By KESHAB POUDEL reporting from Mamkha, Okhaldhunga
“I feel lucky to get the vehiclesclose by to go to many parts of the country now.My new dream is to see these roads blacktopped before my death,” said Ishori Devi Khatiwada,74, a residence of Ward No 5 of Mamkha Village Development Committee of Okhaldhunga, 270 kilometers east of capital Kathmandu.
Constructed with the financing of Asian Development Bank, OPEC Fund for International Development and Co-financing of Switzerland under Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project (DRILP), the 16.5 kilometer long Rumjatar-Mamkha road sub-project has drastically changed the livelihood of the people living in the eastern parts of Okhaldhunga.
The District Road Coordination Committee (DRCC) had taken the decision tostart the road construction under DRILP in 2009. By now, almost ninety percent of the road construction work has been completed, reducingthe travel time from Mamkha to Okhaldhunga and, hence, to the rest of the country.
“It used to take us almost a day to reach the district headquarters, ten days to get to Kathmandu and a week to reach the Terai,” said Khatiwada. "If this road is blacktopped, it will shorten the travel time for us while easing the transport of essential commodities to our village at the same time. Nowthe tractors carry the goods and the price of essential products in our village and district headquarters is marginally the same.”
In Kathmandu, where 76-year-old former Prime MinisterSushilKoiralamight want to beam with pridewhen reminded that it was during his tenure the constitution was brought through the CA,his 76-year-old rural counterpart Khatiwadawould rather wantto see the village road blacktopped before his death.This is the kind of contradiction seen in the aspirations ofthe rural people and urban based politicians.
The Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project (DRILP) is an initiative of Nepal government to reduce rural poverty in 18 very poor remote hills and mountainous districts affected by the conflict.The objective of the project is to achieve a sustainableand increased access to economic and social services and enhance social and financial capital of the people in the project area, particularly of the poor and disadvantaged groups in conflict areas.
“This is an ADB funded project that addresses the development needs of the poor and conflict affected communities by promoting inclusive processes that seek to restore incomes and connect the rural poor and those that have been traditionally excluded from the development process, to markets and economic opportunities through investments in rural infrastructure livelihood restoration facilities,” said Laxmi Prasad Subedi, senior social development officer at Asian Development Bank Resident Mission and project officer for Decentralized Rural Infrastructure and Livelihood Project (DRILP-AF) Additional Financing.
The project extends the network of improved rural transport infrastructure, consisting of roads, trails and pedestrians bridges.
Like Khatiwada,many people in the village have either benefited or hope to see better days thanks to the rural road constructed under DRILP-AF.
Fifty-four-year oldBheshBahadurBishwokarma, a dalit, benefited from the employment opportunity he got from the project as well as the compensation for his land from where the road passes.
“I got employment for almost three years in the road construction. I also got a small amount of money from the government for my landfrom where the road passes,” said Bishwokarma. "As the project is close to its completion, I will now have to go outside my village for work."
In the past, there was no practiceof paying the compensation for the land usedin road building. With the ADB starting to pay for land acquisition, the people are asking for the money for their land.
According to Subedi, the contractor paid almost 120 million rupees equivalent in wages for hiring the labor during the construction work. According to the provision, human resources were used to open the track instead of using tractors and other machines.
“The roads constructed by using human labor are environmentally safe and sound as they do not shake the mountain as the tractors and other equipments do,” said Deepak Bahadur Singh, senior environment officer, NRM ADB and Project Officer for community Managed Irrigated Agriculture Sector Project Additional Financing.
As the road constructed under DRLIP is earthen, it is safe as per the Detailed Project Report that was completed beforehand. “This road can be made all-weather given some additional works,” said Madhav Kumar Bhattarai, chief engineer of District Development Committee,Okhaldhunga.
Along with this, the 20-kilometer long Garma-Nele road section has increased the access of road to residents of eastern Solukhumbu and even the nearby district of Diktel. With the completion of the road, tractors are carrying the essential commodities in remote parts of the district.
Although the tariff is a bit high, one can have access to the regular jeep services from Garma and Nele and up to Solu Salleri. Salleri-Nele road was also constructed in the first phase of DRLIP and one can find the jeep to come to Kathmandu every day.
Following the completion of the road linking Nele village to Salleri a few years back, 71-year old PurnaBahadurThapanow buys almost everything at Sallerias the prices are almost the same. “The essential commodities are cheaper now. As tractors carry the goods in one and a half hour from Salleri, we don’t have to pay high prices as we used to pay five years ago when porters carried the essential commodities spending the whole day from Salleri."
As the rural road connects Salleri, Okhaldhunga and Harkapur, the people of eastern Solukhumbu, who used to trek a week in case of failure to find an air-ticket from Phaplu to reach Kathmandu, are now easily connected to the rest of the country.
Constructed under the Sub-Regional Transport Enhancement Project (STEP) Salleri-Okhaldhunga and Okhaldhunga-Harkapurall weather blacktop roads reduce the cost of transport to two remote districts of Nepal.
After the up-gradation of the 41-kilometerHarkapur-Okhaldhunga road, one way travelling time has been reduced from almost 4 hours to just one and a half hour. The improvement of road has also increased the capacity of trucks and other carriers to bring the essential commodities.
As a small section of the road lies in the Mid-hill highway, it paves the way to reach up to Diktel of Khotang district. Similarly, the Okhaldhunga-Salleri roads shorten the time for transport in the entire northern region of Solukhumbu district up to Mt. Everest Base camp.
Essential commodities carried from Terai and Kathmandu reach up to Salleri in a day and then they are loaded on the mules for transport up toNamche Bazar.
Unlike in the past, the food deficit villages of northern Solukhubmbu are now getting food in much cheaper prices and the human mobility has also been easier. Until the construction of the road, the people of Solu had no option other than to trek for a week to reach Jiri to get a bus toKathmandu. Similarly, it used to take almost a week by foot to reach the southern plains.
“This road is the lifeline of all the people living in Solukhumbu. After the completion of the road, the people do not have fly from Phaplu paying higher airfares. The transport cost of Kathmandu-Salleriroad by jeep is just Rs. 750.00 (US$75) whereas one has to pay up to Rs.4000.00 (US$ 400) for a one-way flight,” said a leader of CPN-UML and former president of Solukhumbu District Development Committee.
All the rural roads will connect the villages of Okhaldhunga and Solukhbmbu to the 41-kilometer blacktoppedHarkapur-Okhaldhunga Road and 58-kilometer Okhaldhunga-Salleri roads. Both the roads are constructed with the loan assistance of Asian Development Bank under Sub-regional Transport Enhancement Project.This road provides the north-south link in Nepal’s north eastern region to the east west high way and mid-hill high way.
Although the construction of these roads will increase the dependency of the rural population for food products from the southern plains, there are also ample opportunities to integrate the markets.
With the connection of the road to Kathmandu, local products like potato, millet and orange are exported to the rest of the country. Sadly, however, the rural villages are already filled by more of imported products, including noodles, cigarettes, cold drinks and other stuffs, than the local ones.
With the connectivity of roads, the government needs to identify the agriculture products to market to Kathmandu.
After the completion of the road construction work, the Road Department takes over to maintain the roads and that is where the lapses begin to be seen. In the lack of institutional capabilities, road maintenance projectshave suffered a lot. Although the roads are constructed and opened for public transport, the road sides are rampantly used. Compared to construction, the maintenance part is very important and it requires institutional back up.
“Road maintenance in Nepal is a big challenge. The government has already established a road board and already strengthened the inventory, monitoring, and maintenance planning system. So far as my information is concerned, the government is not providing sufficient budgets for road maintenance. One of the dialogues between the government and Asian Development Bank is now to build the system for road maintenance so that this kind of road can be well maintained,” said Kenichi Yokoyama, country director of Asian Development Bank, who recently visited the project sites in Solu and Okhaldhunga.
Despites so many shortcomings in road work and maintenance generally, the road projects supported by Asian Development Bank have brought prosperity to the rural parts of eastern Nepal.