Nepal unveils $9 billion budget focused on quake reconstruction

Nepal’s government unveiled the first budget drawn up since the country introduced a new constitution last September

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Nepal’s government Saturday unveiled the first budget drawn up since the country introduced a new constitution last September, with a focus on funding reconstruction and reviving the battered economy.

Millions continue to live in temporary shelters after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit the Himalayan nation in April 2015, killing nearly 9,000 people.

Finance minister Bishnu Prasad Poudel outlined a $9.78 billion budget, allocating over $1 billion to rebuilding efforts, while directing funds for infrastructure development and agriculture across the country.

“We will speed up the post-quake reconstruction efforts and complete it within stipulated time... I have made provisions to make sure that the required resources are not scarce,” Poudel said.

According to Kathmandu’s estimates, the Himalayan nation will need around $8.4 billion to fund rebuilding, with donors pledging $4.1 billion in aid.

The country’s economy, already weakened by the disaster, faced another blow when protesters angry at the terms of a new national constitution mounted a blockade at the Indian border, creating crippling shortages that lasted for months.

“The objective of the budget of the coming fiscal year is to... revive the economy affected by the earthquake and the obstruction of the supplies,” Poudel said.

Poudel vowed to accelerate distribution of aid to the earthquake survivors and announced interest-free loans of up to $3,000 for reconstruction of homes.

Nepal -- one of the world’s poorest countries even before the disaster –- was devastated by the quake and the blockade, which sent growth prospects plummeting in crucial sectors like agriculture and tourism.

The current growth rate is forecasted at 0.77 percent, the lowest since 2002 when the country was in the middle of a civil war. However, the finance minister said he hoped to accelerate annual economic growth to 6.5 percent.

Poor planning and a sluggish bureaucracy have hampered growth in previous years, with the government routinely failing to spend funds allocated in annual budgets and complete projects on time.

“The budget is quite ambitious but it is moving towards the right direction,” said Chandra Mani Adhikari, senior economist and chairman of the National Council for Economic and Development Research.