Noodle mogul raises funds for Nepal

Noodle Mogul Raises Funds for Nepal

(Wall Street Journal, September 16, 2015)

By Niharika Mandhana

Nepal’s only billionaire, noodle king Binod Chaudhary, says he wants to help ease his country’s post-earthquake shelter crisis as winter approaches in the tiny Himalayan nation and political wrangling stymies government rebuilding plans.

More than half a million houses were destroyed in Nepal’s devastating earthquakes in April and May. Mr. Chaudhary, who has pledged $2.5 million, is hoping to raise enough funds from corporate leaders and non-profits to build 10,000 shelters.

“Homes are urgent, critical,” said Mr. Chaudhary, whose company manufactures the popular Wai Wai noodles and includes businesses ranging from cement production to hotels. “We shouldn’t be planning indefinitely, we should be on the ground, doing this work.”

Since end-May, a few weeks after two devastating quakes struck Nepal killing nearly 9,000 people, teams and trucks from the businessman’s, Chaudhary Foundation have made dozens of journeys on landslide-riddled roads and rain-battered mud paths to bring experts and building materials to homeless victims.

Mr. Chaudhary is helping to build what are called “transitional shelters” that cost $750 each and use a quake-resistant design with bamboo sticks embedded a few feet into the ground. Victims say these structures will last at least five years, giving them time to make arrangements for more permanent residences without having to take loans or cut back on food.

A Wall Street Journal story published Friday showed how the government’s reconstruction efforts are foundering amid political disturbances and partisan fighting. Nepal’s difficult terrain, with small clusters of homes scattered across the Himalayan landscape, and poor road network make recovery more difficult.

Officials are planning what they call an “owner-driver” approach to rebuilding homes, distributing cash to victims for raw materials so they can make their own homes. But bureaucratic planning in Nepal is slow and politicized, and a lack of capacity often hampers government spending.

Mr. Chaudhary says people can’t wait. To be sure, his efforts represent a small proportion of Nepal’s needs. His foundation expects to finish 1,000 homes by end-October and 100 schools by the end of the year.

Looking to scale up to at least 10,000 homes, Mr. Chaudhary is hoping to make his foundation a hub for private-sector and other donations by reaching out to global businesses. His promise of transparency has already drawn pledges from Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba and South Korean company LG Electronics Inc.

The results are hard fought. Mr. Chaudhary’s team works with local communities to identify the most distressed survivors, including single women or those who have no means of earning a living. Once the material is delivered to the people, experts train and help them to build, closely supervising the tasks of creating bamboo grids for a sturdier foundation and plastering the walls for better protection from harsh weather.

Suraj Shakya, who looks after such projects for the foundation, said it is often a “logistical nightmare.” In the mountainous village of Dolaghat, a two-hour drive from the capital Kathmandu, materials that were brought to the site had to be transferred to smaller vehicles for the final few kilometers over a stubborn mud track.

In a sign of the how daunting the work is, a government proposal in the weeks after the quake to deliver corrugated iron sheets to affected families for temporary shelters was abandoned because of hurdles in buying and transportation.

Leela Mani Paudyal, who was then the government’s chief secretary, described the idea as “impossible.” Instead, the government distributed nearly $150 in cash for families to purchase a handful of metal sheets to use as walls and a flat roof.

But these structures do not offer much protection from the rains, nor are they likely to keep the cold out in the winter. The government is now planning more hand-outs ” $1,900 per household ” for victims to build permanent houses, though officials and residents say they don’t know when that money will be handed out.

Meanwhile, Mr. Chaudhary said, he aims to build ,”workable ‘homes and schools’ so that people’s survival is not threatened.”

September 16, 2015