Despite tremendous efforts being made by the people of Karnali to overcome hardships and centuries of neglect, the rest of Nepal still sees us as 'backward'. If Kathmandu keeps giving up on Karnali, this could become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the past nine years, the development of Humla, Mugu, Kalikot and Dolpa districts of Karnali have been hard hit by the insurgency. There is great uncertainty, and traditional out-migration has increased deepening the hopelessness and fatalism of the people. Although compared to other regions, the residents of this remote northwestern corner of Nepal face a much harder struggle for daily survival, Karnali's citizens are a proud and dignified lot.
Kalikot is the youngest district in Karnali and also the most affected by the insurgency. Bifurcated by the mighty Karnali River, its location and relative isolation has made it a coveted strategic area for both sides in the conflict. Kalikot has no road and no airport and its 100,000 people have been bypassed by most development agencies.
Despite this, the people of Kalikot have reason to hope. They are waiting for the Surkhet-Jumla road, which is going to make access easier. The classrooms in the district's schools are full, through hard work families still manage to feed themselves even though mobility for trade is limited.
Recently, technicians from the Nepal Electricity Authority and members of Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Centre (KIRDARC) travelled from Manma to Sannigad to inspect the small hydropower plant which has been inactive for six years now. The good news is that they were not stopped by armed groups and Kalikot may soon have electricity again.
In a way, the situation has never been better to galvanise local people for development work in Kalikot and the rest of Karnali. Armed groups know they can't stop activities that genuinely benefit the people. This is why the announcement of suspension of activities by GTZ, after two members of its partner NGO were beaten by the Maoists in Sukatiya near Manma last week, is such a shock. Directly affected will be the GTZ-supported Rural Community Infrastructure Works (RCIW) project which had been providing valuable local support.
We in Karnali and the people of Kalikot have been saddened by the negative publicity generated by the pullout. We are against violence, intimidation, beatings by any group against unarmed innocent development workers. There was more to this incident than meets the eye and we feel that the donor agency's notice in the media was unfair and unnecessarily jeopardised the delivery of services to the people of Kalikot at a time when they need it most.
One can't punish all the people of Kalikot for something perpetrated by a handful of outlaws. And before public statements are hurriedly published, due attention must be paid to others who work and live in the area and how they may be affected.
Development work in conflict zones must be based firmly on the community's trust. All agencies working in such areas must cooperate and coordinate their activities so this trust is not eroded.
We meet challenges every day but these challenges also provide us opportunities to take our work forward. And in these sensitive times, it is specially important that all decisions be based on facts and not on secondary sources.
In this situation, we must not run away from the problem, but be even more firm in resolving it. All it needs is determination, integrity, commitment to uplift the people of Kalikot and Karnali. And we would urge all concerned to review their decision and immediately resume help to Kalikot.
Min Bahadur Shahi is the chairman of Karnali Integrated Rural Development and Research Centre (KIRDARC).