Most infrastructure construction works hit

Kathmandu, February 4

Most of the Chinese-contracted projects operating in Nepal have been stalled since one month due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.

While the skilled and semiskilled Chinese workers who had returned home to celebrate the Lunar New Year have been unable to return due to travel restrictions following the rapid spread of coronavirus, import of equipment has also been halted, thereby affecting numerous infrastructure projects, including hydropower and airports.

The affected projects — that are being built by the Chinese contractors — include Rasuwagadhi Hydropower, Tanahu Hydropower, Upper Trishuli 3B, Melamchi Dirinking Water Project, Upper Tamakoshi, Huaxin Cement, Gautam Buddha International Airport, Pokhara Regional International Airport, Melamchi Drinking Water Project and construction works of parking bays at Tribhuvan International Airport.

As the China government has temporarily barred its citizens from travelling abroad without prior permission, Chinese workers have not returned to Mid-Bhotekoshi, Sanjeen, Nyadi, Marsyangdi, Dorde Khola hydropower projects, among others.

Kul Man Ghising, managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA), informed that 111-megawatt Rasuwagadhi Hydropower Co Ltd — a subsidiary company of NEA — has already submitted a letter seeking ‘force majeure’ for the construction works. “Should the situation remain the same for another month or two, the company will be forced to declare emergency and halt all construction works.”

Informing that supply of all necessary hydro equipment has been affected as well, Ghising said, “Depending on how the situation pans out, the completion date of projects could be pushed back by at least six months to one and-a-half years.”

“We are currently gathering necessary information and carrying out an initial assessment of the loss caused by coronavirus.”

As per hydropower developers, more than 1,000 workers associated with different hydropower projects are currently stalled in China due to the coronavirus epidemic.

According to Kumar Pandey, vice-president of Independent Power Producers Association- Nepal (IPPAN), more than 30 under-construction hydropower projects have been affected due to coronavirus outbreak due to lack of necessary equipment and semi-skilled and skilled human resources.

Stating that it was too early to get a clear picture of the impact of the virus on hydropower projects, Pandey said the developers could face losses amounting to billions of rupees, which in turn could even massively hit the economy.

Rajan Pokharel, director general of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, said that around 350 Chinese workers engaged in different airport construction projects are stuck in China. “We have been informed that some 200 Chinese workers involved in Pokhara Regional International Airport and 50 workers in Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) are currently stalled in China.”

Likewise, 100 Chinese workers, who were scheduled to land in Nepal for construction of new parking bays and parallel taxiways at the TIA, have also been unable to come due to the travel restrictions. The project has already been awarded to a Chinese contractor — China National Aero Technology International Engineering Corporation.

Pokharel further said the GBIA project is facing equipment scarcity related to airfield lighting system, including runway and approach lights. “We had planned to visit a factory in China to finalise the equipment, but our plans have been put on hold because of the pandemic.”