Prince Harry begins Nepal tour to 'shine spotlight' on country as it rebuilds


Prince Harry begins his five-day tour of Nepal today, a visit he hopes will "shine a spotlight'' on the country as it rebuilds following last year's devastating earthquake.

Harry has long-wanted to visit the country largely due to his admiration and respect for the Gurkha troops he served with in Afghanistan.

He is also keen to see how the country's rebuilding effort is progressing following the earthquake and aftershocks in April last year which killed almost 9,000 people and damaged almost a million houses and buildings.

Highlights of the trip will see Harry trek in the foothills of the Himalayas and spend a night with a Gurkha family in their home.

And he will also be introduced to the home of the Brigade of Gurkhas, saluting the extraordinary bravery and commitment that Gurkhas have shown fighting alongside British forces for more than 200 years.

Harry's tour will start and finish in the capital Kathmandu, where he will meet the nation's first woman president, Bidya Devi Bhandari, voted into office last October.

Before flying out to Nepal, Harry met members of MapAction, a humanitarian emergency response organisation which helps co-ordinate relief efforts in disaster areas.

At Kensington Palace on Wednesday, Harry - MapAction's patron - listened to a briefing about the organisation's role helping to co-ordinate the work of rescue teams during the Nepal earthquake, and he told the volunteers that whenever a disaster strikes there is a ''huge amount of interest'' before people move on to the next thing.

Speaking about his first visit to Nepal, he said: ''I think, hopefully, by doing this trip it will shine a spotlight back on the issue, and people will realise that there's still a hell of a lot needs to be done.

''But everyone should know the locals will do their very best to turn the country around, given the opportunity.''

Following the earthquake, hundreds of thousands are still homeless, living in tents and huts, and they faced the harsh winter weather in Nepal's mountain villages.

Last December, the Nepalese parliament approved laws allowing the government to spend billions of dollars pledged by foreign donors on home reconstruction.

But it has been criticised for delays to the new laws and the formation of a reconstruction authority because of disagreements among political parties about who would head the agency.

The prince left the Army last summer after 10 years as an officer and had served two tours in Afghanistan.

One of the highlights of the prince's first tour was the chance to live and work with a unit of Gurkhas, men from Nepal famed for their fighting prowess.

During his meeting with the MapAction team, Harry said: "Everyone that's been to Nepal says amazing things and the more we can encourage people to go - it's that question of 'Nepal is here now'.

''Since World War One, World War Two - way before that - we've had the Nepalese army, the Gurkhas, helping us out, so the least we can do is repay the favour.''