Nepal’s noodle billionaire steps in to help the earthquake-affected

  • Utpal Parashar, Hindustan Times, Kathmandu
  • Updated: Feb 07, 2016 18:55 IST
Del Bahadur Bajagain, 84, shares his experiences of the 1934 and 2015 earthquakes. (Utpal Parashar/HT Photo)

Earthquakes and Del Bahadur Bajagain have a thing. The 84-year-old experienced the last two big temblors that rocked Nepal and lived to tell the tale.

The octogenarian was three years old when his house was razed by the 1934 quake. It took his family a long time to pick up the pieces. His house was destroyed in last year’s quake too, but this time there was help at hand.

Bajagain, who lives in Bhurungchuli, a small settlement 25km outside Kathmandu, is among the many beneficiaries of Nepal’s noodle king Binod Chaudhary.

The 60-year-old, listed by Forbes as Nepal’s only billionaire, has built 1,700 shelters for people whose homes were destroyed by last year’s quakes.

Bajagain is one of many who were lucky to have a roof over their heads within weeks of the disaster, which claimed nearly 9,000 lives and destroyed over half a million houses in 14 districts.

“Unlike many others who are still living in tents, we were lucky to have a shelter that protected us from the monsoon and the winter,” said Bajagain.

Chaudhary heads Chaudhary Group, Nepal’s biggest business conglomerate with interests in construction, cement, education, hospitality, banking and energy. But it was the Wai Wai brand of noodles, popular across South Asia, that catapulted his group into the big league.

Soon after last year’s quake, the Chaudhary Foundation announced it would build 1,000 transitional houses on its own and another 9,000 shelters with help from donors. It is also rebuilding 100 schools.

Each shelter made of bamboo, plaster and other locally available materials costs nearly $750 (about NRs 75,000).

With support pouring in from Price Waterhouse Coopers, Alibaba Foundation of China and India’s Tata and Shapoorji Paloonji groups, the goal of 10,000 homes is fast becoming a reality.

“We moved into our new shelter seven months ago. It has really helped the family cope with the quake much better than others,” said Kamala Goley, a 32-year-old housewife.

Goley’s family lost its two-storey house in one of the quakes. She shares her new shelter with her husband and three children.

Like Bajagain and Goley, hundreds have moved into similar shelters in 10 of the 14 worst affected districts. Children in these districts have benefited from 30 schools built by the foundation.

“In order to make quake survivors economically self reliant, our foundation has started vocational skills training programme in the affected districts,” Chaudhary said last month.

Kamala Goley outside her transitional shelter constructed with help from Chaudhary Foundation at Bhurungchuli near Kathmandu. (Utpal Parashar/HT Photo)

The efforts by his foundation and other such groups to provide succour to the victims comes at a time when the government has failed to do enough for those in need.

According to the UN, nearly 200,000 families are still living in tents and many at higher altitudes are suffering from cold-related ailments.

A reconstruction authority to rebuild damaged structures was set up in December, but it has still not started working to use the money pledged by international donors in June last year.

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