Nepal marks quake anniversary under lockdown

Kathmandu (AFP) –


Nepal on Saturday marked the fifth anniversary of a devastating earthquake under a nationwide lockdown with the prime minister blaming the coronavirus pandemic for delays in rebuilding.

The magnitude 7.8 quake killed almost 9,000 people, left millions homeless and reduced towns, centuries-old temples and royal palaces to rubble.

Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli offered condolences to the families of victims in an anniversary statement released late Friday. But events such as the inauguration of a refurbished sacred pond in Kathmandu were cancelled because of a pandemic lockdown ordered on March 20.

The prime minister thanked those who supported Nepal's reconstruction efforts but said the virus outbreak has put the brakes on work.

"This has affected remaining tasks of post-quake reconstruction to some extent," he said.

The government's National Reconstruction Authority says 63 percent of the new houses planned to replace damaged structures have been completed and a quarter are under construction.

However, rebuilding has been hit by political infighting, bureaucracy and confusion.

Puskar Raj Sharma, who lives in Bhaktapur, a historic city ravaged by the quake, rebuilt his house aided by a government grant of 300,000 rupees ($2,450).

"We had to stay in a rented house for four years after the quake, that is quite a long time. Although the reconstruction is satisfactory, it would have been better if the government had speeded up its work," the 68-year-old said.

The 2015 disaster triggered an avalanche that flattened base camp at Mount Everest, killing 18 people. The camp is now again deserted after all expeditions were cancelled due to the pandemic.

"It hurts to remember that day. If we were at the base camp today we would have done something to remember those we lost," said Kami Rita Sherpa, a guide who has climbed Everest a record 24 times.