the United Nations cultural heritage agency, in
That early progress then halted. Leaders swung their attention to the fast-track adoption of the country’s first Constitution, and its division of power infuriated ethnic communities in the south. Bloody clashes between protesters and the police ensued, and Indian border crossings shut down, leading to acute shortages of fuel and building supplies. Parliament did not pass a law creating the National Reconstruction Authority until December.
By then, friction had begun mounting between the government, which preferred foreign grants to be deposited directly into its budget, and donors, who complained of excessive red tape and often preferred to work through nongovernmental organizations. Until April, the government refused to allow international organizations to use their funds to begin building permanent housing, saying it wanted to control the standards.
“We are always dancing a little bit on the volcano,” Mr. Manhart said of international donors. “We have the feeling we should assist the government in doing the reconstruction in a better way, but on the other side is inherited sensitivity not to intervene too much.”
In January, Mr. Manhart said, the country that had promised to rebuild the
informed Unesco that the grant had been
withdrawn because of budget cuts. He would not identify the country. He said
that Unesco had found a new benefactor, but that the slow pace of work had
clearly tempered donors’ enthusiasm. Bajrayogini Temple
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 some nongovernmental organizations had used relief funds “to distribute Bibles and Qurans and the Gita, when the people needed food and shelter.” Other donors, he said, sent costly but unnecessary aid, like sniffer dogs and unusable helicopters.
“We didn’t want to make
like Nepal , where more than $14 billion has been spent,
but still people are living in tents,” he said. Haiti
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. The agency is struggling to spend its own, largely foreign-funded budget before the end of the fiscal year, and the office has a ghostly feeling, with rows of empty cubicles and some swivel chairs still wrapped in plastic.
“We don’t sleep more than four hours a night,” he said.
Reconstruction spending was set to increase steeply, Mr. Bhusal said, as 329,000 homeless families — promised a sum of 200,000 rupees, or about $2,000, for rebuilding — receive a first payment of about a quarter of that sum.
Word of this has not reached the residents of Sankhu, many of whom remain crowded in metal-sided enclosures.
“It has been a horrible year,” said Anju Shrestha, 36, whose shed stands on a site that once held a three-story brick house.
A neighbor, Kanchhi Shrestha, guessed her age at about 75, based on a major earthquake that occurred two years before she was born. She pulled her skirt up to show feet splotchy with raw sores.
“I will die in this shelter if they do not give me money,” she said. “I have nothing to eat.”
However, she added, it would be inappropriate for a person like her to demand assistance from
’s government. Nepal
“We cannot scold the government,” she said. “If the government provides, we will fold our hands and tell them, ‘You are God.’ ”
Follow Ellen Barry on Twitter @EllenBarryNYT.
Bhadra Sharma contributed reporting.