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FEATURE STORY

On the Road to Progress in Nepal

June 17, 2013

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This all-weather road has transformed the lives of the people in Bajhang District, allowing bus and jeep services to flourish.

Trishna Thapa/World Bank

STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lack of accessibility to economic centers and social services in the remotest districts of Nepal is seen as one of the root causes of conflict and instability in the country.
  • The government of Nepal, with World Bank support, is working to ensure all-weather road access in 8 hill districts in Far Western and Western Nepal, connecting them to the country's strategic road network.
  • For the people of these districts, the resulting roads mean better educational opportunities, healthier lives, market access, and a means to fulfill their hopes and aspirations.

Bajhang District, NEPAL - 64-year-old Jaya Bahadur Malla sits in his small stationary shop in Bajha VDC of Bajhang district, selling books, ink pens and notepads to students. From his shop, he looks out at the thriving market which has emerged around the main road in Bajha and claims “You can get everything here from a siyo to soon (needle to gold).”

The satisfaction in Jaya Bahadur’s eyes is evident when he talks about the highway road in Bajhang. “I was one of the villagers who participated when they were first doing the survey for the road,” he says. “And look how much change the road has brought about. When I first opened the stationary shop I had to walk 2 days to Dadeldhura district to get goods for my shop. Now it takes only 3 hours.”

Business is booming at his shop. “When I was young, there was only one school, 4 hours away from our village. Now there are 13 schools in the VDC itself including a high school. The road has truly brought so many changes in Bajhang district,” Jaya Bahadur says proudly.

Bajhang district lies in the Far Western Region of Nepal, historically one of the most remote and underdeveloped regions in Nepal. Accessibility has always been one of the biggest challenges in the Far-West, a region which was first connected to the rest of the country only in the early 1990s, with the building of the Karnali Bridge supported by the World Bank. But hilly districts like Bajhang entered the 21st century still without access to basic roads. The resulting lack of accessibility to economic centers and social services is seen as one of the root causes of conflict and instability in the country.

The World Bank is currently working with the government of Nepal on a project to ensure all-weather road access in 8 hill districts in Far Western and Western Nepal. The Road Sector Development Project, funded by IDA, the World Bank's fund for the poorest, aims to connect the district headquarters of Darchula, Bajhang, Baitadi, Kalikot, Jumla, Dailekh, Jajarkot and Rukum to the country's strategic road network.

“Access to all-weather roads is a key determinant of development outcomes in Nepal,” says Farhad Ahmed, Senior Transport Specialist at World Bank Nepal. “All-season roads in these districts will benefit over 1.4 million people by reducing travel time and providing access to markets and schools and hospitals.”


" I have seen many cases in the past of women who died giving birth as they walked or were carried to the nearest health center, sometimes often days away. Now, many people use the ambulance services. "

Kailash Balayar

Auxiliary Health Worker

Kailash Balayar agrees. The 35-year-old Auxiliary Health Worker who has worked in Bajhang district for the past 13 years says it is now much easier for people to get to health posts and hospitals. “I have seen many cases in the past of women who died giving birth as they walked or were carried to the nearest health center, sometimes often days away. Now, many people use the ambulance services,” says Kailash.

“One of the biggest changes we have seen is the increase in economic activities in these districts,” says Sanjay Kumar Shrestha, Division Chief of the Department of Roads of the Government of Nepal. Shrestha, who oversees the upgrading and rehabilitation of the Darchula, Baitadi and Bajhang road sections, gives numerous examples of migrant workers who have returned to their villages to start new businesses.

One such individual is 30-year-old Harka Bahadur Nepali. Harka Bahadur who used to work as a rickshaw puller in India says he is now back in his village for good. He has opened a tailoring shop with his wife, Samjhana Nepali in Jhotha VDC in Bajhang. “We bring material all the way from Dhangadhi and sell it in our village. We have been making a good profit in the past six months,” says Samjhana happily.

For the people of Bajhang and adjoining districts, the road means better educational opportunities, healthier lives, a means to fulfill their hopes and aspirations. For 44-year-old Radhika Subarnakar, who traveled on a bus for the first time in her life last year, it meant exploring a world she never knew existed. “I went all the way to Kathmandu. I visited Pashupatinath, Swayambhunath and even the palace museum. I had never thought there was such a big world beyond my village.” Clearly, for the people of Bajhang, the road means so much more.



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