Print Edition - 2014-11-18  |  Development

Highway connectivity is key to Karnali’s progress

- PRAGATI SHAHI
Highway connectivity is key to Karnali’s progress

Nov 17, 2014-

Twenty-two years ago, when government decided to construct Karnali Highway to connect the remote Karnali with road network, it raised hope of prosperity in the most impoverished region of the country. The project was launched as announced, but after all these years it is no where near completion. Only 126 km section of the proposed 236 km  highway has been black-topped till date and two of the five districts in the region--Humla and Dolpa—still do not have basic road connectivity. A study conducted by Karnali Development Commission last year found that only 38.8 percent of the project was completed in two decades.

“Transportation infrastructure is the key to economic and social development of any region. With the help of proper roads in the region, the connectivity and accessibility to basic resources and market for local products can be obtained, which is crucial for economic development,” said Jeevan Bahadur Shahi, a lawmaker from Humla, one of the lowest ranked districts in Human Development Index (HDI).  

According to him, the road network is the backbone of other development initiatives which contribute to the overall social, cultural and economic empowerment of local communities. “However, the policymakers who were and are responsible for development plans for the region never considered it a necessity to invest in such important areas as it required huge investments and human resources,” said Shahi.  

An estimated 1,100 programmes and plans have been either implemented or are under implementation phase in Karnali, with funds ranging between Rs 30,000 to Rs 1.5 million. “The approach has been fragmented, unplanned and short-termed,” said Hum Gurung, a development expert who has been involved in Karnali development.   The most important issue that is not being considered while developing plans and programmes for Karnali region is that the policymakers have failed to distinguish the difference in investments for Karnali and other parts of the country, Gurung said. “You cannot put Karnali and Bhaktapur together in the same basket while thinking about development.  The government has allocated Rs 600,000 for road construction in one of the remotest areas in Jumla, which is largely inadequate given the transportation cost of equipment, fragile topography and scarcity of resources. The amount could mean something for the Tarai districts or any other places in eastern Nepal, but not in Karnali,” he said.

According to Shahi, no government wants to invest in the region that needs huge up front costs to produce results. He added that the policies are focused on providing subsidies rather than investing in the region to empower the locals through proper irrigation facilities, market access, electricity service and promoting the utilisation and commercialisation of local products including apples and medicinal herbs.

To a large extent these areas, located mainly in the remotest parts of the country are characterised by rough terrain, forest dominated economies, where people have less access to basic facilities. Besides Humla and Dolpa, other districts in the region are Jumla, Kalikot and Mugu, all of them have the lowest HDI ranks in the country.

To address the growing concerns of poverty and underdevelopment in Karnali, the Development Committee of the Parliament has recently formed a sub-committee chaired by Shahi to work on a long-term development. The sub-committee is assigned with the task of devising programmes and investment plans to develop Karnali. “In more than five decades of Karnali development agenda, this is the first time that Karnali region was discussed at the Parliament,” said Shahi.

The parliamentary committee has also directed the National Planning Commission and the Finance Ministry to coordinate with all the ministries to implement appropriate programmes and release necessary funds to speed up the development works. Besides, an eight-point decision has been made, including works on expansion and maintenance of existing road networks, preparing a broader plan to improve transport connectivity, documenting the available valuable non timber forest products and checking their illegal trade, and preparing disaster risk management plans.

“We have also directed the National Planning Commission and the Karnali Development Commission to prepare sustainable development plan of seven and 15 years by involving local communities within two months,” said Rabindra Adhikari, chairman of the parliamentary committee.

The formation of a sub-committee is a good start, said Gurung. “Without decentralisation of authority and resources, it is impossible to develop Karnali and uplift the livelihoods of the people living in the region,” he said.

Published: 18-11-2014 09:34

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