Nepal PM appeals for quake aid, vows funds will reach victims

Nepal PM appeals for quake aid, vows funds will reach victims
Nepalese Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.

KATHMANDU - Nepal's prime minister pledged Thursday to ensure that all aid would reach quake victims, seeking to allay fears over corruption and red tape as he appealed for funds at a meeting of international donors in Kathmandu.

Nepal says it needs around US$6.7 billion (S$9 billion) to recover from the April disaster, which killed more than 8,800 people, destroyed nearly half a million houses and left thousands in need of food, clean water and shelter.

But some international donors have been slow to pledge money, concerned that bureaucracy and poor planning will prevent it from being used efficiently.

Prime Minister Sushil Koirala urged delegates including foreign ministers from regional superpowers China and India as well as World Bank, UN and EU officials to "work with us, the government of Nepal".

"In an environment of good faith, I assure you that we will (leave) no stone unturned in ensuring that the support reaches the intended beneficiaries... because we are accountable to our own citizens," he said as he opened the one-day meeting.

India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj pledged US$1 billion to finance reconstruction as the meeting got under way. She said around one quarter of the money would be grants, but did not specify what form the rest would take.

The World Bank has already pledged up to US$500 million for reconstruction.

Nepal - one of the world's poorest countries even before the quake - desperately needs assistance to rebuild homes, schools and hospitals destroyed or damaged by the April 25 earthquake and a strong aftershock on May 12.

The country's already weak economy has been hard hit by the disaster, with annual growth forecast to fall to just three percent, the lowest in eight years.

The government wants all aid to be channelled through a new state body being set up to ensure a coordinated response to rebuilding.

But experts say Kathmandu has so far failed to lay out a clear set of plans.

"What is lacking right now is a clear strategy... the government needs to come up with a credible plan to implement reconstruction projects within a stipulated time," said Chandan Sapkota, economist at the Asian Development Bank's Nepal office, ahead of the meeting.

"If it fails to incorporate a robust checks and balances system, the government will lose credibility."

'Cannot repeat Haiti in Nepal'

The UN's humanitarian coordinator for Nepal, Jamie McGoldrick, said before the conference opened that "any pledges made must be followed up with a real commitment to Nepal's future development".

"We cannot repeat the example of Haiti in Nepal and I don't think we will," McGoldrick told AFP.

The international community pledged several billion dollars in aid to Haiti after a catastrophic earthquake struck the Caribbean nation in January 2010.

But the pledges yielded little tangible progress as donors delayed implementing projects due to concerns over corruption and political instability, leaving thousands living in temporary shelters five years on.

Dev Ratna Dhakhwa, secretary general of the Nepal Red Cross Society, said frustrating delays occurred in the aftermath of the April 25 quake as aid poured in from around the world.

"There were bottlenecks at the airport, issues getting permissions to land, issues getting visas for relief workers, it was chaos," Dhakhwa said.

He was also sceptical of the government's planned "one-window policy" for reconstruction, saying political parties were already trying to manipulate the system to siphon off funds.

"People are using political influence to pressure officials and access funds meant for quake victims, by getting their names added to government-managed records," Dhakhwa said.

But Finance Minister Ram Sharan Mahat said concerns about corruption were overblown in a country long plagued by graft.

"There are so many parliamentary bodies looking at everything with a magnifying glass... nothing can be hidden. If there is misappropriation, irregularity or corruption, there are enough mechanisms to take care of that," Mahat told AFP.

"Every donor will have to work with the government. If they have no faith in the government they have no business to come here."

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