Nepali Times
Strictly Business
Humla's no Siberia


It was as a schoolboy in Kathmandu in the '80s that I first came to know about Humla-Jumla. The names of the two districts were always bundled together, as if they were geographical Siamese twins. And the very name, Humla-Jumla, evoked such images of remoteness and difficulty that they could well have been tracts of arid land somewhere on the moon.

Our maths teacher used to joke that we should pay attention if we wanted to build bridges in Humla-Jumla someday. What Siberia was to the USSR, Humla-Jumla was to Nepal. Thirty years later, visiting Humla, it seemed things were a little different from what I had imagined, but not all that much.

Politics: Humla's politics are the same as in most places in Nepal. Humlis say that they elect their representatives, who then take up residences in Kathmandu where, engrossed in the details of party politics, they hardly find the time to either visit Humla or raise Humli concerns in parliament.

Old Humlis complain that the nature of local politics has changed too. Young, politically active Humlis are more eager to trade blows on behalf of their political parties than for Humla's development. The result is that the old fear the young, and stay away from matters of local governance, and the young have splintered themselves into party-political factions Ė which makes getting anything done locally a maddeningly byzantine all-party appeasing task.

NGOs: NGOs get knee-jerk bad press in the Kathmandu media, in part because it fits in with the smugly unexamined narrative that 'NGOs are bad'. But the media never points out that in places like Humla, both an elected local government and the private sector are absent. Either the locals fend for themselves as they have done for hundreds of years or they seek help. NGOs are there to help.

Indeed, in village after village, NGOs have helped construct taps, toilets, schools and trekking trails, transport food grains for distribution, vaccinate people against diseases, and share knowhow related to selling apples and herbs. It's hard to justify the unrelenting criticism of NGOs when they are often the only bodies that appear actively concerned about Humla's development.

Infrastructure: Humlis complain that they have not been able to use the mighty Karnali River, which just flows into and out of Humla. Because of Humla's harsh geography, this resource has not been utilised at scale for irrigation, drinking water, or hydropower. During the 10-year Maoist insurgency, many suspension bridges were destroyed, rendering trade, transport and travel all the more difficult. A slow rebuilding of bridges is now underway.

These days, just as Nepalis living in the Tarai border towns look at the wide roads being laid down in Nitish Kumar's Bihar and ask why we can't do the same, Humlis look at Chinese infrastructure on the other side of the border and wonder what's stopping the development of infrastructure in Humla and other high-altitude regions. Clearly, it's possible.

In many ways, Humla is hardly the moonscape I had visualised as a child. It's similar to most other places in Nepal: full of hard-working people who want to lead better lives as far as health, income and education are concerned, full of promise and potential for further growth in trade and tourism opportunities. Humlis may be hobbled by dysfunctional local politics and ignored by political representatives and national parties. Yet the district is inching forward, through NGO-assisted local efforts.

Back to work, EDITORIAL
Election hangover, DAMAKANT JAYSHI
Billing Boards, RUBEENA MAHATO
Growing wellness, PAAVAN MATHEMA

1. Salil
An excellent write up ! Peeking into China and wondering why we can not do the same. People in the capital too feel equally helpless, as they often wonder what is it that stops Nepal from becoming progressive? We do have man power. Blaming political turmoil would be cliched because every sensible Nepali knows by now not to expect any thing good from the bunch of fools at the helm. Does a common Nepali's mindset need refreshening? I guess, that is needed.

2. jange
It is cheaper to supply the northern remote Himalayan arts of Nepal from China- always has been.

However there are too many vested interests that would be offended if this was done.

Good topic for investigation!!??

3. Shristi Shrestha

I¬†can't agree more to¬†"Young, politically active Humlis are more eager to trade blows on behalf of their political parties than for Humla's development.....young have splintered themselves into party-political factions √Į¬Ņ¬Ĺ which makes getting anything done locally a maddeningly byzantine all-party appeasing task".

Is there anyway these young leaders with full potential can be mobilized as constructive force for the country instead as a political tool for destruction of infrastructure and bringing down governments. NGOs working on providing basic to remote Nepal is good but it is like giving alms(the idea is outdated). I think what Nepal needs is more skills so that people can make a living. Subsistence farming should be part time task if opted but definitely not job for living Can more NGOs and INGOs promote social enterprenuership that promotes technology. Even if they are hooked to agriculure, it needs to be at profitable scale and in nature friendly way. In addtion, these youth need to divert their interst tosports and other extra curricular activities like other people of their age around the world. We really need to put the power and energy of the youth to constructive use.

4. Naresh

The common notion about NGO and INGO complex is not a haox  nor it is a question of  specificity.The question is: Is the State capable of governing its own people?What can NGO do in a large scale?Everyone must appreciate any genuine effort carried out by anyone for mankind.This means ,for sanitary toilets,drinking water and many small education-related projects carried out be NGOs, are good but the main construct of efforts should be independence.Can NGOs build small hydroelectric projects?Can they build universities?What is their net role in per-capita income and GDP?Perhaps close to zero because many NGOs are mere profiteers or mere advancement to political ambitions.Most fundamentally,for as many years have these NGOs may settle in Humbla what is the gross proportion of their substantial role?


5. Sargam
A Chinese Engineer was saying to the Nepalese: "If you want to be rich and prosperous first construct roads."

Humla, being a far away place from Kathmandu no such facilities could be provided to the populace.

Lately, I saw a reportage on the telly while the reporter was showing one of the most dangerous roads in Himalayas between Surkhet and Humla and Jumla. How the drivers were courageous to conduct the vehicles at the peril of their lives.

Much is there to be done. But the politicos in Kathmandu have nothing to do for the country. The commies are there to drive Nepal way down into the bottom lines of life struggles. Their only preoccupation is how to cheat upon every Nepalese to grab the mainstream power no matter for that they have to starve the commoners to death.

Unless the commoners do not take a resolution to do away with the present situation nothing can be done.

Folks, wake up and march!?!

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)