Nepali Times

Rescuing Kathmandu from its future

Friday, December 12th, 2014

‚ÄúAn advanced city is not where the poor use cars, it‚Äôs where even the rich move around in public buses‚ÄĚ

Enrique Penalosa on a bicycle

Pedaling to power: Enrique Penalosa on a bicycle in a stretch of the 300 km of bicycle lanes he built in the Colombian capital when he was mayor.

The former mayor of the Colombian capital Enrique Penalosa looked around Kathmandu on a recent trip, and saw many of the same problems of haphazard urbanisation that he tried to solve in Bogot√° ten years ago.

Nepal’s urban population will triple in the next 30 years, requiring five times more space for housing, roads and workplaces. The number of vehicles on the roads in Kathmandu will grow even faster. Where will they all fit?

Penalosa, who is now an urban transport consultant, pointed to the unplanned growth around New Baneswor without proper roads and parks, and warned: ‚ÄúIn ten years this will be much more congested, it will be utter chaos.‚ÄĚ

Yet, he said, it is still not too late for Kathmandu. ‚ÄúNepal‚Äôs advantage is late urbanisation, you have to dare to be different.‚ÄĚ

At a recent talk to Nepal’s urban planners, road engineers and transportation officials Penalosa said Nepal’s advantage ironically was that it was poor, which meant it hasn’t had the money to make irreversible mistakes.

‚ÄúBy the time I became mayor of Bogot√°, it was already too late to save the city,‚ÄĚ said the former mayor who lost the 2007 election for a second term because he had stepped on the toes of too many vested interest groups opposing his emphasis on public transport.

The main challenge for Kathmandu is to plan for a city of 10 million in 30 years so that everyone benefits. The free market does not work in real estate because greed takes precedence over urban planning. A strong municipality needs to implement the concept of eminent domain to buy space for systematic expansion.

‚ÄúIt‚Äôs not a technical problem, it is a political one,‚ÄĚ explained Penalosa, ‚Äúyou have to take an ideological decision about whether you want to be Amsterdam or Houston. Are you going to build a city for cars or for people?‚ÄĚ

In a democratic city, the sidewalk is a more important part of transport infrastructure than roads, efficient public transport is more important than cars. Parks are more important than parking lots.

‚ÄúAn advanced city is not a place where the poor move about in cars, rather it‚Äôs where even the rich use public transportation,‚ÄĚ is one of Penalosa‚Äôs famous sound bites. Another one: ‚ÄúA bus with 100 people has the same right as 100 cars, so a bus stuck in a traffic jam is unjust.‚ÄĚ

As mayor, Pensalosa revamped Bogotá’s public transport by bringing 35,000 private bus owners into a new company that operated Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) called TransMilenio in exclusive lanes that today moves nearly 2 million passengers a day.

‚ÄúFor a city like Kathmandu BRT is not the best solution, it is the only solution,‚ÄĚ Penalosa said. , adding that wider roads and more parking space do not solve traffic problems. The idea should be to restrict parking and provide public transport. ‚ÄúParking is not a constitution right,‚ÄĚ said Pensalosa, ‚Äúwho says someone in a car has more right to road space?‚ÄĚ

The Kathmandu office of the Asian Development Bank, which organised Pensalosa’s meeting with city planners, is assisting the Kathmandu Sustainable Urban Transport project with a $10 million grant to develop an efficient public transport system and roads with pedestrian space that preserve heritage values.

Said the ADB‚Äôs Kenichi Yokoyama: ‚ÄúWith the limited space Kathmandu has, relying on private vehicles is not practical, desirable, or sustainable.‚ÄĚ

Pensalosa is also an avid promoter of bicycles, and turned parts of Bogot√° into a pedestrian and pedal paradise with his Cicloruta concept of a 300km network of bicycle highways. He said: ‚ÄúA healthy city is where a child can ride around safely in a bicycle.‚ÄĚ

Watch Enrique Pensalosa on TED Talks

Read also:

Needed: political will for public transport, Elvin L Shrestha

Urban crush, Dewan Rai and Suvayu Dev Pant

The roads not taken, Salil Subedi and Alok Tumbahangphey

…and what about the roads, Dewan Rai

Where have all the zebras gone? Rajjan M Chitrakar

Going microbus crazy, Alok Tumbahangphey

The road to safety, Bhrikuti Rai

Sajha goes green, Sunir Pandey

Superstructure bottleneck

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Investment in infrastructure is not enough, we have to invest in the structural problem of governance

The most super-obvious thing you can say about present day Nepal is that the country has an infrastructure bottleneck.

Don’t even get us started on energy. Although politicians like to use the conflict as the excuse for delays in hydropower projects, it has been eight years since the war ended and they have added barely 30MW to the national grid. The supreme absurdity is that in those eight years more than 400MW of captive power from private generators have been added, increasing diesel imports three-fold.

Some blame the catch-all phrase ‘political instability’ for our inability to get energy infrastructure off the ground. Actually what they mean is that competition between kleptocrats for kickbacks on big projects cancel each other out. ¬†It is not ‘the lack of political will’ that has delayed hydropower because there seems to be plenty of political will to undertake underhand deals. It’s just that decision-making is paralysed by one side or the other sabotaging deals backed by a rival party.

This is the same malaise that has delayed the Melamchi Project by 20 years. Forget for the moment that it is almost criminal to lavish $700 million on a project to supply drinking water to a pampered capital when cheaper alternatives were available. (Bigger projects are more attractive to politicians because they have bigger kickbacks.) The scheme to bring Himalayan glacial melt through a 26km tunnel to Kathmandu has suffered prolonged delays due to political interference in the selection of builders, corrupt contractors who banked on getting cost variance approved through bribery, donor overlap and duplication.

As Elvin L Shrestha reported in last week’s issue of this paper (‘Miles to go, and promises to keep’, #734) Nepal’s planners have long realised that investment in infrastructure would be the catalyst to spur the country to meet its goal of graduating from LDC status. A Marshall Plan to upgrade highways, airports, multi-purpose river projects would immediately create hundreds of thousands of jobs so Nepalis don’t have to migrate for work. Once completed, the projects would unleash downstream benefits like energy sufficiency, reduce trade imbalance through power exports, improve connectivity, boost agriculture and encourage investment in manufacturing.

Nepal is poised for growth, and there is a new sense of optimism after the visit to Nepal of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the signing of a power trade agreement with India which opened the floodgates for a series of delayed river projects like Pannheswor, Upper Karnali, Arun, Middle Marsyangdi and Tama Kosi III. Chinese investors are also waiting for the BIPPA agreement to add investment in Nepal in a big way. Already, Chinese contractors are involved in a slew of hydropower projects, the Bhairawa and Pokhara airports, and a new joint venture between Tibet Airlines and a consortium of Nepali investors.

All this is very good news for the near term. But infrastructure is ‘hardware’, and Nepal’s real bottleneck is the ‘software’ of management, government coordination, transparency and accountability. Investment in infrastructure without addressing the structural problems of governance will exacerbate inequality, lead to lopsided development, create wastage and harm the environment.

The post-SAARC Summit chaos at Kathmandu airport this week was every traveler’s worst nightmare which went to prove that upgrading physical infrastructure is never enough. Lack of management and coordination at the airport led to a massive pileup of air traffic, leading to horrendous delays, diverted flights, and angry visitors. This was a public relations disaster for the country that put off tens of thousands of tourists, and any potential investor stuck at the visa line at the airport would have immediately decided to take his money elsewhere. Weather and heavy traffic played a role, but it was first and foremost airport management failure.

Physical infrastructure is all well and good, but without improving the governance superstructure we will continue to be stuck in this dystopia.

Read also:

Miles to go, promises to keep, Elvin L Shrestha 

Power cuts are here to stay, Shyamal K Shrestha

Believing in Nepal, Srikanth Srinivasamadhavan

India-open, Editorial 

Common minimum targets, Sunir Pandey

Powerless future, Bhrikuti Rai

200th Anniversary of Nalapani

Friday, October 31st, 2014
Nalapani Hill (at centre in the rear) near Dehra Doon which is now Raipur Reserved Forest.

Nalapani Hill (at centre in the rear) near Dehra Doon which is now Raipur Reserved Forest. Photo courtesy: Winterline Mussourie. Capt Bal Bhadra Kunwar and Maj Gen Robert Gillespie, who was killed by a Nepali sniper on the first day of the Battle of Nalapani on 31 Octopber 1814.

Today is exactly 200 years since the Anglo-Nepal War broke out, representing the zenith of the Gorkhali expansion and a clash between greater Nepal and the East India Company.

On 31 October 1814, 3,500 Indian sepoys and their British commanding officers attacked the Gorkha hilltop fort on Nalapani near Dehra Doon. Capt Bal Bhadra Kunwar was commanding a garrison of 600 soldiers inside the fort and was sent word by Maj Gen Robert Gillespie to surrender.

The Gorkhalis refused, and Gillespie was immediately killed by a Nepali sharpshooter from inside the ramparts. The British then laid siege on the fort and bombarded it with cannon fire. Capt Kunwar and the Nepali forces held out, inflicting heavy casualties on the Company.

When the base ran out of water and food, Kunwar escaped into the night and joined forces with Ranjit Singh, the king of Punjab who was also fighting against the East India Company. Nalapani was finally over-run after a month-long siege on 30 November, and by then 740 Company soldiers were killed and 530 Nepalis.

The war was to last another two years until the Sugauli Treaty was signed in 1816 under which the British were allowed to recruit Nepali soldiers into their Army, and Nepal had to cede Garhwal, Kumaon and parts of what is now Himachal Pradesh, and large tracts of the Ganga plains to the south.

Even before hostilities broke out in 1814, the Company had already engaged militarily with the¬†Gorkhali Army. After Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Nuwakot in 1742 King Jayasthiti Malla of¬†Patan sent an SOS to Calcutta. The Company dispatched a force under Capt‚ÄĮ George Kinloch, but¬†this was repulsed by Gorkhalis waiting at the fort on Sindhuli Gadi with hornet nests that they¬†hurled down at the attackers.

The British were so chastened by the defeat, they didn’t attack Nepal till 1814. Under the pretext of a border dispute in Butwal, the Company launched an all out offensive with four columns led by Major-General Rollo Gillespie and Colonel David Ochterlony in Garhwal and Kumaon in the west, Gen John Wood in Palpa, Maj-Gen Bennet Marley on Makwanpur and Kathmandu, and another along the Kosi in the east.

The Nepali forces were under the overall command of Prime Minister Bhimsen Thapa in Kathmandu¬†with his son Ranabir Singh Thapa commanding Makwanpur Fort, Balbhadra Kunwar defending the¬†strategic garrison at Nalapani in Garhwal, Col Ujir Singh Thapa in Palpa, ‚ÄĮGen Amar Singh Thapa at¬†Malaon Fort, and his son Ranajore Singh Thapa at Jaithak Fort.

The first frontal attack on Nalapani and Deuthal did not go well for the British, but as the war wore on the Company used the combination of siege tactics and mountain cannons to squeeze the Gorkhali forces. The siege of Nalapani, Deuthal, and Jaithak and the bravery shown by Bhakti Thapa, Bal Bhadra Kunwar, and Amar Singh Thapa is the stuff of legend in Nepali history books.

The British East India Company didn‚Äôt go to war with Nepal so much for territory, but for trade —¬†especially for the prized antelope wool found in western Tibet. For this, it needed control over the¬†trans-Himalayan passes and after the Company had hacked off the region west of the Mahakali¬†River, it had access to the high passes over the Himalaya and saw no need to conquer and keep,¬†what even then, looked like an ungovernable state.

But the terms of the treaty that preserved Nepal’s nominal sovereignty, altered our nation’s boundary and history and started the tradition of Gurkha recruitment that continues 200 years later.

The Gurkhas: An Interactive Timeline

Timeline credit: Ayesha Shakya 

Read also:

Double centennial Editorial 

Pashmina war Kunda Dixit 

100 yeas of platitudes Sunir Pandey

The Gurkhas: An interactive timeline  Ayesha Shakya

More warlike Deepak Aryal

See also, story in The Tribune and Winterline Mussorie

Better safe than sorry

Wednesday, October 29th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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 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.

(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