1-7 March 2013 #645

Light at the end of the tunnel?

Despite a violent conflict, mismanagement and corruption over the past 20 years, Nepal has taken surprising strides in health and education

Relentless coverage of the political deadlock has made most Nepalis cynical about the future. Power cuts get worse, there are few jobs, and those who want to migrate to work get cheated by recruiters, the dusty, and polluted cities have no water. The list of woes is long.

Yet, despite a violent conflict, mismanagement and corruption over the past 20 years, Nepal has taken surprising strides in health and education. In fact, the rate of improvement in Nepal’s Human Development Index has been cited by the UN as being the most rapid among developing countries.

Now, Nepal is poised for a ‘great leap forward’ in infrastructure. There is a highway-building spree and in the next 10 years many of these will be black-topped and upgraded. This week, the track for the future Kathmandu-Nijgad expressway was opened, a consortium of private sector and overseas Nepalis will soon begin construction of a tunnel road to Hetauda that will reduce travel time to less than one hour. The East-West Highway will be turned into a six-lane expressway and work will begin on a parallel railway artery of which the Bardibas-Simara-Birganj section will be completed by 2022.

The energy crisis has at last prompted the government to act, and hydropower projects are either under construction or planned that will generate up to 10,000MW in the next ten years. It is hard today to image Nepal without power cuts, but that day may be here sooner than we think.

All this will need political stability, streamlining of government policy on investment and its continuity no matter which government is in power. And if this week’s political consensus on elections this year goes through, even stable politics may be within reach.

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