Covid-19 outbreak affects reconstruction of heritage sites in KathmanduProjects face labour crunch due to the lockdown as most workers have returned home.
Although the National Reconstruction Authority announced the resumption of reconstruction work at “big” heritage sites affected by the 2015 earthquake, officials say the task looks daunting due to labour crunch and a shortage of construction materials due the Covid-19 outbreak.
During the fifth anniversary of the 2015 earthquake last month, Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli had vowed to expedite post-earthquake reconstruction even as the country battled against the coronavirus outbreak. However, officials at the reconstruction authority say doing so looks challenging.
“We are facing a labour crunch,”said Sushil Gyawali, chief executive officer of the authority. “As most of the construction workers and technicians are from the Terai and outside of the Valley, they have gone home and it’s impossible to bring them back,” he said.
The reconstruction authority had announced the resumption of reconstruction work at Dharahara, Rani Pokhari and Singhadurbar after the Cabinet meeting on May 8 relaxed the lockdown rules for various sectors.
“It's only possible to bring back the workers after all of them undergo polymerase chain reaction testing,” Gyawali said.
Authorities say the lockdown has also affected the supply of construction materials. “We are even facing problems with the supply of construction materials,” said Gyawali. “For example, for Dharahara, we need a waterproof membrane that has to be brought from India. Without it, workers can’t resume work during the rainy season,” said Gyawali.
The government had announced the nationwide lockdown on March 24, after the second case of Covid-19 was reported in Nepal. But on Monday, the 47th day of lockdown, the number of positive cases has reached 121, with the majority of cases reported in the south of the country.
Officials at the authority say over 300 worked at Dharahara before the lockdown was announced, but now only 35 labourers remain, and as adhering to social distancing norms is difficult, they haven’t been able to continue work.
“In the case of Dharahara, It’s risky for workers to maintain social distance as the structure has reached its eleventh,” said Manohar Ghimire, deputy spokesperson for the authority. He further said the fear of the transmission of the disease, workers are reluctant to join the construction sites.
The government had earlier announced that the reconstructed Rani Pokhari at the heart of Kathmandu, would be inaugurated on the Nepali New Year, but due to the pandemic, work there is yet to gather pace even a month after the New Year.
Only a dozen people are working at Rani Pokhari, which needs at least 150 people. The reconstruction work of the pond is almost complete; authorities only need to replenish water in it.
Similarly, officials said there would be no substantial progress in the restoration of Singha Durbar, where work began at the end of 2018. The Prime Minister’s office was set to be transferred to the newly refurbished building by June this year, but that deadline now looks unrealistic.
Before the lockdown started, over 150 worked on the building, now only two dozen workers are on it.
Meanwhile, the Department of Archaeology, which is also overseeing the reconstruction of heritage buildings across the country, said it too is facing the labour crunch. Of the 737 quake-damaged heritage structures that were to be reconstructed by the department, work on 402 have already been completed. But the lockdown has impacted work on the remaining structures.
“It’s been over two months since we stopped the reconstruction and renovation work. We can’t resume work until the lockdown is lifted,” said Ram Bahadur Kunwar, spokesperson for the archeology department. “
“We are taking part in meetings and preparing plans to resume work, but we need labourers, most of them have already returned home,” said Kunwar.