Nepali Times

Better safe than sorry

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014
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To clean up Kathmandu airport we first have to clean up Nepal’s politics¬†

What do the mostly avoidable loss of life in the Annapurna blizzard this month, the death of 75 people in highway accidents over the Dasain-Tihar holidays, and Tribhuvan International Airport being voted the third worst airport in the world have in common?

Anthropologists who have studied Nepali culture point out that the lack of preparedness and sloppy, slow response stems from our national trait of not doing today what we can do¬†tomorrow. We sit around hoping for the best, demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of modern technology, and a fatalistic, lackadaisical ke garne attitude. We can’t do anything about whatever misfortune may befall us in this life, it seems, because it was all preordained by our behavior in a previous one. Most Nepalis find it hard to understand that one must craft one’s own destiny, that nothing is predetermined.

This festival season, at least 75 people were killed when overloaded buses and micros fell off rough mountain roads that are euphemistically called ‘highways’. Police in Nuwakot who were supposed to be on alert to prevent overloading were quoted by a radio station blaming overloading, and didn’t see the irony in that statement. In Okhaldhunga a jeep that can carry only six passengers was carrying 25. Some had brake failures, one couldn’t negotiate a steep incline and rolled backwards into a precipice. No accident has just a single cause, but¬†overloading was a factor in most of the six mishaps in the past three weeks.

Road traffic accidents have now become one of the biggest killers of children and young men and women in Nepal. More than 6,000 people were killed on Nepal’s roads between 2010 to 2013, the casualty rate far surpassing the fatality rate during the conflict.¬†Nepal‚Äôs highways are the most dangerous in the world with nearly 1,700 deaths per year for every 100,000 vehicles. The chance of a crash here is 100 times higher than in Japan and 10 times higher than even India.

We have analysed the blizzard disaster in the Annapurnas in this space in the last two issues, and the consensus is that an early weather warning system would have saved lives. Trekking and mountaineering groups with satellite phones took proper precautions, others who didn’t know of the approaching storm were caught off guard or underestimated its ferocity. Simple measures like marking trails, building shelters and erecting mobile phone towers along trekking routes can save lives in future. It has just come to light that the nine porters who died on Niwas Pass in Dolpo probably had carbon monoxide poisoning as they slept inside their tents in the blizzard.

The government, in typical kneejerk and reactive fashion to cover up its omissions, has done precisely what we thought it would: made more rules that are virtually unenforceable. Insisting on every group having guides when there is no program to train them is tokenism, and requiring trekkers to have GPS systems is overkill. Like the TIMS card, this will add another layer of futile rules.

It should instead expedite the ratification by parliament of the bill to form a Commission on Disaster Management which has been languishing for five years because of turf battles between ministries. Setting up a Commission will not prevent fatalities in future disasters, but it is a first step. This is especially necessary because we need to be prepared for something that can’t be prevented and will one day surely come: a great earthquake in central Nepal. Let‚Äôs not blame nature, the real disaster here is the lack of political will not just to be prepared but provide prompt relief after.

The other item of news which was a source of national embarrassment was that Kathmandu airport has been voted the third worst airport in the world. The Internet is full of silly and unverifiable lists like that, and of course it went viral in social media. But there is no denying that Nepal’s international gateway is a shameful symbol of everything that is wrong with the country. It is a hotbed of smuggling, trafficking and corruption. Bureaucrats and police are known to hand over fat pre-paid stashes of cash to be posted there. The last thing in the mind of CAAN, which manages the airport, is to keep the airport’s toilets clean, its luggage carousels in working order, or its immigration lines short. Waiting two hours after a plane lands to get out of an airport, as many passengers did this week, is a world record.

Like disasters that can be prevented, a filthy airport is a symptom of governance failure, institutionalised corruption and a culture of fatalism. To clean up Kathmandu airport we first have to clean up Nepal’s politics.

Read also:

Post-mortem of a tragedy Editorial

After the storm Kunda Dixit

Go tell in on the mountain Subina Shrestha

Dangerous business Editorial

Man made disasters Editorial

Highways of death Sunir Pandey

Nepal’s highways of death¬†Sunir Pandey

Road kill Duncan Maru


Where to be a Gurkha?

Friday, October 24th, 2014
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Singaporean authors ask why their country treats Gurkha commandos who defend their country so shabbily

When Chong Zi Liang was interning at Nepali Times in Kathmandu 2009, he met young college students who looked and behaved like fellow Singaporeans, spoke English with a Singaporean lilt.

But they were not from Singapore. They were sons and daughters of Nepalis who had served in the Gurkha Contingent of the Singapore Police Force, and had returned to Nepal. Chong’s journalistic instincts kicked in, and after profiling them for this newspaper he went on to do a final year project, and finally a book on them.

‚ÄúI was struck by how alike we were, they were exactly like my friends from school,‚ÄĚ Chong recalled. After four years shuttling between the two countries and many interviews later, Chong and his classmate from Nanyang Technological University, Zakaria Zainal, have produced The Invisible Force: Singapore Gurkhas — an intimate and endearing portrait of Gurkhas and their families, their hopes and aspirations, and their nostalgia for Singapore.

Chong, who now works for the digital edition of The Straits Times, finally found a publisher (Ethos Books) and The Invisible Force was launched recently in Singapore.

‚ÄúThe Gurkha involvement with Singapore is more than 65 years old, it is older than independent Singapore itself,‚ÄĚ Chong said in an interview soon after the book launch. ‚ÄúThis is a story that needed to be told because so few Singaporeans are aware of the Gurkhas.‚Ä̬†‚ÄĚ

Although the number of Gurkhas in the British Army has gone down, in Singapore it has grown from 700 in 1990 to 2,000 as the Nepali soldiers take on more tasks in guarding important facilities, and serve in the Special Action Group and the Special Tactics and Reserve.

As portrayed in Kesang Tseten’s 2012 documentary, Who will be a Gurkha, more than 15,000 young Nepali men aspire to be Gurkhas, and after a gruelling selection process, only 400 are chosen every year. One hundred of these are actually for the Singapore Gurkha Contingent.

The Invisible Force

The Invisible Force Singapore Gurkhas Chong Zi Liang with Zakaria Zainal Ethos books, 2014 Singapore 90 pages, illustrated www.ethosbooks.com.sg

As Chong cites in his book, there is no formal agreement between Nepal and Singapore about Gurkha recruitment, and the Singapore government subcontracts their selection to the British Army. British officers command and manage the Contingent in Mount Vernon in Singapore.

After the Japanese capture of Singapore in 1942, Gurkhas played an important role in the British counterattack, and after the war the Gurkhas were once more deployed to fight Maoist guerrillas in the jungles of Malaya. Since then, they helped quell race riots in the 1960s, and in the konfrontasi with Indonesia.

Chong and Zainal interview scores of retired Singapore Gurkhas in Kathmandu whose homes are crammed with jade merlions and other mementos. However, there is a sense of resentment building up about pensions which haven’t kept up with inflation in Nepal.

Gurkhas also have to leave Singapore with their families when they retire. Children born and brought up in Singapore are suddenly uprooted, and suffer dislocation in Nepal. What’s worse, although Nepali students could till recently study in Singapore, Gurkha children still don’t get student visas to go back.

Chong hints that it is perhaps the British officers who command the Gurkha Contingent who lack sensitivity to deal with the Nepalis. Which may have been the reason behind a serious brawl between new Gurkha recruits and their British officers at Mount Vernon in 2008.

Gurkha children born in Singapore are not entitled to Singaporean citizenship, and many Singaporeans themselves feel this is unjust. Architect Richard Ho, who wanted to hire Nirmal Rana, born of Gurkha parents in Singapore, found out he couldn‚Äôt. Chong quotes Ho as saying: ‚ÄúI felt ashamed that my country treats people like this.‚ÄĚ

Kaji Thapa, who was born in Singapore in 1955, finally got his residence card in 2010 after a long, hard legal battle even though many foreigners can get PR after staying for just five years.

As Singaporeans, Chong and Zainal feel passionately about this, and want to correct the injustice with their book.
Chong‚Äôs own words resound as a cry for fairness: ‚ÄúWhat does it say when we repay such devotion by saying no to their requests to remain among us?‚ÄĚ

As for the Gurkhas, the words of one elderly veteran of the anti-communist war of the 1960s in Malaya, whom Chong interviews in Kathmandu, says it all: ‚ÄúI love Singapore. I am ready to go back and die for Singapore.‚ÄĚ

Read also:

Strangers in their own land, Chong Zi Liang

The flags of their fathers

Becoming their fathers, Chong Zi Liang

Our Gurkhas, Zakaria Zainal

Invisible force, Chong Zi Liang and Zakaria Zainal

Singapore Gurkhas


After the storm

Thursday, October 16th, 2014
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This week’s blizzard in the central Himalaya was a wakeup call to install effective early warning weather systems

The devastating death toll from this week’s blizzard and avalanches in the Annapurnas has once more highlighted the urgent need for weather early warning for trekkers in the Himalaya.

Till press time on Thursday, 32 people were confirmed dead in Manang and Mustang, with 85 still unaccounted for. There is still no word on dozens of trekkers who were planning to cross Larkya La in the Manaslu circuit on Tuesday.

Hover over the map for photos and number of casualties. 

This is not the first time blizzards and avalanches have hit the high Himalaya in recent years. Post-monsoon typhoons from the Bay of Bengal have been particularly disastrous. In November 1995, 13 Japanese trekkers and 11 Nepali guides were killed as they slept during a blizzard on the Gokyo trail. In October 2005, 18 Nepali and French climbers were killed in an avalanche on Kang Guru in Manang.

The casualties among trekkers in blizzards and floods tend to be higher in the peak autumn season, since heavy rains are not expected. However, weather experts say October is when trekkers and mountaineers have to most careful because it is the cyclone season in the Bay of Bengal.

The storm came in October, when locals and trekkers least expected it. Nepal Army helicopters arrived on the morning after to ferry out the survivors of the blizzards and avalanche in Manang

The storm came in October, when locals and trekkers least expected it. Nepal Army helicopters arrived on the morning after to ferry out the survivors of the blizzards and avalanche in Manang

‚ÄúGiven that there is mobile¬†and internet access along the¬†Annapurna circuit, you cannot¬†blame weather alone,‚ÄĚ says¬†climate analyst Ngamindra¬†Dahal, ‚Äúthis wasn‚Äôt a surprise¬†storm. The real question is why¬†weren‚Äôt the warnings heeded?‚ÄĚ

Indeed, Indian and Nepal meteorological offices had been warning about heavy precipitation from the remnants of Cyclone Hudhud as it veered north towards Nepal ever since it made landfall on 12 October. International tv channels warned of heavy rain in western and central Nepal. Two days before the storm arrived, Nepali media had warned farmers to protect their harvests.

The information was there, but it doesn’t seem to have got to the trekkers high up behind the Annapurnas. The question is why.

One reason could be that weather forecasts are usually unreliable and Met offices have cried wolf so often that many people ignore the warnings. Also, for a country that is so dependent on trekking and mountaineering, there isn’t a formal channel to provide official and dependable early warning to people in the mountains. Since climate change is making weather more unpredictable globally, there is all the more reason to have multidisaster preparedness systems in place.

While trekkers in Chame and Manang watched weather reports on tv or on mobile internet, up the valley lodges do not have electricity and there is no phone signal. Trekkers at Thorung Phedi or Kangshar would essentially have been incommunicado unless they had satellite phones.

The Annapurnas had seen a spell of brilliantly clear and crisp autumn weather till Sunday, which suddenly turned overnight. By the time the blizzards hit on Tuesday 14 October, many trekkers and their guides were trapped high up on the passes.

Weather forecast maps like this one by metereologist Eric Leister predicted two days before the storm hit Nepal: ‚Äėthe core of the heaviest rain into the middle of the new week will likely sweep to the northeast toward the India-Nepal border‚Äô.

Weather forecast maps like this one by metereologist Eric Leister predicted two days before the storm hit Nepal: ‚Äėthe core of the heaviest rain into the middle of the new week will likely sweep to the northeast toward the India-Nepal border‚Äô.

Former British Gurkha officer and avid trekker Gen Sam Cowan says the Thorung or Larkya traverses are closer to mountaineering, with the very high and exposed mountain passes requiring long commitment at high altitude, and allowing plenty of time for the weather to change rapidly for the worse.

‚ÄúIf it looks bad, it probably¬†is going to be bad,‚ÄĚ says Cowan,¬†and advises, ‚Äústay put in your¬†tent or shelter, wait for one¬†day or two. To hell with the¬†flight home. No one should¬†have ventured out to cross¬†Thorung La with the weather¬†as threatening as it was, nor¬†should their trekking guides¬†have allowed it.‚ÄĚ

Hundreds of trekkers are still stranded in the Manaslu Circuit (right) where hikers on the trail look like ants amidst the snow cover in a picture taken on Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of
trekkers are still stranded in the Manaslu Circuit (right) where hikers on the trail look like ants amidst the snow cover in a picture taken on Wednesday morning.

The other aspect is proper disaster planning with preparation and proactive dissemination of early warning of weather. In 1999 when a cyclone hit the coast of Odisha in India, 10,000 people were killed, but with new satellite-based early warning, communications and mandatory evacuation of coastal areas there were minimal casulaties during cyclones Phailin in 2013 and Hudhud this year even though physical damage from both storms were huge.

It is not enough for the authorities to know about approaching weather through weather satellite imagery, they need to communicate this quickly and effectively to people and visitors on the mountains. In Nepal, this could be done through the media, networks like the Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), Nepal Mountaineering Association, Himalayan Rescue Association, or even telecom companies which can send warnings through mass texting to selected parts of the country.

In the high mountains of Nepal there are telecommuncaiton blind spots, which means trekkers may not receive warnings. To get around this, it could be made mandatory for huts at Thorung Phedi or below Larkya to have CDMA phones. Trekking groups on passes above 5,000m could be
required to carry satellite phones.

Says Cowan: ‚ÄúSadly, it is¬†all so obvious but people think¬†that because it is trekking, they¬†can take chances. You can never¬†do that in the high mountains¬†where the weather can change so¬†quickly.‚ÄĚ

Helicopter rescue flight to Thorung La. Courtesy: Simrik Airlines

Read also:

Narrow escape Sunir Pandey

Anatomy of a Himalayan tsunami Kunda Dixit

Dangerous business Editorial

Extreme Everest Bhrikuti Rai and Matt Miller

Working in high places  Ayesha Shakya

Taking chances in Chomolungma David Durkan

A dangerous place to work Jon Gangdal


Demography and democracy

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
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Federalism is looking fraught, it may be wiser to address exclusion in the new constitution but leave state restructuring for later.

In the political roller coaster ride we are all in, many of us haven’t fully taken in the implications of the results of the 2011 census for the new constitution. Last week’s Dasain holidays bore out some of its findings. Kathmandu’s registered population in the census was 2,517,023, with a floating population of about 1 million which roughly corresponded with the police’s estimate of the numbers that left Kathmandu for the holidays.

The main flaw of the census, as was pointed out when the results were announced last year, was that it did not count the absentee population away for more than six months. This cutoff essentially disqualified from the total the estimated 4 million Nepalis who are away at any given time. By putting Nepal’s population at 28.412 million, therefore, we undercounted the total by 1.9 million according to the Census Bureau. Of these, 1.1 million were from the hills and 800,000 from the Tarai, 1.7 million were men and 200,000 women. But even the undercount is an undercount because many Nepalis working long-term in India (estimated at 2 million) were probably excluded in 2011.

What this means is that all extrapolations on gender ratio, annual population growth rate, or the proportion of population in the Tarai are probably off by a wide margin. For instance, based on a total population calculation of 28.412 million, we concluded in this space two years ago that Nepal had defused its population bomb by bringing down the population growth rate in the past decade to 1.3 per annum. Of the missing population in the census most are men, which means females do not outnumber males as the census results, at first, seemed to infer. Also, since most of the absentee population is from the hills, the actual Tarai population in 2011 was still slightly less than the hills. If Nepal’s actual population (counting migrant workers) was nearer to 32 million in 2011, then the conclusions need to be revised.

The fertility rate does seem to have fallen. And the ongoing exodus from the midhills means that some districts have been depopulated by up to one-third compared to 10 years ago. Also, the youth bulge would be even wider if the young absentee population is counted.

These corrected census results have serious implications for the debate on federalism that has stymied constitution-writing. As Norwegian economist Magnus Hatlebakk of the Christian Michelsen Institute concludes in a recent article in the portal setopati.com only 14 of the 75 districts have a majority from a single ethnic group. Hatlebakk has counted Brahmins and Chhetris separately, but if one lumps them together it is clear that a majority of the districts have a hill caste majority, meaning that many of the proposed federal provinces will not have a majority from the ethnicity they are named after.

His analysis indicates ‚Äėa clear conflict between economic viability and ethnic federalism‚Äô and that¬†‚Äėno hill ethnic group that will have a majority in any (proposed) province‚Äô. The situation in the¬†Madhes, which some politicians have tried to portray as a monolithic and homogenic region, is¬†even more fragmented.

Take the 2011 census breakdown for Kathmandu Valley, which would be a part of a future Newa-Tamsaling province. Nearly half the population of Kathmandu district is composed of the Brahmin, Chhetri, Thakuri, Sanyasi combine. It is 33 per cent in Lalitpur and 35 per cent in Bhaktapur. In the Tarai districts which would be part of one of the proposed Madhes provinces, the concentration of Pahadi people is even higher: 81 per cent in Chitwan, 68 per cent in Jhapa, and 70 per cent in Kanchanpur.

To be sure, the demand for ethnicity-based federalism stems from centuries of feudal neglect, centralisation, and the domination of hill caste groups of Nepal’s politics and economy. This needs to be set right. However, as the census shows, carving Nepal up with new internal federal boundaries is fraught. The challenge for the next four months to constitution deadline is to find a balance that doesn’t leave any party aggrieved.

If it looks too fragile to handle now, it may be wiser to address exclusion in other ways and leave state restructuring for later.

MAINLY IN THE PLAINS
(Proportion of Pahadi residents in selected districts based on the 2011 census.)

Kanchanpur 69%
Kailali  51%
Dang  65%
Nawalparasi  56%
Chitwan  81%
Morang 51%
Jhapa  68%
Rupandehi  45%
Sunsari   43%
Bardia  37%
Kapilbastu 22%

Read also: 

Censoring the census, Editorial

In a state of flux, Anurag Acharya

Nepal’s population 26.6 million


Children of war

Thursday, October 2nd, 2014
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The most vulnerable victims are still those who were children during the war.

Purnima was 13 when the Maoists took her father, they tortured him by cutting off his leg, then they shot him. Her brother was also severely tortured, and is disabled. Purnima herself was forced to become a child soldier. Today 23-year-old, Purnima earns Rs 3,000 a month and supports her remaining family including her cancer-ridden mother. She didn’t get any support from the government.. Here she is holding a picture of her murdered father.

The death this week of Nanda Prasad Adhikari after nearly a year-long hunger strike demanding justice for the torture and murder of his son in 2004 has thrown into sharp focus the violent legacy of the conflict.

Adhikari’s death exposed the apathy of the state, the collusion between former enemies to forget past atrocities, and the unfinished business of setting up commissions to look at truth and reconciliation and enforced disappearances. The state, under successive governments since 2006, would like to conveniently forget gross violations of human rights during the war.

Now, there is concern about the health of Nanda Prasad’s wife, Ganga Maya. Women and children witnessed unimaginable cruelty during the conflict, and they have been forgotten during the peace process. Many of the children are now young adults, and besides the physical wounds they also carry emotional scars. Some wounded got artificial limbs, but we largely forgot the psychological injuries suffered by children.

The state now pretends the war is finished business. But as long as the physical and mental trauma of the survivors remain, it will not be over. The government says the emphasis is now on repairing bridges and building highways, it wants to move on. There are just too many loose ends to do that.

Post-traumatic stress is still rife among women and children who witnessed and suffered brutal violence, and it afflicts young combatants too. Many lost their homes and property and haven’t been able to go back. Thousands of others were internally displaced, or migrated to India with their entire families, never to return.

Many of them never received any support from the government. Resources earmarked by donors through the Peace Ministry and distributed through local Peace Committees have often been siphoned off by party faithful and fake victims.

Among all the victims, the most vulnerable are still those who were children during the war: whole-timers who became child soldiers, students force-marched to reeducation camps, the wounded, and orphans. Many thousands of others were victims of gender-based violence, sexual abuse,unlawful recruitment by armed groups. Even after the war ended, it is the childrenwho have been killed or have lost limbs to unexploded ordnances.

Eight years after the war ended, at least 740 children are still residing in childcare homes across Nepal and waiting to be reintegrated with their families. No one knows the real figures, but it is accepted that the official statistics grossly underestimate the numbers of war-affected children in the country.

After the¬†2006 Comprehensive Peace Accord, the emphasis was on¬†identifying, reintegrating and supporting children associated with armed forces and groups. Some verified minors below 18 and late recruits got support for reintegration. The government endorsed a ‚ÄėNational Plan of Action for Reintegration of Conflict Affected Children‚Äô in 2010, but not much has happened. The international conventions on rights of children that Nepal has ratified do not make any difference for those who were minors during the war.

All photos:¬†Jan M√łller Hansen

Read also:

Death of justice, Editorial

Statute of denial, Mallika Aryal

Still missing them, Deepak Gyawali

The sad saga of the Adhikari family, Damakant Jayshi

Post-conflict stress syndrome, Taylor Caldwell

On the sidelines of justice,Trishna Rana

Nine years later, still in shock, Michelle J Lee

Why the children?, Naresh Newar

This conflict is child’s play, Rameshwor Bohara


Thinking small

Thursday, September 18th, 2014
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FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

FATHER TO SON: Karna Thapaliya and his youngest son upgraded the traditional water mill of their ancestors to generate 5kW of electricity to sell to 26 households in the neighbourhood.

Nepal’s chronic electricity shortage is a result of its inability to harness its big rivers, but how about small streams? There are tens of thousands of water mills across the country, and improving their efficiency by replacing crude wooden paddles with turbines is lighting up villages and providing power for micro-enterprises.

Karna Thapaliya’s ancestors set up a water mill by the banks of the Rosi River. Three years ago he upgraded it to generate 5kW of electricity that he sells to 26 households in the neighbourhood. The power is used for lighting at night, and by day Thapaliya sells his power to a furniture shop across the river.

‚ÄúMy grandfather and father raised the family with the flour they earned from grinding grain, now I sell electricity,‚ÄĚ says Thapaliya, 71, whose sons work in Kathmandu and Qatar.

The improved water mill was made possible through a government subsidy scheme which is part of a nationwide campaign supported by the German agency, GIZ, and the Dutch SNV. The technology is perfect for remote areas, and is more sustainable than subsidies for solar installations.

‚ÄúWe are trying to upscale this program by getting private banks involved, and adding a productive end-use component to make it viable,‚ÄĚ explains Ram Prasad Dhital of the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC). ‚ÄúIt is an appropriate renewable alternative, the only challenge is local management.‚ÄĚ

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya's improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Krishna Shrestha (left) uses power generated by Karna Thapaliya’s improved water mill to run a small furniture factory by the banks of the Rosi in Kavre.

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank inspecting an improved water mill

But in a country which has successful models of community-managed forests, women-led cooperatives and biogas programs, Nepal has experience in local mobilisation.

‚ÄúWe believe improved water mills can be a viable business that builds on a traditional vocation even though earnings for the bank are not attractive,‚ÄĚ says Barsha Shrestha of Clean Energy Bank, which wants to support up to 23 new projects.

In the Rosi River, households pay Rs 150 a month for six CFL lights and a tv, and the income pays for an operator. The savings are used for repairs and upkeep.

‚ÄúWe have the hardware, technology and a working model from the biogas program, all we need is to focus on financing and getting the community to work together,‚ÄĚ says Saroj Rai of SNV.

Nearly 10,000 water mills across Nepal have been improved in the past 12 years, and here in Kavre 250 mills have been upgraded by the Centre for Renewable Technology Nepal (CRT/N) to provide electricity to 200 households.

A water mill can be made more efficient to double the rate of grain grinding for Rs 40,000. To generate electricity and install an oil expeller can cost up to Rs 300,000, for which subsidised loans are available.

Cumulative Trend of Market Development for Improved Water Mills

(Hover over the infographic for the exact number of improved water mills built each year).

Kunda Dixit in KAVRE

Read also:

Wheels of change Mallika Aryal

Flour power  Ayesha Shakya

Improved water mills improve lives  Madhusudhan Guragain

Getting out of grinding poverty Naresh Newar


Nurse’s book wins Madan Prize

Sunday, September 14th, 2014
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Radha Paudel

Radha Paudel

As a young girl in Chitwan, whenever Radha Paudel complained about not having new shoes or pencils, she remembers her father telling her that children in Jumla didn’t even have enough to eat. When she grew up, Radha became an anesthesiologist at Bharatpur Hospital and applied for a more senior position. There were only two openings: a relatively easy job in Rupendehi, or the hardships of Jumla. Without hesitation, she chose to go to Jumla.

Her father, who had worked in Jumla previously, tried to make her change her mind. It is dangerous, he said, there is a war going on and life is hard in the remote mountains. But Radha reminded her father that it was he who had inspired her to go to Jumla in the first place, and do something for the people there.

When she got to Jumla in 2001, Radha could not sleep at nights seeing how mothers died at child- birth, children toiled as porters to earn a living. It was fluke she wasn’t born there, she thought, and she was troubled by the low esteem with which the rest of Nepal looked at Jumlis.

Radha got a job with a safe motherhood project supported by DFID and immediately set out to the remoter parts of the district to care for women even though it was a war zone. The security forces and the Maoists both looked at Radha with suspicion and thought she was an enemy spy.

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga)

The Madan Puraskar Guthi announced on 14 September to award this year’s Madan Literature Prize to Khalanga Ma Hamala (The Attack on Khalanga). In the book, Radha Paudel relives minute details of the battle of Jumla and  how that close brush with death motivated her to continue to work for the upliftment of the people  of this remote part of Nepal.

But, as Radha Paudel, reminds us, ‚ÄúThe end of the war has not meant peace. The roots of the¬†conflict are still there. As long as people are hungry, there will be war.‚ÄĚ

Radha Paudel went through similar doubts, but persevered because she thought it was important to¬†tell the story so people understand the true meaning of peace, and valued it. She teared up during¬†a recent interview and said in a choking voice: ‚ÄúI had to go back to Jumla and help the people I¬†went there to help.‚ÄĚ

After the battle of Jumla, Radha started writing down everything she remembered about the 13 terrifying hours of the fierce Maoist attack on Jumla on the night of 14 November 2002. The CDO, DSP and dozens of army and police were killed, and no one knows how many Maoists died.

Radha first just hid under her quilt, thinking it would protect her. Bullets whizzed all around, hitting the ceiling and walls. The army’s helicopters hovered overhead, dropping mortar bombs, while the Maoists and the army exchanged fierce gunfire in the street below. She peeped out of the window to see captured policemen being beheaded like goats.

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

Radha Paudel with some members of the community she worked with in Jumla in 2002

She went to hide in her landlady’s room, but a neighboring house caught fire and they were trapped between the smoke and the gunfire outside. Radha thought this was the end, but somehow survived the night. Radha kept working in Jumla, and got the Women Peacemaker Award last year for her selfless work in rural Nepal during the conflict. Radha’s first manuscript was lost, and she wrote it all over again from memory.

Radha says she will plough the royalty from Khalanga ma Hamala to her 
group, Action Works Nepal, which works in Jumla, Kalikot and Achham to help the Karnali people to stand on their own feet.

Kunda Dixit


 

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