Two months after a devastating earthquake, Nepal has now reached major milestones on the road to recovery — and despite its challenging terrain, its geographic location is proving to be a major asset. On Wednesday the U.N. World Food Programme announced it had shifted from emergency response to longer-term recovery, and had instituted a cash-for-work program paying up to 20,000 porters (out of work after the quake) to rebuild trails and deliver food to remote districts.
Then on Thursday, the inaugural session of the International Conference on Nepal’s Reconstruction was held in Kathmandu, raising several billion dollars. The country’s two largest neighbors are competing for influence there; India led the way with $1 billion in promised aid, followed by China at $760 million. (Other notables included the Asian Development Bank at $600 million, Japan at $260 million, the U.S. at $200 million, and the E.U. at $112 million). But all parties (including the Nepalese government) are committed to transparent usage of the donated funds, and the competition is amicable. “We reacted as if a disaster had struck India,” said Sushma Swaraj, India’s foreign minister, adding that “India stands ready to provide a lead and shoulder its responsibilities towards Nepal, our oldest and closest friend and neighbor.” And while part of China’s reconstruction support package draws on its Silk Road Fund, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said it will firmly stick to the principle of “Nepal first, Nepal decides.” He also stressed that China will cooperate with all countries and the international community in this regard.
Reconstruction is a mouth-watering opportunity for some companies, like Nigeria’s Dangote Group, which is about to invest some $550 million in what will be Nepal’s largest cement factory. On a recent visit, the firm donated $1 million to the Prime Minister’s Disaster Relief Fund, and discussed the proposed project with top government officials. “One of the reasons we chose Nepal is the immediate availability of a market and future potential for expansion out of Nepal,” said Devakumar Edwin, the firm’s executive director. It will be Dangote’s first cement factory outside of Africa, and Edwin estimates it will begin producing in 30 months.
Asked whether Dangote would introduce other segments into Nepal, Edwin replied “Yes, probably in the long term… Much will also depend on how things move in Nepal with time.” The country has a long road to recovery, but it helps to have friends with deep pockets.