Nepalese girls Asmita Tamang and Roji Tamang demolish their house which was destroyed during an earthquake at Sankhu, on the outskirt of capital Kathmandu, Nepal. (Narendra Shrestha/EPA)

Nepal officially launched the much-delayed reconstruction of about 1 million homes and buildings Saturday, nearly nine months after they were damaged by a devastating earthquake that killed 9,000 people.

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli unveiled plans to rebuild Bungmati, an old town just south of Kathmandu, to initiate the reconstruction campaign that is expected to take years and cost billions of dollars. President Bidhya Devi Bandhari laid the foundation stones for rebuilding a temple and garden with a pond next to it in Kathmandu.

It is still not clear when work on other, more devastated, areas will begin, and people in northern mountain villages who are living in tents in freezing weather will probably have to wait for months.

Nepal has been criticized for delaying the reconstruction work because of disagreements among political parties, the drafting of the country’s new constitution, ethnic protests and severe fuel shortages.

Foreign donors have pledged $4.1 billion for earthquake reconstruction, but little has reached Nepal because setting up the new National Reconstruction Authority to handle the task took months.

A Nepalese policeman stands guard next to a sketch of the Bungamati Temple erected for reconstruction in in Bungmati, Lalitpur, Nepal, Saturday. (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

“We will move the reconstruction campaign at full speed. Next year there won’t be damaged houses here. It will be a clean and beautiful town,” Oli told cheering people in this farming town, where seven people died and 1,166 houses were damaged.

“I am hopeful the government will finally give the money and we can at least begin to build our house,” said Ram Krishna Tuladhar, a shop owner whose four-
story house has been reduced to two stories.

Villagers with damaged homes have been promised 200,000 rupees ($1,850) in government grants and another 1.5 million rupees ($13,890) in loans from the government. They have not seen the money, and the government is not sure when it will be provided.

In addition to helping facilitate financial help for villagers, the new agency is to come up with guidelines for new and rebuilt houses. The delays have frustrated foreign donors and international agencies such as Oxfam, which has been waiting for the building guidelines.

Sushil Gyewali, who heads the new agency, said it will train thousands of construction workers and will send 1,500 engineers to villages to conduct damage assessments.

“We have been given five years to complete our task, Gyewali said. “I think in three years all private houses can be reconstructed.”

— Associated Press