Nepali Times
It ain’t broke

Politics make headlines. And when the struggle for power turns violent as it has here over the past decade, it makes even bigger headlines. Disasters also make it to the bulletins because they fulfil the basic criteria for news: they are negative. Television can't get enough of typhoons and wars, especially if they come with cool visuals. To make it to the headlines, disasters by definition have to be shocking and sudden. Slow, silent death doesn't grab the editors.

Children in Nepal die of easily preventable causes, but because they don't all die suddenly, all at once and in one place, media gatekeepers don't consider it 'news'.
Nepal's maternal mortality rate is as high as some sub-Saharan countries, but the mothers are dying in isolated remote villages scattered all across this rugged land. Four times more women have died at childbirth in Nepal over the past ten years than all the men, women and children who have been killed in the conflict .
Yet, eyes glaze over when you try to get media interested in our shameful maternal mortality rate, or the needless death of Nepali children. The Buddha weeps, but Kathmandu couldn't care less.

The biggest challenge ahead of Nepal today is actually not the conflict-sooner or later the men directing this war will see just how foolish and wasteful it is. The real challenge is to use the opportunity for social reform that the conflict presents to finally begin to address the country's development deadend. How do you kick-start delivery of health care, nutrition and disease prevention so helpless Nepalis don't have to die prematurely? How do you overcome the avarice and apathy of rulers in the capital?

Actually it's not such a tall order, and we don't even need to wait for a complete restoration of peace to begin. There are numerous examples of communities even in conflict zones today who have ensured health posts are staffed, schools are run, community forests are conserved and roads are constructed. In many VDCs, chairmen whose terms have long expired still serve, out of a sense of duty to their constituents, as de facto volunteer headmen.

All they need is a slightly more efficient government machinery and relatively honest managers in the bureaucracy to ensure that budgeted resources end up where they are supposed to and not get siphoned off along the way. The insurgency should not be an excuse to bring development to a standstill, or to say there is no money. In fact, development can be the biggest contribution to peace-building.

Just bring back what was working: devolve power, restore the grassroots democracy that had empowered villagers and made them participate in shaping their own destiny. Bring back elections of local leaders who were accountable and kept promises.

It wasn't broken, so why are we trying to fix it?

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)