What is the purpose of your visit this time?
The purpose of my visit is three fold. First of all, I am here from Arizona State University. I am the program manager of vocational training and education. It is the project funded by US Agency for International Development (USAID). As part of that, I have brought two trainings. One was a two-day training for policymakers on the wind energy system. This is basically to figure out the feasibility study in terms of wind energy for policy makers. This was a workshop for higher level. And other training we have is solar Photovoltaic (PV). It is for the educators or the people trained for others. It is the training for trainers. Both of them are funded by USAID and implemented by Arizona University. I also hold the program manager as well as research assistant position -- we conducted both the trainings with the collaboration with National Academy for Science and Technology (NAST).
What would Nepal gain from this?
The first one is wind energy. The training we do is at different levels. The name of the program Vocational Training and Education for Clean Energy (VOCTEC), which is a five-year long USAID funded program. It is more about the capacity building of decision makers. If somebody wants to think about the applicability and feasibility of wind energy, the training will help to identify the elements, the socio-economic, environment and technical aspects. The two days training is done by experts from Arizona University. I personally teach the environmental impacts sides. Twenty seven people participated in the program from many different organizations. The participants are high level people involved in decision making.
What is there for high level employees?
In decision making level, you need to understand higher level of things. This training builds the capacity of policy makers in this perspective. This training goes into the technical and financial sides. Wind energy training will help to build the capacity of higher officials.
How viable is wind energy in Nepal?
From wind site in Nepal, there are a few areas viable for wind energy. You need four or five meters of wind per second of consistent wind speed and it needs to be reasonably available throughout the year and wind energy system should be viable. Mapping and physical study has not been done adequately. But, there are some areas in western part of Nepal like Manang, Mustang and Dolpa, where studies have shown that there is a good possibility of wind energy generation. There are also some other hill areas just beyond Kathmandu Valley where there might be the possibility of wind energy. There may not be a lot of it but it might be a very good complement.
How do you see the economy of wind energy?
It does not take a huge investment like micro-hydro and hydro, but the wind also produces clean energy. You need consistent wind speed for four to five hours.
How do you see the potential of harnessing solar energy in Nepal?
On solar side, Nepal has done very well. This particular training we are doing on PV solar is about the off-grid system, which is distributed to houses, particularly on the capacity of 1-5 kilowatts, to provide sufficient energy to home. These are very important forms of energy. As Nepal is facing a crisis of fuel, it would have helped greatly if you had distributed wind and solar energy systems. Solar system has proven that the technology is very well established and Nepal is doing very well on solar home system. On PV solar system, Nepal is doing reasonably well. The training we do is to train the technicians and educators.
Since Kathmandu and other cities of Nepal were badly damaged by earthquake in April, how do you suggest making Nepal’s new construction environment friendly?
My professional background is urban planning and environment policies. I represented the country director of IUCN in Nepal. I do have a lot of experiences on urban planning and environment and greening the city. My particular focus is on environment conservation and sustainability, how to make cities much more livable and less dependent on cars and less dependent on roads and high forms of energy. That was the area I worked for.
How do you suggest rebuilding Nepal?
This time there was a huge devastation in Nepal, with 10,000 people losing lives, and some of the important heritage sites lost. In rural areas, 98 percent of the buildings collapsed. Even in Kathmandu, there was a huge loss in antique and historical structures. Of course, it is a great tragedy but it is an opportunity to build anew. We can start with the basic planning principles, where we can coordinate with many services like utilities, the water supply system, the electricity, the road ways, the street walks and sewer systems. Although Kathmandu is a big city now, we did not think about this place on those lines.
How do you view Kathmandu now?
With the population of 4.5 million, Kathmandu is really a big city. This is a very large size. That is the population of Singapore and New Zeeland, bigger than Finland and Denmark. I go to Pacific Island countries. For instance, the population of Fiji is less than a million. Given that, 4.5 million population in a big city is high. Other big cities like Pokhara, Biratnagar, Dharan, Butwal and Nepalgunj are of reasonable sizes. There is an opportunity to start afresh and think of all the parameters.
As a member of the Diaspora, what have you done to support the quake affected people?
Immediately after the earthquake in April, as the Nepalese Diaspora in America, we published a manual on earthquake preparedness and designing and planning. There is also an American Society for Nepalese Engineers. The book was published to help how to plan with awareness of earthquakes and how to mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, the booklet was published after the earthquake -- it has enough documentation for post earthquake situation. We have also published the book with preliminary information about post-earthquake and some 30 Diaspora experts contributed to it.
How do you see the expertise in Nepal?
There are now a lot of experts in Nepal, including the expertise with NSET, different ministries of the government, consulting companies and universities. They have done intensive work. One of the sad parts is that they have implemented less. Most of the houses in Kathmandu survived for being well designed and built under the supervision of engineers. We need to handle certain parameters to make the people safe in such a densely populated cities like Kathmandu. Because of the density, in case of earthquake and other disasters, the emergency planning becomes very important. In places like America, the open spaces are very important and prescribed.
How do you suggest making the city safer from disasters like quake in future?
For every one thousand people, there is the need to provide 4-5 acres of land which is open as a park or where some people can gather. In case of fire, earthquake and other disasters, people should always know where to go. You need to give mock training. There is the need to do several drills for mitigation. There is the need to have more open spaces. Even in Bangladesh and India, the government has allocated land for open space. The more the open spaces in short distance, the more secure the cities. Preparedness and mitigation are important. As you see a 7.9-Richter scale earthquake made so much of damage in Nepal, but almost 8.9 Richter scale earthquake in Chille was less damaging.
What about the roads of Kathmandu?
In the last couple of years, some of the major roads were widened but there are hundreds of minor roads which are still in need of widening. You need a hierarchy of the right-of-way. There should be high road, pedestrian and other roads. There is the need to have 35 feet for the right-of-way so that you can have five feet of sidewalks in both ways of two-car lanes. Minor collector road is 55 and other 65. Our roads are very narrow, 8 to 12 feet. These roads cannot allow big vehicles in emergency. One needs particular width and turning. Open spaces and right-of-ways are some of the very important parameters for urban cities.
What other things are important?
Zoning and building standards are very important. Zoning allows to see which area has high density of people and high rise buildings, which areas have lower number houses and people. There are some areas like airports and rivers where there is the need to have different building codes. In high density areas you need to have high pressure of water and wider roads, parks, and sewer capacity. Nepal does have zoning ordinance, building code and the Ministry of Urban Development has some good planning. In the aftermath of the earthquake, the need to modernize and review these has arisen.
How do you observe the post earthquake scenario of Nepal?
It is very unfortunate that Nepal is unable to constitute the Reconstruction Authority to carry out earthquake reconstruction work. That needs to be set up urgently. It is very disappointing to know that Nepal government was unable to proceed with the ordinance in parliament and newly set up Reconstruction Authority collapsed. It is a disappointment for all of us. As many Nepalese in the Diaspora are in the retirement stage, they are willing to come back to Nepal and work for the benefit of the country. Many of us, including myself, have a plan to come back and spend a majority of time in Nepal. If these institutions work well, we want to support them as volunteers.
As a Diaspora, how do you see the provision in the new constitution to give citizenship for non-resident Nepalis?
Since the establishment of NRNA in 2003, in London, I have been active in the organization. One of the main agenda for NRNA right from the beginning has been the continuation of the citizenship. In the beginning, we termed it dual citizenship and later on we termed it continuation of citizenship. There are many things within NRNA and it is registered in 72 different countries. NRNA represents almost 4 million Nepalese people, almost 12 percent of the Nepal's population. It is a very significant organization. The Nepalese Diaspora of US has a total income comparable to the total GDP of Nepal or more than 20 billion dollar.
Why do you need citizenship?
The idea of dual citizenship comes for the continuation of their attachment in Nepal. We would like to come and easily invest and work. We want to contribute our technical expertise for overall development of Nepal. Many Nepalese who live in developed countries want to support their homeland. However, Nepalese law does not allow working once you get the citizenship of other countries. Once you get the foreign citizenship, you lose your citizenship automatically. That is unfortunate. Our slogan is: Once a Nepali, is always Nepali. We have been defending dual citizenship.
How would it help NRNs?
After a long discussion and debate, the new Constituent Assembly accepted our demand partially and there is a provision in the new constitution for non-resident Nepali citizenship. NRN citizenship is like similar to the overseas citizenship of India as it allows many rights except political rights. For now, we take it very positively. This is a very positive sign and it makes us happy. Eventually, we will have a full fledged citizenship in future. This will help people living in different countries to invest in Nepal and have a particular type of citizenship.
How do you see the present situation?
The recent undeclared embargo from India to Nepal and non-cooperation from our Nepali citizens from southern plains have showed how quickly Nepal can collapse. This is a great lesson for Nepal also. We should not forget that India is a different country and it might choose certain things that may not help us. Our borders with China are not easily accessible as Nepal’s border is very far from China’s hinterlands. Thus, many goods which Nepal imports from north may not be viable in the long run.
What does Nepal need then?
Nepal as a country has to look now for self sufficiency options, back up and preserve energy. One way to tackle the energy crisis in Nepal is to drastically increase solar energy and also increase the capacity of hydropower. We also need to introduce electric train running between east and west. Nepal also needs to reduce the dependency on oil. Gujarat alone generates 900 MW by solar PV. We can make these things here. If we go for this, many countries will support Nepal.