KATHMANDU (AFP) - The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) said on Wednesday it is hiring thousands of unemployed porters to deliver aid to remote parts of quake-hit Nepal inaccessible by road.
Operation Mountain Express is being carried out with Nepal's mountaineering and trekking associations, which say the drop in tourism after the disaster could leave many porters out of work.
The operation aims to deliver food and shelter materials to an estimated 100,000 people in remote high-altitude areas of the poor Himalayan nation.
The porters will also open up existing walking trails to isolated villages, many of which have been blocked by landslides.
"We have the goods, but they have the expertise, the people and the insider knowledge that we desperately need," the WFP's emergency coordinator Richard Ragan told reporters.
"This is about delivering relief, creating a safe and sustainable trail network and employment."
More than 8,600 people died in the two earthquakes that hit Nepal on April 25 and May 12, destroying nearly half a million houses and leaving thousands without food or water.
The quakes also destroyed the popular Langtang trekking route and sparked a deadly avalanche on Everest base camp, raising fears for the immediate future of the tourism industry.
Up to 4,000 porters will begin working in two of the worst-hit districts, Dhading and Dolakha, in the pilot phase of the project.
Ang Tsering Sherpa, president of Nepal's mountaineering association, said the scheme would "support the livelihoods of mountain communities who are facing great problems because of the quake".