Nepali Times
Guest Column
Not too late


I made a short visit home to Gulmi over Dasain. The message from Gulmi could very well be a message from any of the other 74 districts of Nepal.

Despite the conflict and suspension of many development activities, there has been steady progress in basic education. Enrolment in primary and secondary schools is increasing constantly. There is growing enrolment of girls in schools.

As more children complete primary education, parents are anxious to see them continue to secondary. Many communities have applied for upgrading of their schools to lower-secondary and secondary plus schools, and as they wait, they've mobilised local resources to hire additional teachers and build more classrooms.

But, to the considerable frustration of local officials and parents, even after many years the government has not approved the upgrading, accreditation, and funding of a large number of public schools.

At health centres and sub-health posts, government-supplied essential medicines meet less than half a year's requirements for most communities. This annual allocation needs to be doubled.

The people of Gulmi welcomed the budget announcement that annual block grants for VDCs will be doubled to Rs 1 million. But no directives for the use of these funds have been issued yet. One hopes the Maoists will not seek to take advantage of these additional resources, and that they will be used for effective delivery of basic social services at the community level.

The absence of elected local bodies is a major constraint in the smooth functioning of development activities. But there is a spirit of solidarity and shared objectives. There is heightened awareness of their rights among women and dalits, and acceptance by local communities of their increased participation in development activities.

In part this is thanks to Maoist awareness-raising. Had the Maoists not resorted to extortion, violence, and high-handed behaviour, some of their progressive ideas and actions would have won them genuine, lasting popular support. It is not too late for them to change their ways, focus on their positive, progressive social agenda, and abandon violence, intimidation, and extortion to regain genuine public support and retain it, even if that means a temporary loss of power and influence.

I had not visited my ancestral village for the past six years, and was afraid that Gulmi would be politically polarised. But I was pleasantly surprised to find people continuing to behave cordially as good neighbours. The Maoists and army, who came from outside the village, brought fear and distrust to the community.

People are still afraid of the Maoists. They deeply resent, but tolerate, their extortion. A small number of unarmed Maoists can intimidate large numbers of villagers because of the lurking threat of arms. Minus that threat, people seemed confident that they can work things out among themselves in a democratic, participatory manner.

This has important and hopeful lessons. It is to be assumed that the Nepal Army will remain in the barracks during peace time. The Maoists could stop appointing outsiders and rely on local cadre, who have to live in peace and harmony with their neighbours.

Beyond peace and democracy-as a result of them-people expect rapid improvements in their lives. Nepal must urgently begin to prepare an ambitious post-conflict reconstruction and development plan that can galvanise broad national consensus and international support.

Kul C Gautam is Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, and Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF. This piece is excerpted from a speech he delivered in Kathmandu last month on UN Day.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)