Nepali Times
Kathmandu needs a bypass

During the two-year Indian blockade of 1989-90, kerosene was flown in on airliners from Dhaka, and there were shortages of everything in Kathmandu. But a strange thing happened: the Nepali economy did not go into total collapse. What saved Nepal was its very underdevelopment. The country did not grind to a halt because it was not moving in the first place. People outside Kathmandu lived on as they always had, since most items of their daily necessity did not come from India.

For the past two weeks, there has been another near-blockade of Kathmandu. This time it was the natural obstruction of the Prithvi Highway by a massive landslide. Kathmandu and Nepal are much more dependent on the outside world today than 10 years ago, and road transport is the mainstay of the economy.

Floods, landslides or even earthquakes, cannot be predicted with any degree of accuracy. But only fools would not be prepared for them.

Nepal is on a major seismic zone, the mountains are young and exposed to heavy monsoon erosion. We know this, so it should not be a surprise to us when earthquakes happen or when landslides occur. What we have to ask ourselves is this: what are we doing to prepare ourselves for future calamities that will surely come? Disaster-preparedness means having mechanisms in place for immediate relief, a strategy for alternative means of communication, fall-back options for relief and rescue. If a relatively small event like Krishnabhir could cut off the capital for so long, what will happen during a really big multiple crisis?

Hand-in-hand must be a citizens\' response so that the traditional hoarding and gouging does not get out of hand. We must learn to readjust our consumption pattern, use less of everything that there is less of, not travel unnecessary, be frugal with food, and try to be more self-sufficient than usual. This year, we have been lucky that the road blockage is beyond Naubise, so the Tribhuvan Highway has been able to keep a tenuous link to the plains and the rest of the Nepal. At the level of the government, a rapid rescue force to be mobilised during such emergencies is long overdue. The normal maintenance mechanism for highways cannot cope with slides like the one at Krishnabhir, and it is certain that even bigger landslides will occur in future. And we argue in a report (page 4) that alternative access routes that have been on cold storage, some for 40 years, need to be revived. In this day and age, it is foolish to take a 200-km detour to the west when you actually need to go east.

When a coronary artery is blocked, a person gets a heart attack. To prevent future attacks, surgeons perform bypass operations on patients. Kathmandu badly needs a highway bypass.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)