Nepal appoints quake reconstruction chief

Nepalese who lost their home in the April 25 earthquake chop firewood in Lalitpur, Nepal.
Nepalese who lost their home in the April 25 earthquake chop firewood in Lalitpur, Nepal.PHOTO: EPA

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Nepal has appointed a new chief for its reconstruction authority which will allow the body to finally start rebuilding and disbursing aid after April's massive earthquake, officials said Saturday (Dec 26).

Months of political bickering over leadership of the body had paralysed reconstruction, with thousands still living in tents eight months after the disaster despite donor pledges of billions in aid.

A cabinet meeting on Friday (Dec 25) evening appointed urban planning expert Sushil Gyawali to head the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA), Pradeep Gyawali, spokesman of the ruling CPN-UML party, told AFP.

The 7.8-magnitude quake on April 25 killed almost 8,900 people and destroyed more than half a million homes.

The new NRA head, who will oversee the US$4.1 billion (S$5.8 billion) reconstruction fund, vowed swift action to help quake victims, who have received little aid beyond an initial US$150-per-household government payout.

"My first priority is to offer immediate relief to the quake victims in winter," Sushil Gyawali said.

The government has promised an additional US$2,000 per household once the NRA is set up and able to disburse funds.

The government vowed in June to set up the NRA to oversee rebuilding and ensure that all aid went to victims, as part of its bid to attract funding from sceptical foreign donors.

But the bill conferring legal status on the body was passed only last week, delayed by political wrangling between the CPN-UML and the opposition Nepali Congress.

NRA chief Gyawali said the rebuilding process would now pick up swiftly in coordination with local bodies and development partners.

"The integrity of the authority will not be compromised. We will have a strong framework in place to ensure transparency," he said.