Nepal unlocks quake funds: It only took 7 months!

Seven months after a massive earthquake devastated Nepal, the government has finally found its way through a political logjam that was holding up billions of dollars pledged for reconstruction.

International donors pledged more than $4 billion after the 25 April quake and another temblor on 12 May. The earthquakes killed close to 9,000 people and destroyed or damaged almost a million homes.

The government formed a National Reconstruction Authority to devise quake-resistant building regulations and risk reduction strategies as well as to oversee the allocation and utilisation of funds. But political wrangling prevented the body from being authorised to begin its work. Opposition parties disagreed with the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist, known by its Nepali-language acronym UML, over who should run the NRA, and the issue remains unresolved.

SEE: Politics prevent Nepal reconstruction

But the Cabinet has belatedly found its way through the political muddle by authorising the country’s National Planning Commission to decide how much funding will be spent in particular sectors over the rest of the fiscal year to the end of April.

“We are now planning to spend around 500 of the $733 million allocated for this financial year,” commission joint secretary Gopi Nath Mainali told IRIN.

Much of the $500 million will be spent on rebuilding homes, and the government plans to distribute $2,000 to people whose houses have been destroyed completely. About $3 million will be spent in the education sector, and around $2 million will go towards rebuilding damaged roads. About $1.3 million will be directed to the energy, drinking water and sanitation sectors. Another $2 million has been allocated for rebuilding government and community buildings.

“However, these figures are preliminary and might be revised in the days to come,” Mainali said.

Despite the progress in unlocking the funds, the decision was greeted with scepticism by some.

Although he didn't think the political deadlock should be allowed to delay assistance, Semanta Dahal, a lawyer and political commentator, said the NPC is not authorised to actually implement reconstruction work – that remains the role of the NRA.

“Assigning the role at this moment to NPC is only tactical gimmickry,” he told IRIN.

There were 761,000 people with ongoing humanitarian needs at the end of September, according to the Early Recovery Cluster, which is chaired by representatives from the government and the United Nations.

Aside from the political hurdles to reconstruction, Nepal is facing a fuel shortage due to a separate political crisis. Protests erupted on the border with India against a new constitution, which was passed by parliament on 20 September.

Many in the ethnic minority Madhesi and Tharu communities oppose the size and borders of seven new provinces created by the constitution, claiming those and other measures mean they will now be under-represented in parliament. Nepali officials accuse India of imposing an unofficial blockade, which has prevented fuel imports, while India blames violent protests for blocking fuel convoys.

SEE: Fuel shortage threatens Nepal aid as winter comes

Aid agencies say the fuel shortage is hampering relief efforts.

Damian Kean, a spokesman for the World Food Programme, said it has been taking measures to conserve fuel while still trying to get emergency food and shelter supplies to about 84,000 people in remote communities, many of whom will soon be cut off as the winter snows begin to fall.

Nepal’s rugged geography also makes it hard to get supplies to remote communities. In many areas, villages are not accessible by roads, and even mountain paths were destroyed by the quake. Kean told IRIN that WFP is hiring porters and using mules to make deliveries in some areas.

"They're racing against time, really,” he said.