Nepali Times
Building anew


On the southern fringes of Patan, Khumaltar is growing into an institutional area and the latest to strike roots here is the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD). At a time when some international organisations are relocating from Nepal, ICIMOD plans to move into bigger and better premises.

This Sunday, King Gyanendra will inaugurate the impressive new ICIMOD secretariat built on a 1.5 hectare plot worth Rs 1 million gifted by the host government. "These are trying times in Nepal," says J Gabriel Campbell, director general of the institution who speaks fluent Hindi, Urdu and Nepali. "But it gives all the more reason to work with Nepali institutions and people. As an old friend of Nepal, we hope to keep being a good friend."

ICIMOD set up shop in Kathmandu on 5 December 1983 to spread awareness in mountain development, propel advocacy and influence government policies in the region. Coinciding with its 21st anniversary, a symposium on 'Securing Sustainable Livelihoods in the Hindu-Kush Himalaya: Directions for Future Research, Development and Cooperation' will be held to take stock of past programs and plan new ones.

China and India, the two big ICIMOD members put up $100,000 for the building whose architectural plan was judged first in a design contest two years ago. Last minute touches are still being given as serpentine cables disappear under floor panels. Tom Crees, the architect, takes us on a tour of the place still under construction, painting a picture of what the end result will look like.

Elegant furniture from China will furnish the reception, he says waving at the empty spaces adding, "A Chinese painting and special carpet will make it look authentic". In the conference room, a stage has been set. "That is where the king will sit," he points out. The wall hangings have a distinct Indian flavour. "This is India's contribution. There will be a plaque stating it," says Milan Raj Tuladhar, chief administrator.

The sign at the main gate says ICIMOD in the eight different languages of ICIMOD's member countries: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, India, Nepal and Pakistan. Bangladesh and Bhutan have helped set up pavilions behind the main building, built in the traditional styles of their countries by their own craftsmen.

"As an architect, one of the innovations were the pavilions," says Crees, admitting it was a challenge for his team: "The design had to embody the spirit of the eight regions in the Hindu-Kush Himalayan range but it had to have modern standards and efficiency". To allow it to blend in with Kathmandu Valley, the building exudes a native Nepali look but inside it reflects the diversity of the region that ICIMOD encompasses. The interiors are bright and airy, giving the effect of transparency, spaciousness, efficiency, a sense of community and cooperation.

The regional character of the building's architecture and the elegant country pavilions in the courtyard provide working space for meetings and brainstorming sessions. Even the cafeteria has been designed to encourage group work with more than four chairs at each table. "Interconnectedness will encourage us to translate the integration in ICIMOD's name into joint thinking and action," says Campbell. "The fact that we will no longer have to use operating expenses to pay rent or loan repayment within four or five years will decrease our overhead and increase our program investments." Ofcourse, there is the advantage of having ICIMOD's demonstration site in Godavari closer.

A tower is being set-up at the back of the premises where equipment to study the phenomenon of the 'South Asian brown cloud' is being set up. A laser beam that can shoot upto 60 km vertically is being installed that can measure the growing regional pollution threat, explains Bidhya Pradhan, environment officer. "It's the first of its kind in Nepal. We will be able to make an impact on environmental policies here and in the Himalayan regions."


Gone surfing

While ICIMOD cements its presence in Nepal, a UN regional office has decided the security situation in Kathmandu is too hot to handle and is leaving for, guess where, Sri Lanka.

The head office of the South Asia Sub-regional Resource Facility (SURF), which provides UNDP country offices support to design projects, is relocating to Colombo in January. Security has been cited as the main reason for the decision. This is has surprised many, not the least some expat UN staffers who told us: "It's like jumping from the frying pan into the fire."

In the past, truck bombs in Colombo have demolished the entire business district and an airport attack in 2001 destroyed almost the entire Sri Lankan Airlines fleet. Although things have been quiet in Sri Lanka since the ceasefire three years ago, the Tamil Tigers recently threatened to restart the war after deadlocked negotiations.
The SURF decision was reportedly made after bandas in September and recent Maoist threats, including a hoax bomb in the basement garage of the building in which SURF is housed. The UN's security concerns have grown after its office in Baghdad was blown up killing 15 staff. "Kathmandu has been rated a more risky place than Colombo," one SURF staffer told us. "When we asked if Sri Lanka was safer, they said the conflict there was relegated only to the Jaffna peninsula." He also said SURF was finding it difficult to find applicants for new positions because they didn't want to relocate to Kathmandu.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)