Coronavirus Chills Nepal Infrastructure Construction
The disease has also curtailed work on more than hydroelectric projects
March 5, 2020
Several major infrastructure projects under construction in Nepal could face completion delays of up to 18 months as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, government officials say. The effects of more than 300 absent Chinese workers and supply-chain disruptions in both materials and equipment have affected several airport projects in the country. Among them is the $54.5-million Gautam Buddha International Airport, which had been scheduled to begin operations this month. Although buildings and airside facilities for what would be Nepal’s second international airport are nearly complete, much of the communication, air traffic management and meteorological equipment has not been installed. Components for the airport’s China-made baggage handling systems and airfield lighting are also sitting idle at the site, with no technical team available to put them into service In Pokhara, Nepal’s second-largest city, the coronavirus has also slowed a new $240-million airport, which was reportedly just over halfway completed before most of its 160-member Chinese workforce returned home for Lunar New Year celebrations. The coronavirus has also curtailed work on more than hydroelectric projects across the remote Himalayan country. In early February, a subsidiary of the Nepal Electricity Authority sought a force majeure for the a 111-mW Rasuwagadhi hydropower project, and is considering a full emergency halt should conditions not improve in the coming weeks. Other affected projects include the 756-mW Tamor Storage Hydroelectric Project in the country’s eastern provinces, and a 400-kV substation for the $99-million, 179-mile Hetauda-Dhalkebar-Duhabi transmission line, which has already been beset with problems related to forest clearance, easement rights and quality issues. As with other countries, Nepal is restricting entry of travelers from coronavirus-affected countries. In addition to limited infrastructure that was crippled by a 2015 earthquake, the country also lacks the medical facilities and resources to handle an outbreak of the disease within its borders. Although a small number of Chinese workers have been allowed to return to Pokhara, they must first pass quarantine protocols before being allowed to return to work.