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.”